• Decorating- uncluttered
  • Simple delights
  • Simplifying celebration plans
  • Making a list, checking it twice
  • Keeping the calendar uncluttered
  • The Christmas story

 

We have been slipping out of summer here in Washington and in to the clean, crisp air of the fall season.  *smile*  I love our four seasons here in the United States, and I always feel ready for the next season when it’s time every few months… And there are activities and the giving of gifts to prepare for (and the eight winter birthdays in our family between now and January!).  What a joy!  And I better get going….

 

I need a plan for Christmas that is simple yet thorough, delightful yet not overwhelming, and not so cluttered in our very small home with decorations, toys and activities that it ceases to be even enjoyable (but please don’t misunderstand me – if we had a large house I would decorate more, and if we had room to store all those decorations the rest of the year, but we don’t so I keep it very simple *smile*).  Let’s take a walk through the quiet, snow white simplicity of this type of Christmas…

 

Decorating – Uncluttered

When Bob and I were still newly married and we had only two children, I didn’t have a whole lot of Christmas decorations to set up around the house, or room to store them all in our small apartment.  But I thought I desired to have lots more decorations to put up, and longed to go to all the Christmas sales around the towns and buy lots of items, and I would ask for fall and Christmas decorations for my birthday in October when I was asked for gift ideas from our family.  But after a while even the decorations I did already have began to make our home feel cluttered and cramped to me.  Getting it all out each year felt like a headache, and I backed off of the pursuit to do tons of decorating and instead chose a few of my favorite things to see and enjoy. This brings me peace and enjoyment rather than pressure and stress.  Here are the ways that I decorate our home each year for Christmas.

 

~ The Christmas cards, letters, and photos we receive from friends are displayed on a wall, each card paper-clipped to 2-inch wide ribbons.  The ribbons are usually floor-length, but this year in the photo we had two crawling babies and 2 toddlers pulling them down so we kept the ribbons shorter than usual. *chuckle*

~ I only put out a few of my favorite decorations around the house, and when I do replace a current decoration with the Christmas one so that I’m not adding decorations upon decorations which feel cluttered to me.  Some of my favorite items are a large musical snow globe containing the nativity scene, which goes on a shelf where picture frames usually reside. A beautiful white ceramic nativity scene on another shelf (again in place of family photos). And strings of white Christmas lights, silver balls and wire decoration along the top of our shelf unit and desk. Pretty. Christ-centered. Yet uncluttered. *smile*

 

~ We have followed my parent’s tradition of keeping one group photo of the kids for every year since we’ve been parents, starting with just our first child that first Christmas after she was born.  This started out being a “Santa photo” for the first 10 years, but then we moved to using our Christmas card family photo instead.  I now have three 24-inch by 18-inch wood-framed bulletin boards covered with black velvet fabric over the cork part where I pin up all of the photos in chronological order every year, and I hang them in the dining room or the hallway.  We all love to look at them and see how each person has changed every year, and how our family has grown!  *beam!*

We no longer go see a Santa at the mall for photos, however, because we came to learn that it is not always a good man – really a stranger – to have our children sit on the lap of.  I’d heard rumors before of the types of men that are sometimes used as “Mall Santas” (and not all Mall Santas are bad of course!  But who can know the good ones from the bad ones?? And it’s not worth the risk to us.)  Then we had our own experience.  My husband, who owns his own company in disaster restoration (fire and flood damage) was once overseeing a team clearing out the contents after a house fire so that it could be cleaned of black smoke.  In the attic the men came across boxes and boxes full of pornographic magazines and video tapes (which the employees refused to touch, empty the contents of or clean of course).  That man was a Mall Santa.  And how many hundreds of parents had encouraged their children to climb up and sit on this man’s lap (or even required it of them, as we had done).  We’ve never asked our kids to sit on any Santa’s lap since.  Just a warning.  *cringe*

 

~ I mostly choose to have winter decorations (such as snow, snowmen, pine trees, moose) instead of Christmas-specific ones because we can then enjoy them all winter long.  When everything was Christmas oriented it felt weird having those items still around the house November through March, and yet even with our simple Christmas decorating it feels like a lot of extra work that I don’t desire to do twice within the month of December.  I like to decorate in the beginning of November with white “fall lights” in the trees, and keep those decorations out for the rest of the winter season through March.  A few of the decorations are Christmasy because that’s the whole meaning of Christmas of course, such as the snow globe pictured above, nativity set, and our advent calendar, but the majority are winter themed.

 

~ I put up a plush advent calendar on our dining room wall, which the children love to use every morning during the month of December.

~ I replace our usual salt and pepper shakers on the dining room table with winter decoration ones.
~ I have winter mugs that I swap out with our usual, year-round mugs in the cupboard, for using with hot cocoa and coffee on chilly days.
~ I have a wreath for the front door made of large, silver jingle bells, and a few wood, rustic-looking snow men that also decorate our front porch area.
~ I replace one sign on the wall of our main floor bathroom with an angel and a pillar candle wall decoration (which I don’t light, however, due to the danger of it with young children).

