Scaling Back and Finding More Joy in the Holidays


You’ve probably seen the Christmas book advent calendars floating around on Pinterest, and if you haven’t, the idea is that your kid gets to unwrap one Christmas or winter themed book to read each day until Christmas Eve. On its face, I was always kind of charmed by the idea. I love books, and I love reading with my kids. My 3-year-old will often pile a mound of books on the couch and we’ll cuddle together and read each book, plucking one after the other from the teetering pile until it’s gone. Adding a Christmas twist seemed like a great idea. Except for the fact that it seemed like a lot of work.

But this year I decided I was going to do it. I started making a list of books I wanted to buy, checking to see what was available at my local library, and scrolling through blogs for ideas. I spent an afternoon or two fully committed to this idea. And then suddenly it was November 10th. What on earth was I thinking? Who was I kidding? This was never going to happen.

I almost admire the optimism and faith that past me had in future me; however, sorry past me, it was misguided. I was never going to get it together to procure and wrap 24 books for this endeavor. Never.

I’ve loved being a stay at home mom since I left my job in May, but even without work, I am just not the mom who coordinates her kids’ outfits to go with their activities, stages elaborate photo shoots for even the obscurest of holidays (but I did admire your flag day photo shoot, don’t worry), or who painstakingly organizes grand holiday traditions like a book advent. There is a type of mom who finds joy in this stuff, but I am not her, and as December rolled closer I realized it sounded more stressful than joyful.

And so, I let it go. I love the holiday season; I love the traditions, picking out gifts for my loved ones and my mailman, and the optimism and joy that seem to hang in the air. However, as an adult, the holidays can also come with pressures. It’s easy to feel like you’re coming up short—not enough money, not enough time, not enough of you to go around. Last Christmas definitely started to feel that way around here, and so this year we are scaling back.

There will be traditions, but they will be less grand. We’ll bake cookies, decorate the tree, put up lights, order an advent calendar off of Amazon, and read Christmas books. We won’t go to three different tree lighting ceremonies, take a Christmas train ride, make homemade snow globes, or unwrap 24 Christmas books (I haven’t done all of these things, but I have planned to in my more ambitious moments).

There will be presents under the tree, but there will be fewer. I’ve actually finished most of my Christmas shopping for my kids (very unlike me), and so far, I’m coming in way under what we spent last year. I made a list early and thought about things my kids actually needed or would really enjoy and use, and so far, I’ve stuck to it. I am occasionally tempted to buy more, but then I remind myself that my kids already have plenty of stuff strewn about my house that I threaten to throw away every other day. 

My sister, sister-in-law, and I even agreed that we’d skip presents for each other’s kids this year. With two more babies arriving in the new year, my side of the family keeps on growing. This is, of course, wonderful, but it also means a lot of presents to buy and more presents for my kids. I love shopping for my niece and nephews, but it all gets to be a lot. So, this year we’re skipping the gifts at our get together and focusing on starting some non-gift related traditions for the kids. I think my wallet and my childless brother, who now has to buy for eight nieces and nephews, will thank us.

As we cut back on some things, we have more time and money to spend on other things that have more value to us. This year we have more time to fit in the traditions we do want to keep (Especially since I’m almost done Christmas shopping. Score.). Because we’re spending less on ourselves, we also have more to give. While we always try to do something, I’m finding it easier to say “yes” to giving this year. We’ve participated in adopting two families, donated to several causes that are important to us, and still hope to find a few more ways to give back as the holidays draw nearer. 

It feels like there is more to go around this holiday season—more time, more money, more of myself—and that has me feeling extra joyful this year.

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Emma Nelson
Emma is an Athens, Ohio native, who moved to Westerville seven years ago after a two year stint in Chicago. She lives with her husband, Matt, and their two boys, Lincoln (3) and Silas (1). Emma is a journalist turned marketing assistant turned teacher turned stay at home mom. So far she loves her newest gig, though she’s probably just okay at it. Keeping two young boys occupied means lots of exploring Columbus to find all that is not only kid friendly, but also adult friendly. Emma enjoys writing things in her head that she never actually gets down on paper, getting lost in the rabbit hole that is YouTube with her kids, and playing a game with her rambunctious boys that her oldest likes to call “attacking boys” (you can pretty much guess how that goes for her). Emma has a B.A. in journalism and political science from Miami University and completed further study at Ashland University to obtain her teaching certification in secondary English Language Arts. You can contact her at [email protected].