For my mother, giving gifts was her love language. Our Christmases were far from minimal with gifts spilling out of the living room and into the hallway.
When I became a mom I felt a lot of internal pressure to recreate our holidays but I couldn’t do it. At first, it was because I thought it was pointless buying my baby a ton of gifts, at six-months old what did he even need? Another year, it was because of my finances and the birth of another baby boy. We already had lots of toys that had plenty of life left in them for more children to enjoy.
Now I strive to give them less stuff because giving them more in a childhood where on-demand is the norm feels counterintitutive to raising kind, generous children.
Simplifying My Children’s Gifts
Choosing to give my children less for Christmas when that isn’t how I was raised involves a lot of self-talk.
When I find myself feeling the familiar pressure to give more, I look at all they have already and what they use. Even with regular decluttering, it’s plenty. Enough that everything they have is regularly played with and not so much that I feel overwhelmed by clutter when they leave their toys out to continue the play.
I don’t follow the minimalist ‘want, read, wear, need approach’ to gift giving, at least not as a rule. Rather I look at my children’s interests and what they already have and use. Do they have a toy that they love that can be added, too? For example, one year we bought a set of ‘city’ mini-figures and bases for their Lego. Another year, we bought a selection of recycled bath toys and bubble bath.
A key component of having a minimal Christmas is giving items that are wanted. Usually, I let others stick to gifting my children the trendy items while we focus on the sustainable toys but this year all my sons want for Christmas are Pokemon cards. We’ve discovered that my oldest only wants ‘EX’ ones. So we’re heading to a local card store to buy him a few that he doesn’t yet have rather than buying multiple packs and having the wasted extra cards floating around our house only to end up in the garbage. So much simpler, so much less waste.
And though they haven’t asked for it, we’re making each of our boys an art kit since they are making signs, drawing and writing all of the time (often about Pokemon) and have picked up a Pokemon visual dictionary for them to share.
I remember hardly any gifts from my childhood, do you? What has remained from my childhood Christmases are the simple things. These are my favourite four traditions that I follow with my own family.
Four Simple Christmas Traditions We’ve Kept
1. Gifting an ornament.
My own Christmas tree is covered in decorations inscribed with dates and names. Each year, my mother and my Nana would make, paint or buy each of us an ornament and label it with our names and the year. My mother also gifted my children an ornament every year and I do the same. Our tree tells the story of generations of our family beginning with the star which my Papa made for his first Christmas married to my Nana. When we decorate the tree, we remember people, places and my children ask questions to fill in their history.
When they are grown, I hope my children love having a tree filled with stories, too. And if they don’t, I hope that our family’s open approach to minimizing that which no longer serves us, will help them feel able to let go of the sentimental objects with ease.
2. Baking family recipes.
There are certain baked goods that I remember having at each holiday dinner as a child. As I bake our family’s shortbread recipe and other traditional treats with my kids, we talk about how their great-grandmother made these cookies for their family and now we make them for ours. They love the connection to their past as do I.
3. Eating a meal together.
When I think of Christmas, my mind automatically thinks of dinner. I imagine my whole family around the table. Some years friends or distant relatives joined us, too. I love recreating the traditional holiday meal of my childhood. Since my mom is no longer here to make it, I feel especially connected to her through this meal. In our busy day to day lives, with our family living further apart than ever before, our Christmas meal symbolizes togetherness more than ever. We sit down and enjoy a leisurely family style meal.
4. Decorating with natural items.
My own mother joyfully decorated our house for Christmas with fresh garland, locally made potpourri, traditional orange clove pomanders and a homemade wreath for our front door. You can bet we also had a real tree. We decorate our dinner table with natural items and make a joyful day of searching for resources that invite that cozy sense of ‘hygge’ to our holiday gatherings.
And The Traditions We’ve Let Go
The neat thing about trying to live a more minimal lifestyle is that it doesn’t look that same for everyone. The traditions I’m keeping may be the ones you’ll let go of and vice versa.
This year the things we shifted or released felt just right for us. My husband and I gave ourselves permission to let go of the advent calendar. Each year we’ve forgotten about it until last minute and then we end up in a continuous tug of war with our kids about waiting to open the next day’s item. Not doing it this year has been much less stressful.
We’ve also switched the time we host his family for Christmas Eve. to a brunch rather than a dinner so we can minimize the rush that’s felt far from joyous as we try to squeeze in getting ready for Santa, stories and tidying up for hosting my family the next day. I’m looking forward to the quiet evening soaking up my little boys excitement and an earlier evening to bed for everyone.