Reducing your Christmas stress - UPDATED

9 October 2008

Art by Carl Larsen from his gallery.

Why is it that Christmas, and the lead up to it, is so fraught with stress and panic? Back in my spending days, I use to think that I never had enough time to do everything I needed to do and I’d run around like a headless chook not getting much done at all. When lunch was over on Christmas day, I’d wonder why I got caught up, yet again, in the madness my Christmas had developed into.

Those days are long gone for me, I live at a more gentle pace now and whenever I go out very close to Christmas, I find the pushing and buying quite ugly. It doesn't have to be that way. With a bit of planning we could all celebrate the holidays simply and come out of it strengthened as a family rather than being shattered by it.

We have stopped giving gifts to all but our sons. A few small home made tokens of appreciation go to close friends, but Christmas is pretty much commercial free for us. We still give but we don’t give gifts. Through my voluntary work we organise a Christmas morning breakfast for our community and we cook breakfast for a few hundred people. We have that breakfast in a local park. Last year 450 people came to share the morning with us and we celebrated the morning by being a part of our community.

It’s great to see all walks of life come together in a celebration of Christmas. The town businesses donate most of the food and drinks, and the meal is enjoyed by the homeless, many family groups, and people who are alone at Christmas. We'll be back cooking breakfast for our community again this year and it's something I'm looking forward to. It’s an affirmation of the strength of our community that is remembered well into the year.

What will your Christmas hold this year? If you’ve been troubled with stressed filled holidays, I have a challenge for you. I want you to write a list of three things you usually do at Christmas that you don’t want to do this year. Then I want you to make plans in the coming weeks so that what is on your list is not a part of your Christmas. It’s a small step, but it might just be the catalyst you need to get yourself and your family to a truly happy and enriching Christmas.

ADDIT: I have two blogs I'd like to recommend to you. First is Renee and Marc's great blog, Garden Desk. They're building a polytunnel greenhouse to extend their growing period. It's really worth a visit to check it out. The other is a craft blog full of lovely work. It's Knot Garden, where you'll find some beautiful crochet and sewing. Happy reading.

Deborah has just sent this useful link about breaking the cycle of gift buying. Thanks Deborah!


  1. Man, when I stopped the stressing and all the hoopla I too started enjoying Christmas sooo much more. It's not about STUFF anyways!!! It's about Jesus ~ and He's FREE!!!

  2. Most years I start dreading Christmas when I see all the junk being put on the shelves at the stores. But the last few years has been a lot better. Our finances always seem to take nose dive towards the end of the year so two years ago we agreed to put a cap on the cost of presents. We could only spend $10 per gift for our family exchange and Santa's gift could only be $10 as well. With five young kids that took a huge burden off of us, well me, I'm the one that stresses over the cost. For our extended family exchanges we have done care packages and our parents or siblings have loved them. We pack a box with herb teas, hot chocolate mix, cough drops, soup mixes and some candies. It's been fun and it's meant a little more than just some gift that they may not even like. After you posted the link to "A Month of Christmas Holiday Gifts to Sew" I got very excited. So many great ideas and most of them I can make out of fabric I already have on hand. So I have been sewing off and on since. Thanks for the link.

  3. This year, we are traveling back to Texas to spend Christmas with my husband's family. My parents are gone now, but I still have siblings in the area in Texas and will see them as well. We have started scaling back, over the last couple of years. I'm probably going to make a lot of gifts this year, we have done that in the past and enjoyed it as much as the person who receives the gift. It's a 10 hour drive both ways, but we haven't been in about 2 years so we are looking forward to it. We're trying to get back to what Christmas is all about, Jesus birth.

  4. We have tried to scale down Christmas a little but it's gone down like a lead balloon I'm afraid. Handmade isn't valued and so you wonder why you are going to all that effort. Such a shame. I would like to have a nice quiet Christmas with minimal travelling but I don't think that will happen somehow!

  5. I love the holiday season! I make most of my gifts for family and friends and my cards. For my son, his wife and my granddaughter, I also do stockings and always am on the lookout for small treasures to fill the stockings. And I love baking cookies.

    On Christmas day we have a new tradition of eating brunch together and then going to a movie in the late afternoon. Very simple, easy...just time spent together.

    My granddaughter and I take a name from the Angel Tree and shop for a present to make a child's holiday dream come true.

    The holiday spirit doesn't have to involve breaking the budget.

