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Three Ways to Feel Less Stressed and More Calm this Christmas

Updated: Mar 13

My four-year-old Lu begs to bake something with me nearly every day.

In the past, I would’ve put her off, or grudgingly gone along with her whims to keep myself from feeling guilty. It’s endlessly fascinating to me that the more I slow down, the more I’m willing to take on. We’ve had such a sweet time together this Christmas baking up salt dough ornaments, dried fruit garlands and sugar cookies.I’m opening my mind to more Christmas traditions that seemed like too much work in the past. (Excepting a certain elf on a shelf. Never again.) My kids are a little older now too, which makes some things easier, and so we’re finding our family’s own way of celebrating Christmas. For us, that means building our collection of Christmas books, experimenting with the perfect recipe for homemade hot cocoa, and carefully considering how many toys and sweets are “just enough.”

And yet, all those decisions—Should I bake those goodies? Buy that gift? Am I doing too much? Should I keep things simpler? Are my kids missing out?—can feel so heavy, and quickly take the joy out of Christmas. Not to mention, we can feel weighed down with grief, fatigue and the immense expectation to be cheery and festive all through the season. Perhaps you’ve been putting too much pressure on yourself, too.

It’s no secret I prefer to keep things simple, but I believe that feeling more peace at Christmas (or anytime) doesn’t always mean doing less, rather stressing less. Here are four ideas to help you feel more relaxed this Christmas and enjoy all the love, joy and peace this season is meant for.

1. Think “I get to” rather than “I should.”

If you’re going to send out Christmas cards, why not have a pleasant time doing it? And if you’re not going to send out Christmas cards (which happens to be my tradition), why waste time feeling guilty about it?

The same goes for baking, wreath-making, light-seeing, advent-ing, or any other Christmas festivity. What’s the point, if it doesn’t bring you, or someone you love, joy? Why do it, if you’re only putting pressure on yourself, or you’re worried you’re doing it wrong, or it’s not enough?

For the sake of peace, put aside all those nagging thoughts in your head.

You get to decorate.

You get to bake cookies.

You get to send Christmas cards.

You get to buy gifts for the people you love.

You get to eat your favorite foods.

You also get to forego any of the above.

Some of our best Christmases have been the years we chose not to buy anything (including presents), like the year Ben lost his job, or the year we decided to save money and simplify. And many of our Christmases—honestly, most—have been unremarkable, spent quietly at home without visitors, while I nursed new babies and Ben worked the holiday shift. Those were special, sacred times too, although I might not have fully realized it at the time.

Don’t let all the Christmas hullabaloo fool you into thinking you have to overextend yourself. A handwritten note, hand-me-down toy, or a night watching Christmas movies in your pajamas with your best friend are all perfectly lovely ways to celebrate...and ones that I still frequently choose over store-bought gifts.

I now have the privilege of spoiling my loved ones with things they might not buy for themselves, and I’m finding I enjoy that, too. Every year looks a little different, and I’m still finding my own happy medium for spending and celebrating.

That means you get to find yours, too!

Q&A: Do you like to go all out for Christmas or keep things simple?

Remember you don’t need to create or control your child’s Christmas experience.

As a little girl, I loved everything about Christmas. I would lie under the Christmas tree in a sort of trance, looking up at the lights, with the sound of my mom’s Nat King Cole album and the scent of her cinnamon candle wafting through the house. I lived for the quiet stillness of the snow at my grandparents’ farm, and falling asleep by the window in their loft, imagining I’d see Santa’s sleigh flying by at any moment. It was absolutely magical.

Looking back, very few of those experiences I loved were created by my parents, or cost them much in money or time. True, their work was done behind the scenes, but my point is that they weren’t present every moment creating all my Christmas memories for me.

I know how moms love to make Christmas magical for their families. I believe it’s a sacred privilege, becoming “Santa” and, in a way, embodying the spirit of Christmas for our kids. But I think we would all enjoy the season more, kids included, if we simply relaxed. It’s not necessary to recreate all the same experiences you enjoyed as a kid, or try to keep up with all the festive fads (I’m referring to a certain elf again), especially if it only puts pressure on everyone. You can set the tone, step back, and then let your kids make their own memories.

Also, Christmas changes a little every year as my kids grow older. What they’re capable of enjoying now, at ages 6, 4 and 2 (and with their cousins living with us at ages 14, 11 and 9)—building gingerbread houses, for instance—wasn’t even possible a couple years ago, when I had three little ones ages four and under. Those years, we kept decorating simple (ornaments only on the top half of the Christmas tree, and no wrapped presents within reach), and we didn’t leave the house much, if at all, for shopping or get-togethers. I remember feeling as if we were missing out, but now I love the coziness of staying home and doing very little.

All in all, I believe if you’re enjoying Christmas, your kids are much more likely to enjoy it too, however you choose to celebrate. Likewise, if they're not enjoying every moment, allow them that without pressure. Rather, talk with them. Excitement, disappointment: it's all part of the experience, and a merry Christmas can't be forced.

Let your senses take in all the sights, smells and sounds of the season.

It’s wintertime, and the whole world outside is slowing down. Trees and flowers have gone to sleep, and this season signals to our minds and bodies to rest as well. One way to do that is to stop for a moment, and instead of thinking about the next thing you’re planning to do, let yourself enjoy all the sensations around you.

If your life is anything like mine, it’s messy, loud and often chaotic. I’m learning to smile at the clatter of everyone at the table sharing a meal, as much as those rare quiet moments when I can light a candle and sit by the fire with a cup of cocoa.

I’m a firm believer that we don’t always need peace and quiet to feel peaceful and quiet.

I’m a firm believer that we don’t always need peace and quiet to feel peaceful and quiet.

When I stop and think about it, what I love about Christmas is everything it does for my senses: the glow of lights on my tree, snow falling peacefully outside my window, the banging and shouting of my kids playing with their cousins, the smell of pine and cinnamon, and the sound of Christmas music playing. (In fact, I’ve just about decided on a record player for next year, because I think Nat King Cole deserves to be ad-free.)

Photo by Hannah Mann

Focus on sharing your love, joy and peace, rather than gifts or goodies.

I’d love to avoid all the frenzy for sweet and toys, and opt for a more laid-back celebration: curled up by the fire with my kids and our favorite Christmas books, while we pop popcorn the old-fashioned way. I want my kids to experience the magic without the materialism. But I want to make sure they're not missing out, without missing the point of Christmas, either. It's an endless dilemma.

Maybe you can relate.

When I feel pressure to buy gifts for my kids, family or neighbors, I try to shift my focus from shopping to sharing my love. Gestures like eye contact, smiles, compliments and hand-written notes cost nothing. Start there, I say, and then see what inspiration strikes. You might just think of the perfect gift, or you might realize a gift isn’t necessary at all.

Here's to a Merry Christmas,

P.S. As always, I’m curious: what do you love about Christmas, and what stresses you out? Let me know in the comments below, or drop me a line at!

Images in this post were created by me unless otherwise credited.


I love hot breakfasts, steaming cups of chamomile tea, stacks of books, slow walks, and being home with my three very spirited kids (often a little neighbor or three, too!)


The truth is, for the longest time—even after years of infertility—I felt I just wasn’t cut out for motherhood. Was it ever going to be anything but overwhelming? I never imagined I could enjoy it the way I do now, but I've realized that they way we think has everything to do with the peace and happiness we create. Here I write about my struggles, hard-won lessons, and finding contentment in it all. I’m so glad you’re here!

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"Not knowing when the Dawn will come, I open every Door"

- Emily Dickinson


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