15 Holiday Hacks from a Mom of 15

My ultimate Christmas dream is a quiet dinner, a modest Christmas tree, a few gifts opened while soft Christmas carols play in the background…

However, my husband is the opposite. He is Santa Claus. Really, I’m not kidding. He loves everything about the season, even listens to Christmas music year-round and grows a huge, white beard during the season (which the little kids love, and it pleases me, too).

This means that our Christmases are Christmas-y, with all the glitter and goodies and music and movies we can fit in. However, with raising 15 children all the activity can become frantic. Many Decembers I have felt I was running a marathon!

In order to keep up I’ve had to learn to trim down wherever I can. This way I can actually enjoy the people I love the most instead of scurrying until I’m exhausted and grumpy.

Here are some of the ways I’ve found to simplify and celebrate:

1. I don’t decorate outside.

Well, maybe just a wreath. We have skipped this part because:

  1. We have to put the decorations up
  2. We have to take them down

With so much going on around our house all the time, this is simply one more thing we don’t need to chase after!

2. I make a number of cookie doughs ahead and then bake in one day.

With so many people in our house, we have to quadruple cookie batches. Each type takes more than a few minutes to mix up, then baking them all can take more time than I have in a day.

A while back I started mixing a different batch each week and then freezing the dough. After I had four or more types I would set aside a day when I would assemble and bake all of them at once. This way I didn’t have to have the mixer, flour, etc. out all over the place while I was also taking cookies out of the oven and packaging them.

3. I keep to the same decorating scheme.

I am a creative woman with a constant itch to change things around. This would be wonderful if I had unlimited time and energy. However, most of my life I have been nursing one and jiggling another while refereeing three who are fighting over who gets to put the angel on top of the tree. Automating decorating is one way I have kept chaos to a minimum.

A tree covered with simple bulbs and lights can be all the “festive” you need. Then, if you have time and energy, you can add some embellishments here and there. Make sure that after the season is over everything is wrapped up and labeled correctly so it can be pulled out and put up next year without (much) fuss or muss.

4. I have the children do the wrapping.

Even if we only purchase 3-4 gifts per person, the wrapping can take hours! Why not spread the joy around? The children (the girls, at least) consider it part of the giving to wrap for each other.

5. I make some hot apple cider.

Here is something cozy and Christmasy that is reasonably cheap and can be made in bulk.

You will need:

  • Gallon apple juice
  • 12 ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
  • Water to taste
  • Tsp cloves
  • 4-6 sticks cinnamon

Simmer in a huge stock pot on the stove and provide a ladle for filling mugs.

6. I make Christmas day a snack party.

This day should be reserved for playing, not cooking and cleaning! I try and have trays made with the following:

  • Leftover turkey or ham made into sandwiches
  • Summer sausage cut in thin slices
  • Crackers
  • Cheese
  • Fresh veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers
  • Chips and dips
  • Christmas cookies

And have plenty of milk and flavored seltzer water (if it spills it’s only water 🙂 ) on hand for drinking.

7. We go caroling in our neighborhood.

People tend to be suspicious of large, homeschooling families. Why not take the time to go around and sing to them, bring them a bag of goodies you have made, and allow them to see you in a different light?

You don’t have to know a lot of songs, just two or three are perfect, even if the little ones can only manage “Jingle Bells.”

Here is a link to some free printable Christmas song sheets.

8. I do very few outside Christmas activities.

Instead of trying to do it all and failing miserably, I’ve always tried to pick a few things and do them well. This also applies to Christmas activities. When outings mean a wrestling match (making sure everyone’s shoes match and their coats are zipped), keeping them to a minimum makes each more relaxed and memorable.

9. We do a simple count-down calendar.

This is not optional if you want to have a peaceful holiday. Children need to have something visual that will help them keep track of the days, not just for Christmas day itself, but for the other fun things they are expecting to do.

If you are short on time and money, here is a free printable calendar that is very nicely done from Yellow Bliss Road. Just put a huge “X” in each day’s box as it goes by.

(If you feel strongly and want to go all-out, you’ll find some interesting ideas here.)

10. We skip formal homeschooling

Leave off grammar and arithmetic. Do something creative or just let preparations themselves allow for learning. Baking cookies, creating a newsletter (see below), learning a piece of Christmas music on the piano or other instrument, investigating the origins of Christmas traditions, explaining the significance of the virgin birth, learning about money and consumer math when shopping for gifts, etc.

11. We make reading aloud part of our daily routine.

No matter what else is going on, make sure and take time to read aloud to your children. There are certain stories (or “accounts” where concerning the Bible) that are family traditions.

Luke 2:1-20, along with Isaiah chapter 9.

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke (you could listen to this one on librivox while working on Christmas projects, and here is the free Kindle version)

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John by Pearl S. Buck. This is a heart-warming story about orphans in South Korea.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You could listen to this one read aloud, but it is so. much. fun to read it aloud yourself, with all of the character voices, etc.

Christmas Stories and Legends


12. We make salt dough decorations.

I’m truly not a craft-making mama, but this is such a cheap way to keep little children busy feeling productive and important that it’s worth including. We always enjoy making decorations for the Christmas tree. The basic recipe is so easy:

  • One part salt
  • Two parts flour
  • Enough water to make a good dough

It’s absolutely safe if the tiniest ones try to eat it. After everyone is done creating, you can bake it in the oven at 250 degrees and then have them paint with those 50-cent bottles of acrylic paint you can find at Walmart.

13. I print some Christmas activity sheets.

Yes, there are times when the littles are full of energy and inquisitiveness and need a reason to sit down and cool their snow skis a bit! This is when I thank God for all of the kind, talented people who take the time to create marvelous activity sheets for children. Below are just a few of the sites I have found that offer ink-worthy ones:

Christmas Mad Libs

Find and Colour sheet.

Christmas symbols printables

Squishy Cute Designs offers a great collection of free activity pages for all ages.

Christmas dot painting sheets

14. We create a better family newsletter.

Newsletters can be a great way to keep loved ones caught up with your family news. However, things can get a bit out-of-hand. What I don’t want to be a part of is “one-upping.” On the one hand, there can be so much bragging on the fantabulous, even exaggerating the fantabulous, while forgetting the challenges so that others become discouraged, or, on the other hand, there can be so much whining, moaning, and complaining that readers also become discouraged.

Instead, why not create a “reader” sort of newsletter? Give snapshots (in photo and word) of the personalities of your family members, what their interests are, etc. and intersperse these with snippets of interesting information and pretty photos. The information could be anything, really, but centering in on the following can make it more engaging:

  • The history of Christmas traditions
  • Christmas around the world
  • The story behind popular Christmas carols
  • Christmas legends
  • The real meaning of Christmas as it has affected you

This way your readers will come away with something uplifting and useful, and not the weight of competition or concern.

15. We make a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake.

This is one of the easiest ways to bring the true Christmas message home to little children. Celebrating Jesus’ birthday helps them make sense of the gifts and the parties. Make sure and put His name on the cake and include candles that can be blown out after you sing the happy birthday song to Him!

16. We declutter in anticipation of receiving gifts.

Why not take all of that pent-up energy from being indoors and put it to good use? The younger children will really get into reducing their toy horde if you get them to think of the new toys coming in…

And what a great way to get children to really (and I mean deep under the bed and in the corners of the closet) clean their rooms!

I’m sure I’m missing something! What are some of the ways you have more fun with less stress during the holidays?


18 thoughts on “15 Holiday Hacks from a Mom of 15”

  1. These are great! I can’t wait to try the salt dough craft! I too am not very crafty but this seems like such an easy and fun project for my kids.

  2. These are such great ideas, Sherry. Thank you! With a large family it is difficult for our children to buy gifts for all of their siblings. So, at the beginning of December each child chooses the name of a sibling out of a hat. Then they keep their chosen name a secret and buy a special gift for that sibling. Everyone has great fun on Christmas morning seeing who chose who, plus its another way to build those sibling relationships.

  3. I love everything about this post! I think this year I am going to try the snack tray for eating instead of a bigger meal. And the spiced cider will fill the house with wonderful smells and be a part of the special day atmosphere.
    We leave off the formal school for making crafts for other people. Paper snowflakes, cookies, cards, pot holders and crocheted stars for tree decorations.
    Some of the kids favorite things to do are draw a sibling name and plan what they will buy for that person.
    Thank you for all the wonderful ideas.
    Janelle (mama to 7 wonderful kiddos)

    • I’m glad you found this helpful, Janelle. I agree that this time is a precious part of learning, especially concerning making others happy with handmade gifts. Thank you for taking the time to add in!

    • I feel just a twinge of pressure until a week after Christmas when I see all the homeowners taking their decorations down, or forgetting to 😉

  4. Sherry!! Oh, my goodness, this list is awesome!! THANK YOU so much for the great ideas. I am not in the least crafty-ish, so your ideas were such a blessing. I put some of those acrylic paints you mentioned on order at Walmart, and we’re going to do the salt dough ornaments this week. Two quick questions:

    (1) How long do you bake them?
    (2) When you say “parts,” do you mean by volume or by weight?


    * Thanks for the hot apple cider recipe! We’re going to try it at the neighborhood open house we hope to host.

    * Thank you to the links to the Christmas activities!

    * Thank you for the other ideas – you’ve given me some great ideas for the next month. We too take off from school from Thanksgiving week to New Year’s, so I now have some great ideas.

    I really appreciate this post!! Have a great month!

    • P.S. I think another reader already said this, but I also wanted to chime in that having a “print post” option would be really great – it would just save a few minutes when I want to print a post, which is often! 🙂 Something that could leave out the pictures and just let us print the document’s text?? No worries if it’s not possible, but it would be great!

    • Thanks for the important input, Diana, and you are very welcome, too! Here are the answers to your questions:
      1. We bake them until they are firm to the touch (the oven is not really for baking, more for drying).
      2. We do the measuring by volume, such as one cup salt to two cups flour.

        • Sherry, just wanted to come back and say that the salt dough ornaments and the cider turned out very well. The salt dough ornaments took us about a week to actually finish (okay, they’re actually still not finished!), but they are gorgeous – and if we can stop dropping them, we’ll actually have a few left at the end of the season! (Just kidding, we made a double batch and have about a million of them!)

          Thanks again!!

          • You made me chuckle. Yes, we always turn out a kazillion, too. I have boxes filled with them in the basement, but they are so precious to bring out and have the kids enjoy the sweet memories made.

  5. Wow! I am very like minded in these things! We are currently reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and I didn’t even realize what it was when we started. I decorate by putting up evergreen branches on shelves, over picture frames. We are doing school in part by making a play. I’m the narrator and read from Luke. They are making all the costumes (even made the crawling baby into a sheep!), and its going to be the best Christmas play ever. We are inviting The Grandparents and Daddy, and making hand drawn, hand written invitations. I LOVE a snack bar for Christmas and Christmas Eve (but we have to have olives, pickles, and baby corn…cause we just do!). We bought a GIANT roll of brown paper for out business and ended up not using it for that, and I wrap every single thing in that. There are so many lovely ways to decorate that.
    Thanks for all the wonderful ideas. Yah for simple Christ filled Christmas!


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