  6. Rhonda,

    I wanted you see our greenhouse/polytunnel. We finished on Sunday. We still have to do the windows and fan but we can use it now:) We hope to start some lettuce in it soon. you can see it at .......

    We are going to try to have a simple Christmas this year. We told our children to limit 3 gifts each. Just being with our family is enough for me:)



  7. Hi Ronda Jean,
    I remember you post of your christmas last yr. a Wonderful idea. :o)
    I make most all the gifts we give.
    The 3 of us has a Christmas (brunch) a big country breakfast, my Parents lived with us due to illness they suffered, we did a big breakfast, DS Loved the idea and request it each yr.
    I like to do gift baskets with a theme. This yr. I am making cloth gift bags.
    I barter for gifts, I've done this for yrs. and it works great!
    I am NOt a last moment person I try to finish as much as I can early and enjoy the season. I see and hear folks stressed out to the max. With the economy this yr. I think everyone will make changes.
    We stopped exchanging gifts with some friends yrs. back have a pot luck gathering.
    Hope you have agreat day!

  8. Hi Rhonda
    we only give a few gifts as well each year, but this will be our first year with our daughter living overseas so it will be a bit strange for us. And my mother has moved into a nursing so I'm not sure what the day will bring for us which is a bit strange as Mum has always stayed with us for a few days and we have brunch with friends and it's been great. I'm sure we will still have a lovely day nonetheless. We don't get into lots of gift giving so it's not in any way stressful and both mine and my husband's companies close down over Christmas break so we always get to spend time together.
    However I have to say that I went into a couple of stores recently (since Mum has been in the nursing home we haven't been shopping at all as she isn't well enough to go out) and I was totally amazed to see Christmas decorations already in store! I couldn't believe it....... I'm sure for some people that would immediately start panic stations!
    I love your idea of a community based breakfast and I'm sure you will have a great time again. At work I suggested that we skip Kris Kringle and buy a present through World Vision catalogue and they are all in favour of that so we feel that we are giving a little bit back in that way
    Enjoy your day

  9. I agree entirely, this year we have agreed not to give the adults presents but we will treat them to a really nice meal in town and for us they will buy goats, chickens etc from Oxfam to give people in developing countries some much needed help.

    Gifts for the children will be small, useful and as green as possible.

    Hopefully most Christmas food will come from the garden or somewhere very close by.

    Love your blog.

  10. We are heading to my brothers house at the beach for three weeks and for the first time in ages we will be away for Christmas. Everyone is excited they are going to get a live tree, make the decorations for it (which saddens me a little every year I buy each of our children a new decoration for the tree and one for the family they are all packed away in their separate cases and each child puts their own decorations on the tree (yes even mr 21 and 20!!). So I will miss that but I making gorgeous cloth decorations from one of the Art to Heart books for each of them and for us so we will have one new one each. Present wise the kids only get one from Santa and one from us. We buy a little thing for each other and a gift for daisydad's parents (this year I think we will all chip in with his brothers and sisters and buy them a small water tank for their new house).

    I have bought all the gifts except for the in laws so now I can sit back and relax and the shops can do what they will i am pleased I bought early though things may be expensive this year.


  11. We are going to start new traditions this year -- traditions that cost no money but will be fun and memorable.

    1. Christmas lights -- I plan on popping popcorn -- enough to fill a paper grocery sack -- and fill a thermos of hot chocolate. We will then pile into the car, pick up our grandparents and drive around looking at the Christmas lights.

    2. Christmas Eve -- We are going to take this night back. For years we have gone from one relative's home to another's and not really enjoying the evening. This year we will attend Mass at 6p.m. then come home to homemade soup and bread, play games, open 1 gift (save the rest for Christmas morn), and toast marshmallows in the fireplace to make smores.

    3. Giving tree -- We are going to decorate the pine tree in our yard with strings of popcorn and cranberries, and hang fruit and ears of corn for our feathered and furry friends. We have a firepit outside and will roast hotdogs and have a winter picnic.

    Our budget will be very tight this year at Christmas time. We will buy gifts mainly for our 2 kids. Our son is in elementary school and I like to remember his teacher and the school secretary (she is a God-send!) so will make them a loaf of homemade bread, cookies, and a couple jars of jellies. It's not much money wise, but I think they will appreciate the time I took to make it for them. This is a very long and windy comment but I think if a person really thinks about things and uses their imagination and ask people about what they do, they can come up with some great, memorable things to make Christmas extra special without breaking the bank!

