Christmas – the holiday we’re all supposed to love. The mere mention of the word Christmas should evoke feelings of joy, warmth and anticipation – as, with a sly smile, we begin to ponder secretly what gifts we might bestow on our loved ones or the favorite recipes we might enjoy during this special holiday season. And of course, we don’t want the true meaning of Christmas to be overlooked. Perhaps your family has a tradition of attending a Christmas Eve service or sitting around the table with the Bible – retelling the story of the angels proclaiming, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Or maybe you’ve experienced something more along the lines of what I’ve felt for many years: “Oh, no! Christmas is getting closer!” As you put away the Thanksgiving leftovers, you are struck with the thought that you have four short weeks left, and everyone is counting on you to make the holiday magical. For me, this time of year spelled S-T-R-E-S-S. How am I supposed to pull this off and maintain my schedule for homeschooling – or maintain any semblance of order for that matter?

I don’t have it down pat, but last year was better! And I’m excited to think that putting these ideas to practical use once again will make this year even better. The key word is simplicity. Cut back! This was hard for a frustrated perfectionist like myself to do, but last year I knew that . . . it was time. It was something I’d always promised myself but couldn’t seem to put into practice. Some of the “help” I received with those thought processes came in the form of a book that the ladies in my church were going through: Becoming a Woman of Simplicity by Cynthia Heald.

In decorating our home, I pulled out maybe 10 percent of the decorations. We let go of some of the decorating that, though traditional, was exhausting. At first the children expressed disappointment, but I was convinced that it was the family togetherness that was desired – not the particular, exact traditions we had maintained. Doing less in the decorating department left more time for the cookies and hot chocolate, with Christmas music playing in the background!

Also, last year I was finally able to put gift giving in perspective. The gifts I chose were fewer in number but were better choices for each person. Have you said, like I have in the past, “I’m not buying a ton of presents this year!” And then when they’re all wrapped up, you wonder what on earth came over you while you were out shopping? I stuck to it this time and had much less time out shopping and more time at home where I belonged. This time, when the gift-giving time was over with, I did not have that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. We had chosen prayerfully and kept things in perspective.

This time I cooked less. Just like the gift giving, I have tended in the past, to get out of control with the menu. Who is this for anyhow – the traditions that make the holiday warm and full of joy? It’s for our family and loved ones, right? Somewhere along the way, I’ve allowed myself to believe the lie that “It won’t be Christmas without . . .” (fill in the blank). As with the decorating and the gift giving, I also trimmed my holiday menu. I admit, I get excited about food. It’s not just for them – it’s for me too! Quiche, cinnamon buns (homemade of course), crabmeat soup, cranberry jello salad, roast beef with horseradish dressing of course . . . honestly, I can’t remember where I cut last year, but I did. I didn’t do it all. I chose some favorites, getting input from the family.

The result? The Christmas holiday was more peaceful. I was more peaceful! And we all know that the mom sets the tone for the mood of the home. When I am at peace and feeling like all is well, the family is more peaceful too. Nobody felt deprived, which honestly was my fear.

Remember how I thought I was supposed to create those warm holiday memories? In years past, the only thing I was creating was exhaustion for myself – which deprived the family of – me. Naturally, with things better under control in the home, we were more able to focus on the true meaning of Christmas – the Christ child.

Oh, and homeschool did still somewhat fall by the wayside for a week or two. Not entirely, but somewhat. However, when the holidays were over, I was able to recover much more quickly, and we got right back on track.

I used to say, “Thank goodness it’s over!” I couldn’t wait to get all the decorations down and out of sight. This time I said: “This was good. This was a good Christmas.” And it echoed back from me to the family. It was.

My recommendation is to simplify. And those activities that are chosen – choose prayerfully, giving preference to activities that bring the family together – not preparations that exhaust you and in the long run don’t really do anything for anybody.

There can be a big difference between what we think Christmas is supposed to be based on memories and traditions – and what it can be if we prayerfully take a new look at simplifying our lives. And the point of all of that is to have our hearts focused on Jesus. It’s the Martha and Mary quandary again. Do we want to be busy and concerned with many things? Or do we want to sit at His feet? The latter choice brings comfort and joy, and that is what we want for our families – especially during this blessed holiday season.

Copyright 2010, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the 2010 Holiday Supplement of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Deb Turner and her husband, Craig, live in central New York. They have five children, four grand-children and have homeschooled since 1987. With three children grown, there are still two school-aged children in their home. Deb enjoys history, gardening, and sewing, and she is actively involved in her church where her husband is an elder.