Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Downsizing Christmas

One December evening, after hours at the mall, I trudged home loaded with boxes and bags—a stressed-out Christmas shopper.

When I saw my husband lying on the sofa, a newspaper across his face filtering snores, I lost it. How dare he sleep while my bunions killed me?

Sighing loudly, I banged the bags and boxes on the kitchen table, hoping to wake him.

Worked like a charm. He bolted up and exclaimed, "What happened?”

Christmas overload. That’s what happened.

Say the word "Christmas" and many women get hives. The decorating! The shopping! The entertaining! The guests! The money! Is there really a way to have yourself a merry, “little” Christmas and still feel fulfilled? With a little practice, and a new attitude, I believe so. Here are a few suggestions.


If you’re part of a large extended family, give up the notion that every person must buy for every person. That’s insanity waiting to happen. Many recipients return what you spent hours looking for anyway. Try something simpler.

Draw names. Ask participants to put their names on a piece of paper, followed by five things they would like to have. If you can’t get everybody together, have this information sent to one person in an email. That individual can draw for everybody then relay the results back.  Admittedly, drawing names doesn’t always sit well with children, but it teaches them a valuable lesson: Christmas isn’t about receiving; it’s about giving.


Unless you have money to throw away, you should set limits on your gift-giving. Whether it be with your immediate family, or extended family, the amount should be agreed on beforehand. If you don’t set limits, you’ll always be tempted to overspend by buying “just one more thing.”


If you aren’t resigned to drawing names or shopping from a “wish list,” consider choosing a “theme” for your shopping list. Avoid broad themes like “clothes.”  Instead, narrow it down to something like sweaters or pajamas or perfume. Other ideas are games, books, videos, music, cosmetics. A theme will keep you focused and save countless steps at the mall.

Another way to simplify shopping is giving gift cards. Although they aren’t very personal, they usually please the recipient, and save you frustration.


The Christmas season is filled with get-togethers. It’s OK to make them simple. Try the following:

  • Have a potluck party. Furnish the meat and leave the rest to friends.
  • Prepare a one-pot wonder like gumbo or chili. A tossed salad goes great with either of these.
  • Host an after-dinner party. Whip up your favorite desserts, brew up some interesting hot drinks, put on the Christmas music, light a fire in the fireplace, and enjoy.


Years ago, while shopping with my small daughter, we encountered the Salvation Army bell ringer. “What's that?" Anna wanted to know. I explained how the money was spent to help indigent families. Her face lit up as she stuck out her hand. "Mama, can I please give some money to a poor little child?"

There is no better time to look outward than now. Consider a monetary donation to a non-profit organization. If money is tight, you can still find ways to help. Offer to baby-sit for a single mom, prepare a meal for a family, volunteer at a soup kitchen. And don’t overlook the popular “angel” trees at department stores. Opportunities abound.


People of various faiths enjoy this time of year, but Christmas is a religious holiday for the Christian faith, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Don’t forget to nourish your soul as you reflect on the Christ Child.

Some ideas:

  • Attend a religious pageant at a local church.
  • Listen to religious Christmas music.
  • Read the Christmas story from the Bible (Luke, Chapters 1 and 2).
  • Start an “Advent” candle tradition.

A familiar Psalm says: "Be still and know that I am God." The Christmas season seems a perfect time for practicing stillness, for discovering God.


It may take years to surrender, but letting go of your visions of a perfect Christmas will improve your life. Christmas may never come off perfectly. But that’s OK. Consider the first Christmas. A young couple in a strange city. A young girl about to give birth. No hotel rooms available. Only a simple stable to sleep in. Even so, the angels' song floated calmly through the night air, announcing that peace and joy had come to earth.

Let’s celebrate!


This article first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.


  1. Great words here, Dayle! Every year I struggle with this idea of trying to get back to a simplified Christmas holiday. Thanks for the ideas and encouragement. Blessings!