    Kristina, Nebraska, USA

  12. i dont know if there is two much to change
    this year will be quiet as we r away from all our family and cant get to them
    but thats dh will be home ALL thats a first

    we didnt get to do our yearly kids toys layby...and NOW im glad...we decided that making things and buying very little was our theme for this christmas..:)

  13. My entire family of inlaws has made it clear they do not consider home made presents to be proper gifts (I love to make people presents) so that is a bit sad....but I enjoy planning everyone else's home made gifts throughout the year.
    My hubby and I have a little one and we disagree on the whole Santa thing. I think it removes the focus off of family and sharing (being a gimee gimmee thing for most kids) and think we should put a gift under the gift tree for underprivledged kids instead of introducing the santa idea but he wants to do the festival of greed thing....SIGH....I'm not sure how it will turn out.
    So there's my two big stresses involved in Christmas...hopefully they will find some solution soon.

  14. Good post on a subject that I am desperately seeking any ideas I can get a hold of. I even read carefully through all your comments. We are scaling back and I have just started talking to my friends and family about it. I declare this Christmas as a homemade year with a few exceptions, my kiddos and we buy them meaningful useful gifts. Just the other night I e-mailed my brother and his girlfriend proposing that we buy for the kids only and for us the criteria be pictures and/or homemade stuff. They both agreed. This proposal e-mail will be sent out to a couple friends too, nothing purchased just homemade. I need to get a move on all these projects but here are a few I have in mind. We will be giving friends and family fall pictures of the kids, goat soap (I will attempt to make this over the weekend for a first time ), Christmas decorations...I am thinking angels made with things from mother nature (bay leaves/pinecones/dried flowers), breads, and peanut butter fudge. I may even attempt to make natural body sprays and bath salts.

  15. We are driving up to Northern California to be with my sister-in-law. NO GIFTS for anyone! What a relief! I, too, get stressed out at Christmas and frankly, with the economy like it is, we'll just be glad to be together with the family.

  16. Wonderful and timely post.

    Thank you.

  17. We only give to our kids and grandchildren, as far as buying gifts. Even then I'm on the lookout all year for inexpensive treasures.

    For my husband's two siblings (both in their 50s and not married), I make homemade candy and baked goods.

  18. We just buy for our three offspring (17, nearly 20 and nearly 22 so not really children any more), and I make gifts for my great-nieces and nephews and my cousin's little boy. That gives me so much pleasure. In having a clear-out yesterday I found some half finished/nearly finished x-stitch projects so I am now working on these as presents. I also found a couple of Beatrix Potter embroideries which I am going to start on in January for my great-nieces for next year.

    Christmas for me mainly means having the girls back from University and all my family around me, which matters more than anything in the world.

    One of the highlights is just going out to chose a Christmas tree (we have a fresh-felled one from the Christmas Tree Farm which my son cuts down), and then traditionally each of us choses a new special decoration for it. The children get to dress the tree and my moment comes in the New Year, when I get to strip it and try to shove it through the sash window without the loss of ALL the needles!)

    Oh and then of course there is all the Christmas baking which I love to do, and the home-made mincemeat which is already maturing in the earthenware jar.

    We always hope for snow, but it's usually rain here in Wales!

  19. This is such a good post. I am in my 50's now, but the best Christmas we ever had as children occurred at a time -as I found out years later-when my parents were really short of money, and had cut expenses and gifts way back.My sister and I were given a doll each-with a wardrobe of handmade clothes for each, and a cradle which my father had made. My mother and grandmother collaborated on the clothes. These dolls provided so much happiness,and we had no idea of their frugal origins!
    Our very large extended family now has a Kris Kringle so that we each buy for only one adult and one child, with a price limit.Something else which is fun is to opshop for gifts, again with a fixed price limit.

  20. We're downsizing Christmas this year too. My sister and I have decided to only buy for the children - but we're both making something to give each other (she's getting a bottle of mead and a Christmas cake from me).

    I've already spoken to my mum about knitting her a jumper - that is well underway. And of course, there's a cake for her too.

    My inlaws, are getting a hamper of food and other goodies - much of it homemade.

    There's a couple of people who probably wouldn't respond well to homemade gifts, so we'll buy them something nice, rather than the horrible cheap tat that seems to appear at this time of year.

    (But, that gives us another year to work on them!)

    I feel that one of the problems is that people get hung up on the cost of presents, not the value...they often don't see your time as a valuable commodity. I try to sound people out before I embark on a project for them...

