Simplifying Christmas Traditions


It makes a pretty light beacon if you are in the park.

I advise anyone overwhelmed by the frenzy of the December holiday season to spend a few moments in quiet reflection to determine the aspects of the season that bring you the most joy. No need to carve out a special evening to do so, just think about it while waiting at a traffic light or the line at the store to check out.

Then focus your efforts on these portions of the celebrations and avoid the others.

Here are some ways I have changed how I celebrate over the years:

~I think I have had the most changes over the years with the tree. In my first apartment, I hung Christmas cookies with fishing line from the overhead pipes in the shape of a tree. I’ve created tree shaped objects out of recycled materials. I’ve bought live trees that were planted outside in the spring. But I have struggled with the tree idea too. I don’t like the idea of killing a perfectly healthy tree in order to decorate it for a month and then toss it in the trash. For several years the amount of time it took to put up and take down a tree was difficult to find the in the business of raising children as a single parent. The above plastic tree was purchased off the display counter, saving it from the trash. I can reuse it for years. Yet, I am ambivalent.

~ I used to create a hand-made art card and sent one to everybody in my address book, including a personal note. Now, I send a hand-made art card with personal note to people who send a card to me. I especially like hearing from far-flung friends.

~ I used to bake dozens of cookies and give them away as gifts. I don’t really eat cookies anymore and many of the people near to me avoid sweets. Now, I don’t do any special baking for the holidays.

~ I used to make sure I had a hand-made or generic purchased gift for everyone that gave me a gift. I participated in the office Secret Santas. I kinda had the eight-year-old’s view that “more presents is always better.” Now, I only get gifts for my mom and my kids and grandkids. I tend to get consumable or practical gifts like socks. I try to find some little treat kind of thing that they would not likely buy for themselves.

~ I used to have themed gift wrap for every gift-giving occasion: birthdays, Christmas, weddings, etc. Now, I have one big roll of plain paper (this paper below was sold at IKEA as children’s drawing paper) that I dress up with ribbon, twine or hand made drawings. The twine, paper and cards below are compostable. It could also be used as drawing paper.


Not fancy, just festive.

~ I used to change the décor on my mantle, hang the children’s stockings and put a wreath on my door. I never did put lights on my house (too much work) but I put the lit tree in front of a window so passers by could enjoy it. This year my stocking is on my front door and the tiny tree is in the window. That and a pile of presents are my only decorations.


Note the memory box in the background as a prop.

~ I used to feel obligated to attend every family event I was invited to. That often involved a lot of driving in a short time on my part due to my work schedule and the kid’s visitation schedule with their father. One year, as I was driving my children through a blizzard from St. Louis to their dad’s house on Christmas eve, I realized how foolish that was and began to consider timing and weather and desire to attend before saying yes to those invitations.

The intention of these month long celebrations is joy and connection. I would love to hear how you have simplified your holidays to make them more meaningful and heartfelt.


20 thoughts on “Simplifying Christmas Traditions

  1. Priscilla Bettis says:

    I love your wrapping! Like you said, festive, not fancy. (And kudos for figuring out how to wrap a hexagonal box!)

    We have simplified by only having a small tree. It’s like yours. We have our favorite, sentimental ornaments on it and enjoy all of them. We have no other Christmas decorations. Music and sappy Christmas movies (we have a TV) add a holiday feel without adding clutter.

    We send cards and are grateful for cards we receive. This old-fashioned, longhand communication is FUN for me, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Also, I guess Christmas cards are part of our decorations, too, because we tape them up around the front doorway.

    We don’t do a huge dinner, but it’s elaborate for us, and a tradition we look forward to each year: lasagna, garlic bread, a veggie, and chocolate cheesecake.

    Dear Husband and I are homebodies anyway, so we don’t do a lot of parties and stuff. But one activity we do this time of year (and yet still stay home) is read from all the creative holiday stories that come out this time of year.

    Have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas!


    • Fawn says:

      I like how you take the parts of Christmas that you like (cards) an make them serve multiple purposes: keeping in touch with loved ones, decorations (and am I remembering that you sometimes use last year’s cards for gift tags?)
      It sounds as though you and Dear Husband have found a calm balance between making the season special without stressful. What a blessing that is!


      • Béatrice says:

        What a wonderful idea to repurpose christmas cards!
        I often save pieces of wrapping paper that cannot be reused for my daughter to cut and glue on blank cards or other selfmade gifts.


      • Fawn says:

        And the parts that can’t be reused can be recycled….as long as there is no glitter. I think glitter is my only enemy from the art supply world.


