I am the kind of mom who ruins magical moments. I’m no good at hospitality, my baking is subpar, and my husband is the one who decorates our house for Christmas. I don’t like the hype and expectations of the holidays. I’m basically about 75% Grinch.
We have a lot of kids, a lot of extended family, a lot of church and school activities and a little budget. This means we are busy and poor—not a great combination for making the most of this magical time of year. We work to keep things simple because we don’t have the resources to be fancy. In that process, we have figured out some things that work for us and I’m happy to share them with you. I’d love to hear your tips, too!
Go see Christmas lights. This is where we dedicate an evening to enjoying other people’s ability to really get into the Christmas spirit. We pick a special treat (I’m only half ashamed to tell you of our love for McDonald’s holiday pies which taste like eggnog baked in a sugar cookie), get some kind of seasonal coffee for Mom and Dad and then just drive around for two hours. We take a couple addresses of places we know will be fun and then wander around. This usually involves some level of husband and wife tension (as all driving trips do), but we make it work. This requires not much money, not too much time, and zero preparation. Slacker moms can do this.
Sibling Secret Santa. Our kids draw names and then buy one small ($10) gift for that person. We’ve been doing this with kids since our group home days and it truly is one of our favorite parts of Christmas. The kids love picking something out for each other and trying to keep it a secret. Those gifts are often their most treasured possessions and they can recite who gave them what for years past. When I was a kid, I remember a year or two we also did sneaky nice things for that person in the days leading up to Christmas (secretly cleaning their room, leaving them a nice note, putting candy in their dresser, etc.). If you are really short on funds, you could just do the nice acts and skip the gifts.
Favorite Family Christmas Movie. There are lots of fun family Christmas movies to pick from. Grab one and make it a tradition. Have some special Christmas treats or popcorn or hot cocoa and just sit together. Our family likes the Tim Allen “Santa Clause” movies and at my request, we also watch “While You Were Sleeping” every year. Just remember—no phones, no other screens, no multitasking. The focus is on being present and together. (*We attempted to do “Elf” one year and our adopted kids DID NOT LIKE that movie because of the adoption storyline. And my kids love a good adoption storyline! The way that one was handled was upsetting to them. Just a heads-up for other foster and adoptive families.)
Birthday cake for Jesus. I’ve got super easy instructions up over here. In our quest to help our kids keep the main thing the main thing during this busy time, a birthday cake seems to help. The one we make is full of symbolism, but if you picked up something from the grocery store and just communicated that we celebrate Christmas because it’s a birthday party, I think that’s what really counts.
DELEGATE. I am bad at baking, so my mom has the kids over on a Saturday every December to make the traditional frosted sugar cookies. This is a win/win for all of us as the kids love doing this with Grandma, she loves having that special tradition, and I love not having to deal with the chaos of Christmas baking at my house. We actually manage to have six kids create a heaping mess of cookies without me losing my temper or anybody getting burned. It’s kind of a Christmas miracle. I’d encourage you to be creative and look at your resources when it comes to creating magical Christmas moments. Is there somebody who would love to take your daughter to see The Nutcracker? Could your kids go Christmas caroling with their youth group? Is there a childless aunt or uncle who is happy to take somebody ice-skating? Is there a teen girl at church who would love to have wrap presents with your kids? You may have to humble yourself and ask (and risk them saying no), but I bet there are people around you who would love the chance to do a little magical moment making with your kids.
Ask your kids what matters to them. I was surprised to find last year that my son was really excited about folding all the napkins into Christmas trees. Who knew? My kids also love decorating their own rooms, which I have nothing to do with. Half my kids love being in the church Christmas program and the other half are not the performing type. Their preferences and desires can change year to year, so it’s great to talk to your kids about what would make the season fun for them and even look at their unique gifts to figure out how to accomplish that. Can I let the teen boys put up the outdoor lights? At some point my kids will be old enough to do their own baking for their friends if that matters to them. If they’d love for our family to go Christmas caroling, I’m in. These are the things we don’t know unless we ask. I find that when I ask my kids what they want, it helps clarify our family priorities and I carry less guilt about all the extra things we aren’t doing.
I would really love to hear about your family traditions! We’re always looking for new (simple, cheap) options to incorporate with our family.