  21. Thanks for your post - timely and thought-provoking.

    I'm sewing gifts for my children this year - a first for me!

    Elven/hobbit cloaks for my 12yo daughter and 8yo son (hope to have time to add some creative stitching), and a magician's cape - with sparkling blue lining - for my 10yo son.

    Add a book for each and one other worthwhile gift...oh, and a vegie seedling too. :-)

  22. Christmas is never really stressful for me. For some reason, I thrive on all the activities and fun things to do. In my community, there are so many events like Christmas carols in the park, the community tree lighting, Santa riding in the fire truck the saturday after thanksgiving to kick off the season.
    I like to put thought into my gifts and we really don't have to give too many. We do name exchanges on each side of our families. My kids get money as that is all they want. They both put most of the money in the bank to save for thier futures. I do a few holiday ornament exchanges with friends. I do like to make some sort of handmade gifts to give as well. We have been paying cash for Christmas for the past several years and not using credit. We have an allotted amount to spend and go with that. The most important thing to us for Christmas is just spending time with our families and enjoying thier company. My favorite gifts to receive are always hand made by the recipient. My sisters in law are very crafty and make the best projects.

  23. *lol* I think it's just the americans who make such a stressfull holiday out of Christmas....

    up here, it's just a decorated tree.. a gift (ONE gift) per person.. and some hot chocolate. ;)

    I have never understood why the americans felt the need to give their kids 5 toys each....?

    greetings from the netherlands!

  24. What a timely post! I have started to do some Christmas Prep updates to remind me what needs doing and what I have done so far.

    This year I am knitting a few gifts and will also be looking for "pre loved" treasures from charity shops - thus helping out a charity at the same time. We only buy the big presents for our children. Books are a favourite with all of us.

    What I won't be doing this year:-

    This year I refuse to jump on the consumer band wagon and will not be shopping in December unless it is a charity fund raiser. I dislike the crowds pushing and all the greed.

    We will not buy so much pre-packed ready made food and confectionery. so much is just over the top and still in the larder well into January! I shall be cooking and preparing most of the food myself with some Christmas Carols on in the background!

    I will not allow myself to feel pressurised into spending more money than we can afford. If folk don't appreciate the fact that I have remembered them and thought of them then too bad!

    There now I feel so much better lol!

  25. Whenever anyone talks about Christmas stress I recommend they read the book Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staehli. It's full of ideas and practical solutions to put the joy back into the festive season.

    Like many others here my hand made gifts are not appreciated but I've followed the suggestions in the book and have put together a way of celebrating Christmas that suits everyone in the family without stressing me. Win win all round :)

  26. What a truly lovely gift to give, your time and yourself. We have a similiar banquet here but it is for Thanksgiving. We have stopped giving so much and have actually been thought of as cheap:-) Homemade is only appreciated by certain people,so sad. I love a handmade, homemade gift! What treasures.

  27. I do love those beautiful Carl Larson paintings Rhonda, they are inspiring as well as beautiful ! Your post inspired me to email my siblings (all on other side of world to me)& suggested a "shared Christmas memories" letter (email) to each other instead of traditional gifts.We can print them out hopefully with some photos. Even in the same family we all remember different things so I am hoping they'll agree to it & I can't wait to re-live some childhood times that money cannot buy.

  28. I love Christmas when it's not about gifts and to-do lists and stress and starting Christmas way ahead of time. I love Advent, that season of anticipation. I love getting a real Christmas tree, decorating it mostly with homemade or hand-me-down ornaments, and smelling it whenever I'm in the living room. I love my old-fashioned paper Advent calendar (no chocolate for me!) with the little window to open every day. I love our traditions: the meals, the services, etc. I love making special Christmas cookies and other recipes that I only make once a year -- they taste so much better when they're special. I love eating the fruitcake that I made weeks in advance. I love listening to my Christmas CDs. I love picking a special Christmas devotional book and reading it throughout the season. I love making Christmas start on Christmas Eve and last throughout the 12 days of Christmas, rather than starting weeks ahead and ending when Dec 25 is over.

  29. Maybe people need to look carefully at who they are giving to and what? My sister and I and spouses just give the kids presents. We adults don't *need* anything much. Why not give gifts just to the kids?

  30. Wow! I LOVE your blog and will be back to visit often. Yes our furbabies are indoor. We use to have them outside but there are too many ferrel cats and loose dogs. We do love our felines and they keep rats, mice and such away very well. I am going to gleen from your vast experience.



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