  2. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Fawn, real Christmas trees are 100% the best choice for the environment! They are renewable crops the sequester carbon while they are growing and can be composted after the holidays. Plastic Christmas trees end up in landfills and are often not produced by ethical sources of labor. Christmas trees help organic farmers to have a cash crop to keep them going through the winter! Many communities worldwide have Christmas tree-chipping programs and use the wood chips for mulch in their parks. This is a great thing to start in your own community! Here is a great article about this:


    • Fawn says:

      Elizabeth-thank you for sharing that link with me and other readers. I do struggle with killing healthy trees for decoration. Sometimes the obvious answer is not the correct one.


      • Elizabeth says:

        Hi Fawn, I have always loved your posts about holidays. A long time ago you did a post showing your wrapped gifts stored in your closet in their all-purpose wrapping, and to this day I have done that! It makes me happy to see them and know I have something accomplished! I’ve also shared an old post about your minimal holiday decoration with a bunch of people. This post is even better! I do really love your tree in the window–so simple and elegant (and since you rescued it from the trash, supremely green)! We can’t have a tree this year due to new kitty, so I will enjoy yours.


      • Fawn says:

        Thank you. The reason the wrapped gifts were in the closet was due to the cats wanting to tear up the ribbons. Otherwise I would have left them out as decoration. There is an untapped market: cat-proof, environmental Christmas décor!


    • Suzanna says:

      Many people make your same statement that plastic xmas trees are often not produced by ethical sources of labor; however, no one can name any of these sources. Can you name any?


      • Fawn says:

        I think part of the problem is when we purchase items from countries that do not have clear, documented supply chains and are known to use incarcerated and child labor. We can’t know, because that country has thrown road blocks to our knowing. Best to shop where we can follow the links.


  3. wmstchic says:

    I agree! The idea of doing only what makes you happy with the season is popping up more and more. Once our children were grown we stopped buying big trees (real OR fake) and went to something smaller. I have a wreath I made myself by repurposing an old fall wreath that I hang on my door and instead of hanging stockings this year I am using them as “gift bags” for some smaller treats I’ve gotten the family. It’s easier and I certainly am enjoying the season more this year.


    • Fawn says:

      I’m intrigued by your wreath. Can you describe it further? It certainly is not possible to do ALL the traditions. But I made myself crazy for a couple years trying. Whew! Older but wiser!


  4. Linda says:

    Actually, this year I only hung a wreath (one we use every year) on the front door. No other decorations. My family decided this year to just buy for the kids (3 boys, ages 13, 13, & 12). And I get them experience or outing gifts rather than something from a store. (I can’t compete with parents & grandparents as to what to buy them.) I will buy consumables & a local newspaper subscription for my father.
    My husbands family still exchanges gifts & he is in charge of getting those.
    Potluck Christmas Eve with my family, where everyone brings a dish or two.


  5. kris says:

    So many good ideas!
    Years ago we would cut our own Christmas tree at a charming Christmas tree farm out in the country. Then we shifted to buying a pre-cut tree at a lot in town. Now we don’t have an indoor tree at all. I do still put fresh cut greens on the fireplace mantle. So that’s how I get my fix of the fragrance of evergreens.
    Meanwhile, my husband continues to put up white lights on two white pines in our front yard. Plus more white lights in the shrubs and electric candles in our windows. Plus a wreath that he makes for the front door. He climbs up 30 feet without a ladder to put lights on the trees. (Not bad for a 68-year-old.) Many neighbors and even a few strangers tell us how much they enjoy this each year.


    • Fawn says:

      If I was your neighbor, I would enjoy the lights in the trees too! Winter lights, evergreen scents and the appreciation of neighbors–these are parts of the holiday that I still enjoy!


  6. Adrienne says:

    As a child our Mum always had a real tree it was later used as firewood
    For several years I had a plastic tree recycled to us from a friend. For the last few years we have had an “accidental” bonsai Douglas Fir tree known as “Doug”. We found him as a seedling in a 2 litre icecream container at a friend’s rental house. . He was repotted into a 5 litre bucket and has grown to 1 metre/foot. It’s my granddaughter’s job to decorate him each year with a few homemade decorations. She made him a pink pom pom last year felt he needed one. She was 4yrs old :-).
    The lovely thing is he’s portable. And has been to other homes for Christmas. .
    One year we forgot him and had to return home to get him. We were in the supermarket when I said aloud to my granddaughter “Oh no we fogot Doug we’ve left him at home”. Got some funny looks. But how do you explain Home Alone was a Christmas tree-or should you evem try to? LOL!
    This year a simple roast stuffed chicken with new potatoes and a salad. For fun a 1970s style prawn cocktail starter didn’t bother with our fruit salad dessert (summertime here in NZ) and a bottle of champagne.
    Consumable gifts. Wrapping paper is a big roll of gold and white striped paper suitable for any gift occasion in the year. And recyclable.
    Ours was a lovely relaxing day today.
    Merry Christmas xx


    • Fawn says:

      I think that Doug is the kind of Christmas tree I would like to have. I will keep my eyes open for an adoptive tree opportunity. Your Christmas day sounds delightful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s