A Minimalist Christmas

First off I should give credit to my dear friend Jaclyn for inspiring this post. She recently interviewed me on the topic of slowing down during the busy holiday season on her podcast, Mountains Are for Moving. On it I share a few ways our family is intentional about our time, our giving and our purchases and several moms I look up to share what works for them as well. If you are looking to connect better with your family and bring meaning to your holiday season, check it out at mountainsareformoving.com or search Mountains are for Moving on your podcast app. 


The holiday season is so busy, isn’t it? I have always just accepted that as how it should be. There are parties, festivals, light shows, shopping, Santa visits, the list goes on. I myself have a natural tendency to over schedule our lives. At the start of the school year I tried to keep our schedule light and simple but bit by bit, other activities creep in. I decided to reevaluate in early November what I wanted our days to look like going into the holiday season.  
So what does it mean to slow down? For starters, since we homeschool, this means cutting out some of our work and saying no to extra activities. My oldest, who is seven, still begins his day with math, a handwriting exercise and guitar practice but that’s about it for formal school work. During this time, my four year old also works on his handwriting and spelling (only when he is interested in it) and an activity of his choosing. The rest of our time is spent reading together, listening to music, baking, crafting and discussing the season. And as always, we get outside as much as weather allows, which is quite often in Central Texas. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy time with each other during the holidays:


Books

The single greatest way to share the message of the holiday season is through stories. Reading aloud has been such a gift for my children and me but finding the right books with a good message and ones that spark their interest can sometimes be a challenge. It is also very important to me that my children are aware that while we celebrate Christmas as Christians, there are other holidays and traditions celebrated by our friends and neighbors and that diversity in our culture is beautiful. Here is what we are currently reading:


The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Together at Christmas

The Story of Hanukkah 

Room for a Little One

The Nutcracker

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Together for Kwanzaa

Advent readings from the Bible 


Giving

I’ll be honest and say that giving has not been an area where we have spent a lot of effort this year, simply because my husband and I have not made it important. But it’s so important. Our resolve in 2017 is to give more; more of our money, more of our time and more of our lives. And tuning our children’s hearts to give is in turn a beautiful gift to our world. What is so amazing is that kids love to give and it comes quite naturally to them. Children have an uncanny ability to see without filters and prejudices that allows them to extend grace and mercy to anyone if given the space to do so. I also believe it’s important for our children to see their parents model a giving heart by donating money and time or simply inviting someone into our home for a meal. 


Here are some things we have done as a family in the past or will be doing this holiday season:

  • Donating food to a food bank – its fun to check your local food bank’s website for needed items and have the kids make a grocery list to shop for and then deliver the food. Many food banks also give tours of their warehouses which is super fun for the kids. 
  • Baking cookies for neighbors, police and firefighters, and various local ministries. 
  • Making bags filled with small toiletries and snacks to hand out to the homeless men and women we see when we’re out
  • Donating to Blue Santa, which is a great local organization that provides needy families in Austin with a holiday meal and presents for children. We have not worked with this organization yet but are hoping to participate this year. 
  • Filling and sending shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. 
  • Connecting with a foster family to help with holiday needs. We do this year round through Austin Angels but the holiday season is such a special time to start. 
  • Visiting a local nursing home.  


Creating

My boys love working with their hands so we spend a lot of time creating and crafting. All of the gifts we will give as a family this year are homemade with the exception of a few books. If you know my family, we spend a lot of time outdoors so naturally many of our crafts use pieces of nature we’ve collected. We also participate in a Nature Pal Exchange which has inspired many of our projects. Currently we are working on ornaments made from branches and acorns found on our hikes and rolling beeswax candles. Next week we will be making bookmarks by laminating foraged leaves and hand painting Christmas cards. It always amazes me how simple crafts can engage my energetic boys and keep them at the table. There’s also something to be said in making a gift rather than just purchasing one off a shelf. 

Baking is a huge hit in our house as well. I’ll admit, I haven’t always enjoyed having my boys help in the kitchen. They’re loud and messy and always spilling something but I’ve found when I just let my issues with mess go, I actually have a lot of fun baking with them and they so enjoy it as well. We really enjoy baking things from scratch but that being said, I always choose simple recipes without a lot of steps, simply for my own sanity. 


Many of our holiday recipes and crafts, along with our Advent readings have come from a book by called Slow and Sacred Advent by Jennifer Naraki. I highly recommend it if you are wanting to slow down and celebrate Christmas more purposely and with intention. It has been such a blessing to us this holiday season. 


A few final thoughts…

We can do more with less. Less gifts, less decorations, less comparison, less stuff. We are bombarded with excess everywhere. It’s hard to avoid but it’s not impossible. All we have to do is turn off the TV, put down the phone and open up a book with our kids. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday filled with lots of memories your children will cherish for a lifetime.