This is a personal reflection on what Christmas was like growing up and how all I ever wanted was a simple Christmas. In a consumer-driven world, getting back to basics is more important than ever…
First off, it’s December 24th. Usually, I’m in my kitchen, but today I’m in the country, celebrating Christmas in a rustic family cottage. This is the first time in years that the cottage has been opened for Christmas. It’s cold and we’re all bundled up in sweaters and slippers, huddling around a blazing fire. It’ll get colder when we go outside to go to church together, but it always feels warmer coming in from the cold. There’s good food, fine wine, and family all around. This is what it’s all about.
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WATCH THE VIDEO
Here’s a video of me sharing my simple Christmas story if you’d rather listen in than read. You can find more videos like this on my YouTube channel. I hope you’ll subscribe and follow along!
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS
The cottage I’m staying at is not in the big woods; it’s in farming country. What I’m talking about here is the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The title of the third book was used for the show, Little House on the Prairie. I devoured those books growing up. I have a clear memory of being the first to wake up on a Saturday morning and curling up on the couch to read that very book. Why bother with cartons when you can have pioneer adventures? I was seven years old when I started reading those books, and I loved everything about them, especially their Christmas scenes.
SIMPLE CHRISTMAS SCENES
Cousins coming over to play in the snow; the kids jumping from tree stump to tree stump. Peppermint sticks and cookies too pretty to eat, so Laura and Mary would stare at them admiringly, finally daring a quick lick before putting them away to savour for as long as possible. Apart from special treats, most of the gifts were lovingly handmade, like Charlotte, Laura’s beloved rag doll. In later books, when they were living in or near town, they went to church and were dazzled by the Christmas tree. There was just so much wonder and gratitude for the simplest things, and it used to (and still does) make my heart yearn for that simplicity.
REWINDING TO THE 90’S
Last year, I built up the nerve to play a VHS tape that had been rescued from a house fire over a decade ago. It was one of a dozen that had been salvaged and over the years, they lost their smoky smell. Still, no one wanted to touch them fearing what would happen if put into a VCR. Spotting the forgotten collection of home videos during a visit, I sneaked them home and brought out my VHS player. I was burning with curiousity, and besides, what else was I going to do with my VHS player? In went a tape and lo and behold, it worked! I set about digitalizing everything and watched with a mix of awe and horror at what little Sylvia was like.
THE NOT SO SIMPLE CHRISTMAS YEARS
Picture this. A little Sylvia tearing into her gifts, one after the other, refusing to marvel or savour a moment. One present down, she casts it aside and runs up to the tree to grab another, ignoring her mother’s admonitions of “Sylvia, slow down!”. So many presents, so much ingratitude. The worst is when after ripping open everything, Sylvia realizes that she didn’t get a Bitsy Bear (a silly toy that would have been thrown out eventually) and whines about it. This is pre-Little House, by the way because Laura Ingalls Wilder changed my concept of Christmas. She gave it a real meaning that had previously gone over my head because I was too young to understand.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A SIMPLE CHRISTMAS
The whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of the anointed one, which is why it is unfortunate that Christmas, like every other holiday, became a massive opportunity to make money. Every dollar we spend ultimately goes into someone else’s pocketbook, and everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the billion dollar Christmas pie. There’s undue stress on spending money during this season, and everywhere in the Western world, people are bombarded with reminders to spend and “save”. It’s hard to escape! There’s the cards and gift wrap, the decorations, the food and the gifts. We all know why we’re celebrating Christmas, but why are we stressing out? It’s about Christ and family. What could be simpler?
MAKING IT SIMPLER EVERY YEAR
When I say simpler, I don’t necessarily mean easier. Every year over the last several years, I’ve been determined to be more intentional about how I celebrate Christmas. I don’t want to buy gifts that won’t be used. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it, too. It’s a total waste of money, which doesn’t fly with my frugal living principles. As I develop my skill set, handmade gifts are becoming more of a focus. Every year the number of handmade gifts I give out increases, and it’s a trend that will continue.
I find that it’s these gifts, rather than those that comes off the shelf that have the biggest wow factor. The gifts I take the time to make myself are the ones I take the biggest pride in giving. Homemade gifts are also my favourite kind to receive. I don’t get them very often, so they’re always extra special when I do. Another thing I’ve been doing is gifting more experiences. I took my mom to see the Nutcracker ballet a couple of years ago and then tickets to see Cher in concert last year. We had an amazing time at both events and forged memories we wouldn’t otherwise have.
KEEPING IT WARM AND CHEERY
There are a number of things I won’t give up when it comes to Christmas. I love the lights because I think they’re great mood boosters when the days are short and the weather is harsh. The lit up tree makes me feel cozy, along with traditional decorations like angel chimes. This year, I started getting more intentional with how I decorate my tree. I baked cinnamon salt dough ornaments that smell so good that my little one thinks they’re cookies. I loved the rustic touch they gave the tree, but sadly, they got taken down as my munchkin found them irresistible. Lights and natural elements, like greenery, make such a big difference in the spirit of the home. If you have a fireplace to light, even better.
MY FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
I have more than a few Christmases under my belt now, and I can say, without a doubt, that the presents were the least of it. Strange, since they seem to be the most emphasized with fancy gift wrap and such. The best memories are my family singing carols before the gift exchange. Being gathered around the illuminated, scintillating tree. Watching my mom’s German Christmas pyramid spin round and round. One year my uncle dressed up as Santa and took off in my purple toboggan. That was the same year that everyone went outside to toboggan before the big meal. Simple things have the biggest impact.
HOW DO YOU KEEP CHRISTMAS SIMPLE?
Do you make your own cards or bake cookies from scratch? How about making homemade ornaments or going for a long family walk after untucking from the Christmas feast? What are the traditions that fill you with good cheer? Unless you’re knee deep in Christmas celebrations like I am, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments below!
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Recipe for eggnog french toast with bourbon maple syrup
Love, gratitude, and Christmas cheer,
What is that strange white substance on those trees? 😉