~ I’ve always loved the ambiance of candles but I have not lit any at home for years because my husband’s work deals with fire damage, much of which was started with candles.  However Costco carries a set of wax pillar candles with wicks and “flames” that flicker just like real candles but are in fact lit with LED lights!  They are so delightfully real looking! They look something like this, but there are 7 in the set.

~ We also decorate our windows with translucent paper snow flakes, which I’ll talk about more below when I talk about the activities we do (and do not do). *smile*  Our children love cutting these out of tracing paper because it’s thin which is easier, and clear-like.  The paper does not take up extra space being just on our windows, and probably due to the translucent-ness of the paper and how they do not block light from coming in, they do not feel cluttering to me.

~ My husband also so lovingly decorates our house with white Christmas lights and evergreen garland.  I love this.
~ And we decorate a Christmas tree, although ours has gone from an 8-foot tall evergreen to a 3-foot tall one which stands upon our stereo cabinet.  *smile*  We simply no longer have room for the large tree in this house.  So I select out my favorite silver ornaments as a theme since I only have room for a hand full, and icicles, and we put the presents “under the tree” on Christmas Eve for the children to wake up to the next day. Works just fine.

Simple delights

There are some additional simple delights that we enjoy during the Christmas season as well.  *smile*  None of which take up space.

 

~ We listen to Christmas music from about October through December.  *laugh*  I just love music, and one month is simply not enough!  So we listen for 3 months.  We have about a dozen Christmas music CD’s, most of which my husband has brought home one per year as a surprise to us.  We listen to the CD’s in the car, and at home we listen mostly to Pandora Christmas online for a nice variety of artists.

~ We do not have a fireplace in this house, but we always had one in the other places we lived and we really miss it.  So a couple of years ago Bob bought me a fireplace DVD which we play on the computer monitor all of fall, winter, and spring.  *beam*  *chuckle*  Sounds a bit hokey probably, I thought it might be when I first received the DVD, but it is reallylovely!  Beautiful video of a real crackling fire place (and the option of instrumental Christmas music played in the back ground if one desires).  There is even the option on the DVD to see just the fire place itself, or if we would like a Christmas living room scene with the fireplace in it.  Guests to our home have also always loved this DVD.  It can be purchased from Amazon for $9.95 if you like, and it’s so worth it in my opinion.

 

~ We also like to bake cookies, but not in very large quantities as we try not to have too much sugar or pastries around the house (which we’d be happy to eat instead of lunch *laugh*… or even for breakfast for that matter!).  When I was growing up my mom always made about a dozen different kinds of Christmas cookies and put together beautiful cookie plates and platters full of varieties of cookies for guest and for gifts.  *smile*  I have wonderful memories of doing this with her.  And I initially expected of myself that I should be able to do the same thing as a wife and mother.  However my parents had only 2 children at that time (and then 2 more children 12 years later) – not 9 children at once, within 12 years.  It may seem funny, but I really had to work on not feeling inadequate as a wife and mother because I couldn’t pull off those cookie platters while simultaneously mothering so many babies.  *laugh*  Now we make maybe two kinds of cookies in the entire Christmas season.  But I have lots of recipes for future use when our children are more grown.

 

~ And we sometimes make snowcream, which is just homemade ice cream using snow, cream or milk, vanilla, and sugar (recipes available online).  The sheer novelty of this thrills our children. *chuckle*
To further our simplification of the season we have made additional changes in the way we do some things… *smile*

 

Simplifying Celebration Plans

Bob were talking about some adjustments we will make to simplify and re-focus Christmas a bit more.  Spurring some great conversation was a great blog post I just read entitled, How Do You Budget For Christmas? by our friends the Jeubs, the parents of 16 children.  It was a great reminder to start thinking about how we personally budget for Christmas and where our focus should be more.  And from this great example of the Jeub family we will be making a few changes this year for our larger-than-average family of 11. *smile*  Here’s our plan.

 

  1. To decrease the amount of money spent per person by purchasing only a few main gifts per child. We didn’t spend excessive amounts per person in previous years, but we really do not need more toys around the house.  Even if each person only received 3 gifts or so, multiplied by 11, plus gifts from my parents, plus the 7 winter children’s’ birthday presents we have in our family – that was a lot of additional items in the house.  And not that we are not appreciative!  But we simply do not have space in our small home, and do not wish to have the children become excessively focused on the gift-giving and receiving part of Christmas anyway.  A few gifts for Christmas per child is still exciting for them, and they learn to be even more appreciative.

 

  1. To use some of the budgeted money on a family gift, such as a membership to the zoo, the aquarium, or a museum for the year.  This way we did not fill our home with items we really don’t have room for, that the children each think is their own and which no one else should be able to play with (until they relearn the character trait of sharing – again *rye smile*), and we all have the pleasure of many outings there that year which we usually have not been able to afford so frequently as a large group.  We’re all excited!
     
  2. To create a family Christmas “stocking”. Our oldest daughter had the idea this year to create a similar thing to our family Easter Basket a few years back.  Instead of spending the excessive time and money to create 11 stockings filled with gifts, we’re going to use either one large stocking or a cute Christmas bag *laugh!* But it will be the place for our few family gifts (including the main family gift of a membership).  with a cookie type of treat for the whole family inside of it, too.
     
