My husband singer/songwriter Stephen Bautista just finished his brand new Christmas song, “It Must Be Christmas.” I couldn’t wait to share it with you, so he made a home recording and put it up on You Tube just in time for Christmas! I’d love it if you had a listen.
I love Advent. I love Advent wreathes and Advent calendars and Advent activities.
Unfortunately, many of the Advent activities I see are either too deep for my younger children or involve far too much preparation and work on the part of the parent. And I’m definitely not doling out chocolate or gifts every day in Advent. I mean, I’ll eat chocolate every day, but I’m not doling it out.
Last year I was tempted to try Truth in the Tinsel. I had heard quite a bit about it, and it sounded great for my hands-on kids. Still, with a brand new baby, a very sick child, and a music mission to launch, I wasn’t going to tackle anything more than I already had. Instead I opted to feed all seven children and my husband three meals a day for the entire month of December. [Insert applause here.]
Now this December is rolling around and the Advent tickle has struck again. This time I have a plan. The plan is to let someone else do all the planning and work. Are you with me?
So I bought Truth in the Tinsel, and I’m telling you people, I don’t spend money easily…except on food. I buy a lot of food…and I eat a lot of food…but not as much as I buy. I digress.
Here’s what I love about Truth in the Tinsel:
The 24 readings are straight from the Bible. I teach my children the Bible by reading directly from the Bible–how novel. Why not keep teach the Christmas story from the Source? Why not? (That wasn’t rhetorical.) There’s no reason why not! It draws from both the Old and New Testaments. Even more novel!
Each lesson includes an ornament craft which is totally doable. If you don’t have the time or energy for crafts, because of, you know, life, you can still implement the program. Truth in the Tinsel now offers a set of printable ornaments for $3.99. Set out a safety scissors, the crayons, maybe some glitter (shudder), and you’re set! Or skip the crafts. (It’s not illegal…seriously.)
If you don’t get to it every day, it’s okay. It’s okay. Hey, it’s okay! Okay? There are alternative schedules for making it work for your situation, even if that involves squeezing it in at random moments…which means I totally could have pulled this off last year after all. The goal is not completing the program; the goal is focusing your family toward Christ.
Although it’s designed for “little hands,” it can include the whole family. All ages can participate in the Bible readings, and anyone who is interested can get crafty at their own levels. Discussion questions can extend to everyone as well. My firstborn is learning to drive and my seventh-born is learning to walk, so at The Simple Home, including a broad age range is a huge deal.
Truth in the Tinsel is also available in Spanish and as a group study for churches, youth groups, homeschool groups, uh, insert your group here.
Amanda, the creator of Truth in Tinsel, has a real heart for children’s ministry, and that radiates through her work.
Okay, enough from me. Visit the site, check out the sample page, and, see if it will add to your family’s advent celebration. You can download it instantly and begin using it right away.
As mid-November rolls around, the fever hits. It begins with a little tickle, almost an itch, and in no time at all it is an all-consuming full body rash. It’s Holiday Fever! Do you feel the tickle?
There’s nothing wrong with Holiday Fever that is kept in check, but when it isn’t caught early, it can take down a full-grown mama and her family, too, as collateral damage.
Holiday Fever usually begins with a single thought: “This year’s going to be different…better.” Some well-intentioned folks even say, “This year, I’m keeping it all in perspective.” But then idle hands flip through a Better Homes and Gardens magazine in a waiting room, or wayward feet head to the Christmas section in the store, or eyes head to Pinterest to “just take a peek.” Before you know it, that once dormant holiday virus strikes full force, and the victim is once again over-planning, over-scheduling, over-committing to the perfect holiday…which never is.
It’s time to redefine perfect.
Perfect is not running around frazzled. It’s not whiny hungry kids wanting cookies, but needing wholesome family meals and some mama time. It’s not a mountain of stuff surpassed only by a mountain of debt. It’s not the insane lists of “what you have to do this Christmas” I’ve seen floating around the world of cyber-insanity. Let’s redefine the perfect holiday, shall we? Okay, I will, and you can just sit there licking a peppermint stick.
The Perfect Holiday Redefined
The Dreaded…I Mean Perfect Family Photo: Instead of a picture perfect, expensive, and all-too-torturous Christmas photo experience, TPHR (that’s my super-cool code for The Perfect Holiday Redefined) photos show a laughing, joyful, real family…maybe with messy hair, maybe with mismatched outfits, maybe in PJs, maybe with the hot cocoa bribe evidence still on their faces. The point is, the experience wasn’t torturous…except for the innate fact that any family photo borders slightly on the inhumane…at least in a family of nine.
The Perfect (Or the Existing) Christmas Card: As much as I love getting Christmas cards (giddy like a kid in a candy shop with non-sugar-phobic non-budget-oriented parents), I’m going to say this and mean it. You do not need to send out Christmas cards. Really! You don’t! If you want to do something, how about a TPHR email, or a card in, say, July. I love getting my grandparent’s Christmas letter around February. It’s cold outside, winter’s gotten long, the kids are restless, and BAM! A TPHR card and letter in the mail. What fun!
The Perfect Wrapping: Seriously? Do we need to go there? It will be torn into little unrecognizable shreds and thrown in the fire where it will be burned into ash. One year I meticulously wrapped all the presents I sent across the country, imagining them sitting for days under perfectly decorated trees, accenting the holiday décor. There were blizzards, the mail was late, they got left at the end of the driveway in a pile of snow, and they were left in the box so long that when they were finally set out, they were mushed…in terms of perfection, it was a mess. Most years, my children have a blast wrapping presents themselves…and single-handedly keeping the Scotch brand in business for another season (the tape, not the booze). TPHR wrapping may not look perfect, but the family has fun doing it together…and that’s “perfecter,” like my grammar, which is the perfectest.
The Perfect Decorating: Charlie Brown’s tree is cute, isn’t it? And it was affordable. ‘Nuf said. Okay, I’ll say this, too. If you’re distracting your kids with coloring pages and television so you can spend hours and dollars creating holiday décor perfection that you don’t want said offspring touching, or if you tell your children they can’t help because they won’t decorate “right,” then you have a problem…emphasis on “you”…and on “problem”…and on “have a.” It’s okay to have a don’t-touch tree and don’t-touch nativities, and it’s okay to keep them safe from anybody who might throw Baby Jesus across the room and shatter him. But don’t let that dominate your décor if you have children. When I was growing up, my little brother made a Christmas robot man out of toilet paper rolls and hung it on the tree…every year. My mom never once made any of us think it wasn’t good enough. In fact, I think she still hangs that baby on the tree, and my brother is in his 30s. (I secretly think he’s still making them, too, but I have no hard evidence.)
The Perfect Gift: If it’s going to add clutter to someone’s life, is it really that perfect? Think about it. I know the “experience gift” is popular, so why not go that route? Perhaps a giftcard for your grandson to go with you to see Star Wars VII in 2015…or something a little sooner. Perhaps a repurposed basket filled with food for a date night. The basket can be used or regifted and the food can be eaten. Think outside of the stocking…so to speak. Or make a deal with your extended family that their presence is your present, and vice versa. My favorite gift for people that don’t really need anything is a donation in that person’s name. Compassion International and World Vision are two of our favorites, but there are many others. Of course, a Stephen Bautista CD is always an ideal gift that nobody would consider clutter! (Yes, that was a blatant, shameless plug for my husband’s music. What can I say? I’m a fan.)
The Perfect Meal: Are you left alone in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove (don’t you just love that expression—it makes me feel like I’m wearing three skirts working in the sweltering old servants’ kitchen at Mt. Vernon sweating into President Washington’s fish muddle and hoe cakes) to prepare elaborate Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for your family and guests? Why not draw them in by giving everybody something to do? You’ll have company and help, and, although it may not turn out exactly as you envisioned it, you’ll be making memories together. (Just don’t be the bossy perfectionist. You know the one!) Other options are appetizer buffets and potlucks. Mmmmm…food.
