12 Tips from Sarah Sundin

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Simplifying Christmas

12 Tips to Turn Chaos to Wonder

by Sarah Sundin

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year! We long to make Christmas a time of joy and wonder for our family and friends, but in the process we often find ourselves depressed, stressed, irritable, and in debt.

Over the years, I’ve mourned how December has turned from my most anticipated month to my most dreaded. Last year, two things made me re-evaluate. First, I wrote my World War II Christmas novella inWhere Treetops Glisten. Christmas was simpler then. Fewer gifts, fewer decorations, simpler food—less of everything. Was Christmas less meaningful then? Absolutely not.

Then on December 14, our youngest son received a concussion in a karate tournament and needed surgery … which was performed on January 2. Those two weeks were spent nursing my son and taking him to numerous appointments. Out of necessity, Christmas had to be simplified. As a family we agreed on what absolutely had to be done and what we could live without. And you know what? It was a really nice Christmas.

So how can we rein things in and turn Christmas from chaos to wonder?

1) Focus on Jesus

In your planning, make sure Jesus gets center stage. Give priority to your personal time with the Lord so you can find the peace you crave. Read the Christmas story as a family, attend a Christmas pageant or choir performance, sing Christmas carols, or put out a nativity set. Remember why we’re celebrating in the first place.

Also make room in your schedule for charitable work. When you give to others in need, your to-do list suddenly seems petty. And doing charitable projects with kids will help them turn their focus from their gimme lists to giving to others. That alone can simplify your Christmas!

2) Evaluate

Take a deep breath, step back from the to-do list, and give it a good hard look. Why do you do each item on that list? Does it bring you joy and peace and wonder? Does it bring others joy and peace and wonder? Are you doing it due to family pressure? Peer pressure? To impress others? Guilt? Even the things we love—are we overdoing them or getting obsessed?

3) Go with Your Strengths

Do you love baking or decorating or handcrafting your own gifts? Great! Do those things and do them well! Revel in the joy you bring to others.

4) Trim Your To-Do List

After your evaluation, did you realize you do things for the wrong reasons? Look at the things you don’t like, those that bring stress, debt, pressure. Either trim them back or eliminate them.Likewise, if you love doing something, but it puts you in debt or stresses out your family, think about scaling back.

5) Family Chat

Have an honest discussion with your family. Explain which things you have issues with, and listen to their feedback. You might be surprised what matters to them and what doesn’t. Often the things we stress about aren’t that meaningful to them.

6) Teamwork

There is no law saying women need to do 100% of the work at Christmas. Enlist your family members and delegate. This might mean releasing control and battling your own perfectionism, but you’ll be less stressed and you’ll give your children a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Preschoolers can set out non-breakable decorations and help in the kitchen. Elementary schoolers can stuff envelopes and help bake and wrap presents. And teenagers can take on entire tasks as their own. Even husbands can help—I speak from experience!

7) Say No!

You can do it. I know you can. When your sweet friend insists you learn to hand-stamp your own wrapping paper, give her a sweet smile and a “No, thank you.” When your neighbor insists you come to her party, tell her you’re sorry but you have something else planned that evening (even if it’s watching The Grinch with your family). No excuses. No explanations. Just “No.”

8) Ditch the Guilt!

Remember we’re all different, with different tastes, different gifts, and different schedules. Just because your friend’s decorations, cookies, or gifts could grace a magazine cover doesn’t mean you need to follow her example. Refuse to take on guilt from others or succumb to peer pressure (or Pinterest pressure!). Likewise, be careful not to shove the things you love onto your friends, increasing their stress and guilt.

9) Plan Ahead

As a lifelong procrastinator, this is a learned trait for me. Making a reasonable to-do list and a schedule—and following it—can prevent the Christmas Eve meltdown. Also, do things in advance when possible. Pick up Christmas gifts throughout the year. Do crafts in the summer. Make cookie dough in October and freeze it.

10) Budget

Make a realistic budget and stick to it. Don’t forget to include costs for decorating, food, travel, and activities.

11) Trends vs. Traditions

Ads, store displays, and gorgeous photos online convince us that our old decorations and recipes are tired and outdated. If you love keeping up with the current trends and can afford it, go ahead and indulge. If not, remember Christmas is all about tradition. My grandparents’ decorations from the 1940s-1950s and my parents’ decorations from the 1960s-1970s bring back fuzzy warm memories. Our tree with its jumble of Sunday school crafts and vacation souvenirs and ‘80s kitsch (yes, the goose with the holly around its neck) are precious to me. Don’t be afraid to buck trends for tradition.

12) Store-bought vs. Homemade

The popularity of crafting and other domestic arts is wonderful for some of us—and a headache for others. Much of the stress women heap on ourselves comes from the pressure to handcraft our gifts, bake our cookies from scratch, and design our own cards and wrapping paper. If you love those things, great. If you don’t, hold your head high and enjoy your platter of store-bought cookies, your gift cards in store-bought gift bags, and your decorations from Target. It’s okay. No elves will die.

What do you want to do to simplify your Christmas?

WTG apron book

Do you break out in hives just thinking about the craziness and chaos that comes with Christmas? It doesn’t have to be that way. Inspirational authors Cara Putman, Sarah Sundin, and Tricia Goyer share about Christmas’ past in their new novella collection Where Treetops Glisten. Their three stories “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” will take you back to war-time 1942, 1943, and 1944. The authors have also teamed up to give tips on simplifying Christmas this year! 

Comments 2

  1. At the moment (since it changes, depending on mood), Pfeffernuess – a delectable blend of almost all the spices in the cupboard, even black pepper. Plus it’s fun to say.

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