15 Hacks for a Less Stressful Holiday Season

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 for you to put on your refrigerator. 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.

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?


6 thoughts on “15 Hacks for a Less Stressful Holiday Season”

  1. Thanks so much for these ideas. I’m already planning to try most of them! (The NEWSletter idea is especially terrific.) But the most important thing I gleaned from this post is that I’m not alone when it comes to trying (and failing) to do ALL the things. I feel like I have permission to simply relax and enjoy the season – emphasis on simply! 😉
    Thank you!

  2. These are such great ideas for a really happy, simple Christmas season. We do most of them, too. We think that Christmas should be a month-long celebration and Christmas day should most definitely NOT be about cooking and cleaning the kitchen all day. We eat Little Debbie snack cakes and coffee for breakfast. We also do a White Elephant Gift Exchange sometime during the month. We only spend a few dollars on these gifts, but the game is really fun.

    I love your links in this post. They are so helpful and so practical. Thanks for those. One tradition that I have not yet implemented is Christmas read alouds. I can’t wait to start that one this year. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Sherry. And God Bless!

  3. I usually get super stressed out almost every Christmas. My Mennonite midwife told me she doesn’t do presents with her family. They just make baked goods for their community and then the whole family gets together and has a big dinner and visits. That sounded great to me. They go all out for birthdays though, to really make each person feel special. I mentioned that to my family and they all got quiet and a little scared that I’d start trying to implement that. My midwife also told me that her children all thanked her later as adults and parents that their family had celebrated in that way. I’m always thinking about this. I just can’t shake it. I want to live differently than I have been. You know what I’d really like to do? Take all my children and serve in a soup kitchen and feed the homeless on Christmas.


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