The Perfect Cookie: Don’t stress over outdoing everyone else or about filling a cookie platter. Do you have a cookie reputation to live up to? It’s time for a reputation overhaul if that one is stressing you out. TPHR cookie perfection is simple: if it’s got butter in it, it’s perfect! Seriously, if it’s fun for you or your children, great. If not, arrivederci. (Uh, that’s Italian for adios! ciao! you’re outta there!) Now, about the ideally decorated cookie, let the kids decorate the cookies! They’ll learn how, they’ll have fun, and so what if they don’t look like the one you saw on Pinterest. So what?! So! WHAT!!! So what so what SO WHAT!!! The cookie is going to be eaten and turned into…something that’s not a cookie. So… SO WHAT!!!
The Perfect Extras: In my life in my head, my family sits around the tree (lit by real candles, naturally) enjoying Advent readings nightly, sipping homemade cocoa with no sugar (because the family in my head doesn’t need sugar), enjoying the ambience of the handmade ornaments and wreathes and tree skirt, all, of course, wearing our handknit sweaters…and nobody ever whines. The family on the outside of my head is a little whinier, and there are a few other differences, too…like all of them. If the crafts and the “moments” and the Advent readings and such are important to you, that’s great, but make it doable, and make it enjoyable. Advent readings are important to me, but they don’t pan out on a nightly basis for everyone, so we opt for Sundays and Christmas Eve. The last time I lit a candle in my house, I started a small fire. The crafts are hit and miss. We may get one accomplished in a season. And the handknit sweaters? Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaa! Keep it realistic and you’ll keep it fun.
The Perfect Schedule: Instead of slating out your family’s schedule and possibly over-committing people to things they really don’t want to do, call a family meeting. Ask everyone what they want to do as part of TPHR. Do they want to watch The Grinch? Schedule it. Do they want to drink hot cocoa while looking at Christmas lights? Schedule it. Do you want to read Luke 2 on Christmas Eve? Schedule it. Do they want to watch football on Thanksgiving? Schedule it. Which of the half dozen Christmas invitations does the majority WANT to accept? Schedule them. Advent readings? Crafts? Christmas cards? Cookies? Schedule them. But don’t overschedule! Keep it simple. Keep it fun. Keep it TPHR-friendly.
Are you catching a theme here? Put people above perfection. Stop striving for the unattainable. Your kids won’t remember or much care that you were in the kitchen creating cookie perfection. They will remember that they were in the kitchen with you, laughing and making a big ol’ mess. That, my friends—the laughter and, yes, the big ol’ mess—that is the perfect holiday redefined. Now go make a big laughing mess…and maybe clean it up when you’re done…together…while laughing…because that really is the perfectest!
To help you redefine the perfect holiday, my husband and I are teaming up on an ebook, available soon. Sign up as a subscriber to get all the details when it’s available.
How do you keep it all in perspective?
Truth in the Tinsel is a hands-on journey through Advent for children. This year Amanda, the author, is offering printable ornaments to make it even easier for parents to implement the program. That makes it ideal for a simple Advent project. Last year’s participants gave it rave reviews. Check it out here.
This post contains affiliate links. They don’t bite, but I thought I should tell you about them anyway.
We did. Take a peek into The Simple Home over the holidays.
We had our seventh baby on Thanksgiving morning. (That’s the precious little bundle being held by my firstborn. By the way, don’t let the sweet innocence of that three-year-old princess in the front row fool you. She spent Christmas Eve morning coloring my white office door blue with a permanent marker while I was on the other side of the door finishing up those PJs she’s wearing. Life is colorful.)
By now, bringing a new baby into the house is a pretty smooth process. This baby, however, has colic. Sweet and content as she is is during the day, in the evening she has what my children have termed “her time.” During “her time” our mild-mannered Baby Jekyl transforms into Miss Hyde. This involves inconsolable, heart-wrenching screaming…lots of it…and lots of walking and singing for a Mama who just can’t bring herself to let the poor little dear scream it out alone.
I underestimated the amount of time and energy a colicky baby would require, particularly during the holidays. Walking my baby uses up my productive evening hours (although it gets me out of my morning walk, since “her time” doubles as exercise…in my warped mind.)
Fortunately, my children are amazing with a capital zing! Not only did they handle our lovely Christmas Eve dinner (and I’m not talking toast and popcorn), but they took on the Christmas Day buffet planning, baking, and cooking. (I wasn’t making rolls alone from scratch when I was eight. Were you?) All I did was brine a bird and pop it in the oven. They did everything else. Everything.
Which leads me to this point, the crux of simplifying life in a large family:
Train your children when they are young!
By always having a child or seven working at your side, you will soon have a houseful of capable, willing, and enjoyable helpers who will someday step out into the world perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and others…including you! But that is a post for another day.
What you really want to know is who won Smart Sweets.
Remember, if you didn’t win, you can get your own copy of Smart Sweets from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship.
Now then, tell me about your Christmas! Was it wonderful?
TSHM disclosure statement: All Smart Sweets links are affiliate links. If you buy Smart Sweets through my affiliate link, I will receive a percentage of the sale. Thanks! (In case you are wondering, all current TSHM proceeds go toward purchasing math books for my children. They have requested that you not purchase through my links…the stinkers.)
Christmas is two weeks away. If your Christmas shopping isn’t finished, it’s time to face a few uncomfortable realities.
Reality number one: One of the biggest stressors surrounding Christmas in North America is the pressure of giving gifts. While I l-o-v-e giving gifts, I’m not so in love with the craziness and elevated expectations surrounding Christmas gift-giving. Simple and stress do not mesh.
Reality number two: Christmas gift-giving can be downright expensive. You may have noticed that America is in a bit of an economic downturn right now. (That’s a rose-colored view of reality.) With so many families barely (if at all) managing to hold onto their homes, it makes no sense to be spending food money or December’s mortgage payment on Christmas presents.No sense!
Reality number three: If you’re reading this, you are either my mother (Hi, Mom!), or you have yet to complete your Christmas shopping. That means you have no time to make all those great crafts you pinned on Pinterest, no time to find the perfect gift, and no time to get it all ordered, wrapped, and shipped before the big day.
Reality number four: Santa…well, let’s just say he doesn’t always come through.
With those four harsh realities in mind, let your expectations go!
It’s time to think simple.
Let’s look at some easy Christmas gift ideas that will relieve your holiday stress, take the strain off your wallet, and leave you with valuable time to focus on your littles or hubby who really don’t want to spend the next two weeks shopping.
10 Easy Christmas Gift Ideas
Food – There are many, many food options, and The Simple Homemaker the people on your gift list would be delighted to receive any of them. Fill a date night or care basket with spaghetti, a jar of sauce, some breadsticks, parm, and cookies; give it to a couple or non-cooking adult. Bake bread, cookies, brownies, snack mix, or whatever your specialty is, package them attractively and affordably (try these gorgeous upcycled gift canisters), and distribute to everyone on your list. If you make it a tradition, you don’t have to rethink every year. My godmother always gave each of her many nieces and nephews a can of nuts—we loved that we had something to unwrap and didn’t have to share! My mother’s cookie platters are the stuff of legend. My children often give Daddy the store-bought treats he loves but doesn’t often get during the year, because the poor dear is stuck with our homemade goodies. (Insert violins of sympathy.) He enjoys the clutter-free gifts, and we like that he shares. Wait until after Christmas to get food gift packs like Hickory Farms for ridiculously low prices. Check out these simple and cute, albeit charmingly corny, ideas.
Charity – Rather than spending money on more stuff, make a donation to a charity in that person’s name. A few of our favorites are World Vision, Heifer International, and Compassion International. For a few years in a row, one of my daughters asked for a donation of chicks to be made in her name. We have more fun selecting a goat or ducklings to make life-altering changes to a needy family and community than we do buying another toy that will soon be forgotten.
Practical – You can kill two partridges in a pear tree with one stone by filling your children’s stockings with practical items. If the budget allows, make the gifted necessities a little more exciting than normal by, say, bumping up to the superman undies, handmade soap, or the musical toothbrush. (Those are really annoying, so think twice about that one.) People on a fixed budget often appreciate practical gifts as well.
