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A Simple Christmas Plan

How to have a stress-free simple Christmas.

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How to have a stress-free simple Christmas.

I love Christmas time.  I love the music, the food, the feelings of anticipation. Time with family and time to reflect on all we are grateful for. Time to remember the birth of Christ and His gift to us.

In our family, we don’t put up a Christmas tree or exchange gifts. When Chuck and I were first married we discovered we both had a deep love for the Laura Ingalls books. We both had a strong sense of adventure and were drawn to the simplicity and hard work of pioneer life. One scene in particular that struck us both was the Christmas described by Laura in Little House on the Prairie:

“Something was shining bright in the top of Laura’s stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.

Mary had one exactly like it.

These new tin cups were their very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of….They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

There never had been such a Christmas.”


It was almost too much to have your very own tin cup, a peppermint stick, a tiny cake and shiny penny? Laura and Mary with thrilled with their gifts. I’m guessing Ma Ingalls never had to declutter her house or yell at the girls to clean up their rooms.

Chuck and I really wanted to raise grateful and respectful kids. Even back then when it was all just a theory, we knew that raising grateful kids would mean keeping expectations in check. Giving our kids mountains of gifts that needed to be topped every year would never make them grateful. In addition, we didn’t want our kids spending the month of December making wish lists and anticipating gifts. So we decided to do things differently.

We agreed we would celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm, but without gifts. A funny thing happens when you announce you aren’t going to give your children Christmas gifts. People freak out.

It’s not that we didn’t want to celebrate Christmas itself. For us, Christmas is both filled with rich tradition and is central to our faith. We just didn’t want to make it about the gifts. Over the years we have come up with something that works for our family. We try to spend the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas enjoying the season, anticipating the birth of Christ and enjoying friends and family. Some of our favorite traditions include our Christmas Movie Night with a Hot Chocolate Bar and Cookie Decorating. We read an advent book together. This year I think we will also read The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever, a story my kids have never heard.

On Christmas morning itself, our children each receive a stocking, filled with humble gifts (think tin cup and peppermint stick). Our morning includes a breakfast of sweet rolls, biscuits and gravy and hot chocolate. Then it’s puzzles and games together as well as a big Christmas dinner.

I love Christmas. It is probably my favorite day of the year. And you know what? So do my kids.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Have you ever had no gift Christmas?



  1. Katie

    I love the tree at our house. It is a legacy passed down. Each ornament is hand picked and represents a year of memories. My mom bought me an ornament each year growing up that represents something from that year. When I moved out, she gave me the whole box. She even allowed me to take some of the family china ones as well. I love that we can all create memories and moments through simple traditions. At our house, we focus on the Birth of Jesus. The tree is tied to the Nativity too. We give a few gifts ready to go on Christmas to our son. My husband’s mom was from a poor farmer with 10 kids in the house. They put out shoes and got a small gift in their shoes. My son puts his shoe out just like my husband did growing up. Our favorite movie at Christmas is “Why do they Call it Christmas” (a What’s In the Bible movie). It takes traditions from all over to show why people have trees or give gifts. It talks about St Nicolas. It also shares about the real date when Jesus was born. We keep it focused on Jesus and the Nativity. This year I am going to take all of our Christmas books about the Nativity and read one a day until Christmas. I agree, simple is amazing. Christmas is so unhurried and content. We just hang out and enjoy each other all day! It makes it less stressful!

    • Renee

      Our kids put out their shoes or boots as “stockings” as well. I do love the idea of the ornament tradition, we have friends who do this. Thanks for sharing about the movie! We have Christmas books that we pull out after Thanksgiving.

  2. Csmith

    I really think it doesn’t matter what your traditions are, as long as you have them. Family traditions give kids a sense of belonging and continuity. To be honest, my kids get tons of gifts, because I love to give gifts and we have lots of extended family. They’re not usually expensive and I think my kids really feel grateful to know that we put so much thought into getting them something that’s perfect for them. And, if we didn’t do gifts I think they would be perfectly content with our annual gingerbread house party, and Christmas movie marathon, and the trip to see Christmas lights, and making cookies and hot chocolate while we decorate the tree. Those are the things they talk about as Christmas approaches.
    Also, we love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it’s hilarious.