  3. To put a bit more family emphasis on sending out a Christmas letter and a photo, choosing to afford and value this relational connection rather than wondering if we want to afford the expense each year. We can afford it if we compromise in other financial areas. *smile*  We’re thinking that Christmas letters, photos and relationships are an important thing to focus on during Christmas time with Jesus’s birth.

Our Christmas photo in 2011, printed very inexpensively through Costco, plus we enclose a letter.

 

Making a list, checking it twice 

Shopping for Christmas for our immediate family, for Christmas from my parents to each grandchild, and for the eight fall/winter birthdays in our family of 11 – gifts from us, and gifts from my parents, had become very confusing for me – until last year!

In recent years I had been thinking that I needed to make a chart to keep the budgeting, gift ideas for each person, and purchases for each person for both Christmas and birthdays straight.  After the addition of babies # 8 & 9, our two precious twin girls in 2010 in both the Christmas and winter birthdays categories, it was time to organize my self more. I need to stay within our budget, avoid missing an expected gift, and to remember which items were purchased for whom.  I’m really excited about my chart each year and the ease and peace of mind it brings.

If you would like to simplify your shopping, guarantee that you’ll have everything covered, and will able to know for sure which gift goes to which person close to Christmas time you might like to see the chart I created for myself and have used for many years now!  *smile* Here’s my “Christmas Shopping Chart” and how it’s saved my sanity.

 

Keeping the calendar uncluttered

When Bob and I were first married and had a couple of children, I really believed that we needed to give the children expensive Christmas event experiences.  And I felt so inadequate as a parent because we could not afford to do those things.  It took some real adjustments for me to learn to create very simple, pretty much free, and memorable experiences for our family at home.  And to learn that those were wonderful for us than the expensive events I desired to take us all to.

 

I also used to think that we should be very busy filling up our calendar for the month of December. Instead, Bob and I with the children began making paper snow flakes at home…and the children loved this.  We drank hot cocoa with marshmallows in cute, designer Christmas mugs that I picked up at Good Will for about $.50 each.  Listened to wonderful music.  Snuggled in our pj’s.  Sometimes we piled those pj-clothed muffin babies into the car and took a drive to look at people’s Christmas lights.  We enjoyed fires in the fire place.  We watched Christmas movies from Netflix which still has good, wholesome family Christmas movies.  And I filled our digital scrapbook photo albums with those memories.  The children are still enjoying those memory books today.  *smile*

 

Candy houses have also been a huge delight every other year with our extended family at my parent’s house.  Which to us meant frosting-gluing vanilla wafer cookies together with a frosting that turned hard, and then frosting-gluing varieties of candies on top to decorate.  My mom has always been the master cool candy finder for these creations.  *smile*

 

And on the alternate years we decorated gingerbread men cookies also with extended family at my parent’s house. And we make batches in our own home every year to share with neighbors and a few friends.

While planning our simplified Christmas season I do not, however, put together tons of craft projects for the kids to do.  I just don’t have time, and the mess is so extensive with so many young children it ends up being far more disheartening than enjoyable, and I don’t have any place in our small home to display 9 craft projects times how ever many days we did them.  However we do enjoy our paper snowflakes and tape those up on our windows.  *smile*  We cut them out of tracing paper (I buy an 8×10-size tablet of it at Wal-Mart for a couple of dollars) because the thin paper enables the kids to cut the designs out with ease and with the detail they desire; and these translucent flakes still let in the light through our windows.  These nice decorations also do not take up any space, and I suppose also because they are translucent they don’t feel like clutter to us.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, we love to attend Christmas parties! – but I’m not planning ones myself really right now with lots of young children.  *smile*  And I’m not feeling guilty about it any longer.

 

The Christmas story

A very important part of Christmas for us is in remembering and teaching our children about the origin of Christmas – the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope you enjoy this beautiful Christmas song…

 

It is of top importance to us that our children understand the meaning of Christmas before we head in to the season of commercial tinsel and pine trees and presents.  Sometimes we read the Christmas story from scripture, Matthew 1:18 – 2:15, sometimes we simply watch the wonderfully done movie, The Nativity. Either way we choose to keep Christmas very simple.
Another thing we do to help the children focus on Jesus’ birth is to make a “Jesus [birthday] Cake” (coffee cake) to have with our Christmas Day breakfast!  This has been a very tangible reminder of who’s day Christmas actually is.  The children can see the focus, smell and taste the focus, and hear Happy Birthday to Jesus sung before we blow out the candles. *smile*  The children really enjoy, and remember.  And having cake with breakfast is novel enough in itself.  *chuckle*

 

I hope you have been encouraged to receive a glimpse into how a family can celebrate Christmas with peace and joy and fond memories, without the pressure to spend a ton of money. However your family chooses to celebrate, I hope you make a point to make that time memorable and special as well. *smile*

 

Blessings on your celebration of Christ’s birth,

Erika Shupe

 

 

You might also enjoy reading my posts:

Gifts in a Jar! – Sweet Homemade Happiness

Family Scrapbooking

Favorite Recipes:  White Chili