Personal – Give something the recipient loves that has a shared sentimental value. My daughter, for example, gave her younger brother one of her toys that he always liked and played with when they played together. It is now his favorite and goes everywhere with him. Another great idea comes from my sister-in-law. We always share recipes that don’t make anyone gag, so one year she wrote all her favorites on recipe cards, organized them in a fun box, and gave it to me. My children and I love going through it, even though we’ve read and used them dozens of times already. Treasured family recipes work as well. Pictures are always great, and they do not need to be in a fancy scrapbook to have value.
Freecycle or used gifts – Don’t be afraid to give something that costs nothing. My children love getting a box of used books or piano music. While they get excited over the occasional new book as well, the price of the used books allows me to go all out on that little indulgence. Don’t neglect Freecycle.org either. Last year I was given about $100 worth of Legos for free. After I bleached out the cigarette smell and bought a nice container, it was MORE than gift-worthy!
Time together later – Plan a lunch date, afternoon tea, or outing together. It does not have to be expensive. One of my favorite life memories is watching Anne of Green Gables with my grandmother at her farm while savoring Grandpa’s roast beef sandwiches and purple grapes for the first time in my life. I was 16. No purchased gift can replace that memory, especially now that we live 2000 miles apart.
Letters – One year we stamped 52 envelopes and addressed them to my grandparents. Each contained a piece of stationery or small card. We then photographed them all spread out and sent the picture to my grandparents. Their gift that year was a letter a week from our home to theirs. Postcards work also.
Family Gift – Rather than buying for each person in another family, give one gift for the whole family. If there are a lot of families in your extended family, consider drawing family names so you can each focus on one family. Some favorites we have given or received in the past include magazine subscriptions, zoo or museum passes, fun activities like this ice cream ball, group games like Freeze Up or Bucket Blast, and this great book full of fun games, Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato and Ha Ha Ha.
Ebooks and audio – Save on shipping by buying electronic downloads and delivering them via email. Naturally, you want to ensure your recipient is tech-savvy first. Some ideas include real food ebooks for the health conscious, healthy desserts for the sweets lover, or an early gift of a family Advent activity book. Find free music or purchase song downloads (such as these) to create an individualized CD. Consider books or other audio downloads, including downloadable homeschool resources for the often-strapped-for-cash homeschool families on your list. Use librivox.org to put some of your favorite (free) audio books on a CD.
Tradition – Simplify the decision-making process by giving a gift that represents a collection or tradition followed each year. For example, my mother gives us a couple pieces of a nativity scene every Christmas. It is one of the gifts we most look forward to. An ornament that represents an event from the past year is another great idea that many families practice.
What are your easy Christmas gift ideas?
TSHM Very Merry Disclosure Statement: Some of these links are my personal affiliate links. (Some of the links are not affiliate links; they’re just really cool.) What does that mean? If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase from the site, I will receive a small commission. For my family, that means homeschool books…even at Christmastime. You are by no means obligated to make a purchase through my links, but it does merry up our holidays a bit when you do.
The next few Simple Homemaker posts will be dealing with the how-tos of enjoying a simple Christmas. This post in the series, however, deals with the “how come.”
In many ways, Christmas is the antithesis of simple.
Christmas in North America has come to mean stretching the budget so far it will take nearly until next Christmas to get it back into shape. It involves spoiling already spoiled children. It means gathering with family members who often are only under the same roof because they have to be. It involves gorging on so much food and so many sweets that one family’s resultant ailments could singlehandedly support a gastroenterologist and a dentist for the next three months. At least that’s how the Hollywood version of Christmas appears.
Christmas was never meant to be complicated.
The Biblical account of the first Christmas is straightforward and simple. It conjures up images of a small baby in a crude manger, the simple love of a young mother, and the implementation of the Father’s plan of salvation.
Why do we complicate Christmas?
Why do we take the simple and beautiful and make it complex and, in many ways, ugly? Why do we approach the ultimate heavenly Gift with an air of expectation and ingratitude?
Many of us have grown up with or developed certain expectations which we attach to Christmas. Anything less, and we are simply and ingratiatingly dissatisfied.
We need a change of heart, followed by a change of mindset. Because I can’t say “be grateful” as well as Stephen Bautista has already said it, I leave you with this song.
(Yes, that is The Simple Homemaker’s messy desk and duct-taped chair in the background. Keepin’ it real…although it is clean now.)To hear more of Stephen Bautista’s music and thoughts, visit his website and follow his Facebook page.
As a child growing up, Christmas was the same every year. We had our Christmas Eve program, dinner buffet at Grandpa’s farm, presents under the tree Christmas morning, cookies for breakfast, church, and back to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas dinner. The same routine, the same 27 varieties of cookies on my mother’s cookie platter, the same people. It was predictable, it was tradition, and I loved every minute of it.
My man and I have been married for 15 years. My mathematical prowess tells me that we have therefore been celebrating Christmas together as a family of varying sizes for 15 years. As a new bride, I rapidly learned that you cannot merely transplant your own family’s traditions, however enjoyable, into your new family. Consequently, we developed numerous family traditions of our own, some through default and some through a conscientious effort to keep Christ as the focus of our holidays and lives, to keep it simple, and to make valuable memories for our children (and ourselves).
Hal and Melanie Young, whom you may know as the authors of Raising Real Men: Surviving, Training and Appreciating Boys (review coming soon), recently authored an ebook delving into this very topic. Their book is aptly titled Christ-Centered Christmas: The Ultimate Guide to Celebrating a Christmas Your Family Will Never Forget.
Christ-Centered Christmas shares many of the Young family’s traditions as well as the thoughts behind them. The authors touch on all aspects of the season, from Advent and decorating, to Epiphany and taking the decorations down, and, of course, everything in between. Throughout the book they share ways to reduce stress and increase the real joy of the season. Every part of the Young family’s Christmas season holds traditions that point toward the true meaning of the holiday, and they open their hearts and homes to readers to share those precious moments.
What will you find in Christ-Centered Christmas?
history behind some common Christmas traditions—loved this!
directions for some homemade decorations
treasured family recipes you definitely want to try
the true Christmas story and related prophecies
the Young family’s caroling traditions and full carols
baking organization tips that I will definitely be using this year
Christmas Eve traditions, including a menu and recipes
recipes for sweets
an open and non-judgmental discussion on Santa
gift-giving thoughts and ideas
Christmas day menu and recipes
end-of-season festivities that we will implement this year
and more ways to make your Christmas stress-free and Christ-centered
The Youngs don’t merely share their family traditions, but go one step further by showing how you can implement similar traditions in your own home. They also reveal how you, too, can use all aspects of your Christmas celebration to point toward Christ, encouraging you to give your celebration purpose and everlasting value.
If you have no real traditions and routines at Christmas, you can start with some of the Young Family traditions, menus, recipes, and ideas, and gradually adapt them to your family. Although I have thoughtfully been implementing traditions of our own for over a decade, I still picked up some great ideas I hope to add to this year’s celebration, not to mention a terrific fruitcake recipe.
Did She Say “Terrific Fruitcake?”
“Mommy, thank you! This is really, really good. I love it!”
So said my eleven-year-old after eating the fruitcake made from the Young’s recipe in Christ-Centered Christmas.
Technicality alert: My husband, who also loved it, claims it’s not “real” fruitcake, because it wasn’t soaked in liquor and aged for thirty years…which may or may not be a generous paraphrase. Plus it didn’t make me gag like the last time I had fruitcake. I suppose he’s right, but it’s cake and it has fruit in it. Cake plus fruit…cakefruit…fruitcake! All technicalities aside, it’s delicious, so I’m happy!
If you are interested in purchasing Christ-Centered Christmas, the Youngs are offering their new book at an introductory price of $6 this week.Click here to learn more about their book, to read other reader reviews, or to purchase. Follow the Youngs on Facebook as Raising Real Men and check out their blog for more encouragement.
TSHM disclaimer…or lack thereof: I am not an affiliate of the Youngs, nor do I receive anything if you purchase from their site. I believe in their ministry, am very much in agreement with their philosophy, and appreciate their products. They did give me a free copy of Christ-Centered Christmas to review (Thank you!), but that did not influence my opinion. The fruitcake recipe, on the other hand, did influence my opinion! Did I mention how tasty it is? Now I’m off to try one of their cookie recipes.