Keeping Christmas Simple

We’ve taken a step toward a more traditional holiday this year. Our DIY Christmas tree has taken several different forms over the last few years–some of which barely resembled a tree at all–but the same idea was behind them all.  We wanted to use what we had to celebrate.  We wanted a holiday that focused on creative reuse rather than consumerism.  This year we were given a hand-me-down artificial tree, and we have a small collection of ornaments that have been gifted to us, so our tree is pretty traditional.

In keeping with the DIY spirit of our holiday, we made a few ornaments out of wrapping paper glued to cardboard.  A pre-publication copy (F&G) of Holly Hobbie’s new version of The Night Before Christmas made for a few cute ornaments in the same way.  They were simple enough for our almost six-year-old to do with minimal frustration, and I think they look charming too.



In all honesty, my favorite traditions are the ones that are different every year.  They are familiar without being tired.  They grow with us, but keep us grounded to our values.  That’s all I really want in a holiday.  More than elaborate decor or expensive presents, I want to spend time with the people I love, share what I have, and think about what we value.

May your holidays be full of love, hope, and happiness. :)

This blog will probably be fairly quiet this month, but you may check out previous years’ posts for more holiday related content:


Our Holiday

perfectchristmasThere is no perfect Christmas.  There is only the Christmas that fits your family.  That’s the stuff of a picture book right there.  But we’ve taken it to heart.

Our holiday isn’t totally traditional, but it fits us.  We value simplicity, generosity, and togetherness.  Those values are all at play in our DIY Christmas tree, a tradition that started on a whim in 2010 and has become a family favorite.  We always give a nod to the traditional, but there are a few rules.  We can only use what we have or can borrow, and we have to work together to create the tree.

Here is this year’s creation:


The ornaments have been gifted to us.  The snowman, with the year 2007, was a baby gift to commemorate our December baby.  The only purchased items in the above scene are the little stockings.  It’s minimalist, and that’s just right for us.  (Compare the past few years of DIY Trees on my photo blog.)

A colleague once commented to me that my daughter will not appreciate our unusual holiday tradition when she’s old enough to realize that her friends do it differently.  He might be right, and our traditions might shift in the years to come.

We’ve already experienced a slight change in our Christmas celebration as of this year.  It seems we are a Santa family this year.  In the past, I have fallen Very Seriously into the anti-Santa camp.  I had no idea when we decided to be Santa-free that this would be such a controversy, but it seems that every year the issue arises again in the media/blogosphere.  I try to stay out of the argument in general, but I have been known to rant about the whole business in the privacy of my own home.

All that said, my daughter, who is now just about five years old, has requested that we pretend the Santa story is real this year.  The moment we agreed, the onslaught began:

  • “How is Santa going to get in our house since we don’t have a chimney?”
  • “What if Santa forgets our house?”
  • “What if Santa can’t find our Christmas tree and doesn’t know where to put the presents?

The list goes on.  Even though she knows the truth, she’s still thinking through all the counter-factual scenarios that the Santa story involves.  She’s learning to think in a causal, rational way, and we’re stretching our imaginations together.  I have to admit, it’s pretty fun.

We have more Christmas fun planned–along with birthday and anniversary plans–so watch this space (or the photo blog) for more about our minimalist holiday.

If you missed it, here are some Christmas picture books we like.

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Happy Anni-birth-mas!

In my family, December is about more than just Christmas.  The succession of special days in December has been dubbed “anni-birth-mas,” and our traditions have come to be about all of us–Ladybug’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, then Christmas.  It’s a jumble, at least for now.  We try to give each day its due attention, but we don’t draw too many lines between the celebrations.

As I wrote last year, we have our own take on holiday traditions:

“To be honest, I still trip over the words to Christmas carols I’ve heard a million times but only recently started to sing.  I didn’t manage to get Christmas cards out before the holiday (or the new year), and I’m quite sure no one had a Christmas tree like ours.  Our Christmas was ‘us,’ and I loved it.”

Our DIY tree is far from most people’s idea of traditional, but it makes me smile every time I see it.  It represents our influences from Christianity and Buddhism, as well as our anti-consumerist tendencies.  The most important thing to me is that it be fun.  It’s also kind of funny, but that is just a bonus.

If you can’t tell from the photo, the Buddha sits in the middle of our “tree” this year–flashing the peace sign.  It is part shrine, part art project, part holiday celebration.  Completely ours.

Not that I don’t want Ladybug to know what a more traditional holiday looks like.  That’s what books are for.  We read Celebrate Christmas for context and The Perfect Christmas to emphasize that everyone celebrates differently.  Then we read A Christmas Tree for Pyn to talk about family and simplicity.  (FWIW, this is one of my favorite picture books this year.  Read the review at Waking Brain Cells for more details.)

This is what works for us.  I hope your family has found what works for you.  Merry holidays!

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

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