    • Renee

      I agree. This is what is familiar to my kids, these are our traditions and they are perfectly fine with them. Any Christmas movie suggestions?

  3. Julie

    I bel you’ll love the Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

    One tradition we did when the boys were younger involved our Christmas books. I wrapped them all – well, 24 of them (we have more) after Thanksgiving, and put them out in a basket. Each night they unwrapped one and we read it. (Before we had enough for Advent, we sometimes had ONE new book in the mix.) They had the fun and anticipation of opening something, but not a bunch of NEW STUFF.


  4. kristi Wright

    oh my The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a favorite around here!! We have been to see the play twice !!! Such a good story, now there is a The Best Halloween Ever, we read before Halloween it was good too, but not as good 🙂

  5. Christine Mann

    Christmas book suggestion: Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden. A beautiful story about an orphan girl who longs for a family and finds one in a miraculous way on Christmas Eve. A bit long to read out loud in one sitting, but one of my favorite Christmas stories. Christmas movie recommendation: The Snowman, a sweet animated movie about a boy who builds a snowman who turns out to have Christmas magic and takes him flying to the North Pole. The animation is really beautiful and the music even more so. We also enjoyed the audiobook version of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

  6. Heather

    We do a tree, lots of carols and cookies and serving our community, and one gift per child– for example, Seven is currently in love with Little House and coloring, so she’ll get a Little House coloring book. Simple works for us, too!

  7. thissquirrelsnest

    We read the advent storybook each day and if I’m on my game we do a craft or activity related to it. This year our schedule is so full and life is stretched so we will probably just read it and discuss. We do presents but not Santa aND keep that pretry simple.. Going out to cut down a tree is one of my favorite activities, but not usually till Yule and we keep it up a week or so. I also have a set of book ornaments that tell a verse or two of the bible story each day. I make a”happy birthday Jesus cake” which we eat for breakfast Christmas morning.

    • Renee

      Those sound like lovely traditions! What exactly is Yule? We love reading Advent books and do it each year, but sometimes that can get stressful when we’re busy and we get behind. Thanks for sharing.

  8. DeAnna

    I adore your thoughts on Christmas. We exchange gifts but each child only gets your (in our world that’s crazy but we love it.) This is such a great post, and I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog.

  9. nancy from mass

    We do put up a tree (about 1-2 weeks before Christmas) but i’m ready to take it down within a few days after Christmas. I also put up a Creche. I have a whole set up – i use the top of an old icebox and build ‘hills’ with books, cover it with deep red shiny silk (fake) fabric then put the manger with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all the rest. I put the ‘star gazer shepard’ on one of the ‘hills’ and made a aluminum foil star that i attach to the wall above the manger. some of the sheep on my Creche came from my mothers Creche and they are about 75 years old. I also have special rocks that my mother picked up when touring Europe (singing – even for the Pope) and one my nephew brought back from Austria. The sheep usually stand on those.

    We don’t give a lot of gifts. I give socks and underwear for hubby and son, one larger gift for my son and something for both the men (a movie or game). for my son, i always make his larger gift as a scavenger hunt. i wrote poems with clues and he has to find the next clue and so forth, until he figures out where his gift is. (he is 17 now and always rolls his eyes when opening the first clue, but secretly loves the search). Last year was a Fossil watch he really liked so i put clues near old things in the house. The final clue was “where do we put leftovers?” (I put his watch in the fridge before we started). Stockings usually have candy, gift cards or something small.

    sorry, didn’t mean to write a novel about that! 🙂

  10. Shalama Jackson

    We’ve never done a no gifts thing but during the holidays we volunteer together. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are so we try to give back somewhere.

  11. Erin

    I’m reading that book to my kids at the moment. We have put a basket with Christmas books under the tree so we can read them throughout Christmas. That’s been a fun tradition this year.
    We also do a Jesse Tree and we have a Names of Jesus advent calendar. I love Christmas.
    We have a foster child with us this year. He is 10 but due to a developmental delay is more like 6. While I think he knows the truth about santa he really wants him to exist. We’ve never done santa but I think there may be something from Santa for him this year. It’s kind of odd to add this into our traditions now. My older kids are 14 and 16 and very much not keen about santa.

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