We never made an “official” decision that we would keep the holidays simple, it just sort of happened. Like most couples, early in our marriage our income and our time were both very limited. Even a few years later when we became parents, I was in graduate school, scraping together enough money to pay the bills and spending most of my “extra” time with my nose buried in books or running statistics. Going all out for holidays just wasn’t financially an option and we didn’t have a lot of time or energy to build complex traditions. Perhaps a lot of the reason we have a simple holiday season is just a reflection of our own experiences growing up. When I think back over the many Christmas seasons of my childhood, I don’t remember a lot of fanfare. My grandmother made cookies every year, my father read me ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We didn’t spend a ton of money on gifts, we used the same simple decorations year after year, there were no cookie swaps or holiday parties or visits to see Santa. It was fun and I have great memories, but it wasn’t extravagant. Not only is a simple holiday season a practical option and what had been modeled for us, it is just part of our DNA. We are pretty simple people. We don’t have ambitions for certain salaries or a certain lifestyle or even a certain set of experiences. We just want to be happy and it doesn’t take much for us to find happiness. We drive cars until they die, we wear clothes from 10 years ago, our couch is literally falling apart, and we spend most of our free time in the 4 walls of our home. We just don’t have a desire for much beyond our simple lives so it makes sense that the holidays reflect this simplicity.
So what does our holiday look like? We do not hang up lights, we spend maybe an hour on decorating the tree (maybe) and that’s the extent of the decor in our home, we don’t listen to Christmas music, we don’t go see Santa, we don’t do an advent calendar, we definitely don’t have an elf that does crazy things all month, we don’t host a holiday party, we don’t send out cards, our son gets a limited number of gifts, sometimes we even forget to buy each other a Christmas gift, and we don’t have a fancy holiday meal. Christmas is not all that different from the rest of our year. In fact, there is not a single thing about the holiday season that I would miss if it didn’t happen- except for spending time with family. As I think back over the past 4 years since we’ve had a child to celebrate Christmas with, I don’t regret this part of our lives in the slightest. In fact, I LOVE that the holidays are simple.
Since we keep things low-key, we get to spend all of the time that we would spend decorating or cooking or shopping or going and doing just being with the people we love. There is no agenda to distract us or keep us from sharing lots of time and space with our family. We get to slowly savor our favorite moments without rushing to the next thing on the schedule. We don’t get the holiday blues in the New Year when we have to take down the decorations or when we realize that maybe we spent a bit more than we should have on gifts. We don’t bring home lots of stuff we really didn’t want or need, stuff that will just collect dust until we decide to donate it or throw it out.
The best part of all in having a simple holiday season is that our son leaves our time with family talking about the people he saw and how much he loves spending time with them. Maybe it will change as he gets older, but when our son reflects on the holidays, he never talks about a thing we did or a gift he got. He just asks when we’ll see our family again. I hope that as he grows and one day looks back on his childhood, his memories will continue to be about the experiences he had with the people he loved. The more Christmases we have with him, the more I believe that allowing the time and the space for those simple memories to be created is the greatest gift I could ever give him. As I reflect on my own life, I know that as I think of the loved ones I’ve lost over the years, I don’t wish for one more time to make cookies with them or one more time to see Santa with them or that they were around to give me more gifts or that I could see their extravagantly decorated home just one more time. I just wish for more time to be in their presence, soaking them in. And because of that, we will continue to relish in the simplicity of our simple lives and the simplicity of our holidays.