  2. Hi Dayle....I liked your post today. (Well, I do every time you post.)

    We cannot go overboard during Christmas and feel fulfilled. I am the last person to espouse simplicity but I do try to enjoy the days of the holiday. It's not worth it to stress out. Susan

  3. There were some good suggestions here. I am REALLY trying to cut things back, and do things simpler this year. I think for me the hardest thing to do is to settle into NOT trying to create the "perfect" Hallmark holiday. You would think I would get it after 37 years, that it doesn't exist, and isn't the point. I am making MANY changes this year, so I guess we will see. I enjoyed this!

  4. Hi Dayle! I SO agree with you. I love the simplicity and beauty of homemade gifts, etc.
    I'm definitely not getting stressed this year...and usually don't!

  5. Down-sizing, now that's a word I've been using for the past few months.
    Christmas for me (and husband) a Christmas tree and a few nativity scenes.
    We have taken on just what you have written.
    It is so freeing!
    Down-sizing comes in many sizes. Ours in a simple Christmas.

  6. Excellent suggestions. The holidays often get very overwhelming. It's nice to set limits.

  7. Excellent!! I love the one about a theme for gifts. I would never have thought about that, but what a great idea.

    I have purposed in my heart to make Christmas simpler and calmer this year. One of the things I did was determine not to procrastinate. I'm also sticking to my budget and "forgiving" myself for not having as much to spend as other people. That guilt doesn't come from the One who had his son born to a humble couple in the humblest of places.

    Again, so great. Thanks.

  8. These are great tips. Almost all of the people we have exchanged gifts with have died, so I just buy for my two girls, my husband and a good friend. My mom always wants cash (wierd but that's what she wants) and I don't exchange with my brother any more, since he lives so far away. So the shopping here is easy. I'm still tied up with selling the two MIL houses, so I am not doing much this year. Glad to see you won't be overdoing it.

  9. Positively superb. A great re-read x 7. Excuse me. I'm going to go do that right now!

  10. Great post Dayle and I agree 100%!! I have been to some big retail shops this week and the amount of 'stuff' people are buying makes me wonder how they afford it and why do they need so much. There are going to be 50 of us together this Christmas and we have decided to not give any gifts to anyone, but to just bring food and enjoy the day of family, together.

  11. Wise tips! On both sides of the family, we are now only buying for the kids and our parents. None of us need anything anyway. Sure makes life easier and helps us enjoy the holidays more.

  12. Couldn't agree more. I've cut mine down to shopping for immediate family (husband and two children), baking for neighbors and parents, and handmade cards for friends. I only have one of those that I'd like to downsize even more and that is shopping for immediate family. If it were up to me, a nice meal would be more than enough but I can't get them to agree. A girl can hope though. ;) As far as entertainment...ha...gave that up years ago.

    Good post!

  13. I am right there with you, Dayle! Our goals are: 1)no credit purchases and 2)spend less on ourselves so we can give more away. Now that our kids have left home, we're definitely downsizing and simplifying even more. I love it! Great post!

  14. Somehow I missed this until now, but no matter, your advice is what I believe. When my children were young we never had much money and that was ok with me, money never impressed me, love and family and my Faith was what life was about 365 days a year. Today, my hubby and I live on a retirement budget. We love to go look at the lights on homes, then stop at McDonald's for an ice cream cone. We have dates at Barnes and Nobles with hot tea and a scone. Because my grands have large extended families on their father's sides, I still believe they have way too many gifts at Christmas, but I had my way of doing it and now it my daughter's time. I love to try to capture my grands smiles on Christmas Eve, the look of wonder, innocense and yes, even the tears last year when someone realized Santa did not put the gifts under the tree. That is the beauty of life, families bound together in all times by Faith, love, respect and sharing. Our Christmas is not much different than our every day life, except for the tree and lights and the train and village houses. I was blessed to become late deafened at 39 for it taught me not to take anything for granted, to appreciate every moment, every day, and to pull out all the beauty and joy one can find in each experience. Blessings on such good advice.

  15. Great ideas to simplify Christmas. We can all use this advice. Thanks and welcome back.

  16. What a great post, Dayle. Women put a lot of pressure on themselves, don't we? I'll try to keep these ideas in mind!


Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle