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:
- We have to put the decorations up
- 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
- 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.”
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 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.
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.
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:
Squishy Cute Designs offers a great collection of free activity pages for all ages.
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!