IMG_0219I think it was last March when my husband came in from shoveling snow (once again), shed his heavy parka, and said, “I think we should go on vacation for Christmas this year.” While he probably had visions of sitting by the pool with a tropical drink in his hand, my mind immediately went to “The Spreadsheet,” as in, the document that rules my life in November in December, the one in which I keep track of what needs to be bought, wrapped, shipped and crossed off my list. The Spreadsheet gives me the kind of nightmares I used to have in college, when finals week always brought a heart-stopping dream involving a math class I didn’t know I was signed up for.

“Can we go instead of buying presents?” I asked. I had visions of a December where I wouldn’t be running from Costco to Bath and Body works, and the UPS man wouldn’t need a dolly to get to my front door. Obviously, gifts are not my love language. I didn’t want to skip the Jesus part of Christmas, just the ribbons and wrappings, the tinsel and trappings.

Of course, our families are not going with us on this trip, so there are still parents and siblings to buy for. There’s still the cousin gift exchange, and the cousins on the other side, and the courtesy cousins, and therefore still the need for a spreadsheet.

I just got back from Target with half a dozen white elephant gifts for parties we’re attending this weekend, because opting out on the social events makes me feel like a Scrooge.

I’m already thinking up cute sayings (which is so not my forte) to go on the gifts my presidency and I are distributing to the eighty Primary kids in the ward.

My teenager needed to find something for twenty of her nearest and dearest friends, because it would be super embarrassing not to have something to give them if they gave something to her.

Also, it seems kind of shoddy to tell the kids’ teachers that I’m not giving them anything because I’m going on vacay and have therefore opted out of Christmas. So add that one back on the spreadsheet.

And my kids are especially skilled in the art of lobbying.

“It’s not fair for me not to get anything, I would rather sit in the basement and play with the dog than go on a trip.”

“But I get all my winter school clothes for Christmas.”

“What about Santa?”

So we gave in; Santa would come while we’re gone, and bring one thing for each child to open when we got back. Maybe Santa could bring winter school clothes, or coal.

“But what about stockings? Santa also fills our stockings.”

Santa is also filling our stockings.

“My favorite part of Christmas is the cookies you always bake.”

Baking went back on the list. So did our annual trip to The Nutcracker, because it’s my favorite.

“But it will be so sad if we don’t have anything at all to open on Christmas Day. It won’t feel like Christmas at all.”

I tried to negotiate myself out of this one, but seriously, at this point, why not just give in? I’ve come to learn that no matter what John Grisham says, there is really no skipping Christmas. I may even have just bought a tree that is going in our luggage.

Have you ever tried to skip out on Christmas? To beg off Halloween? To eat burgers on Thanksgiving? I’m all for challenging our cultural traditions, but I haven’t been so successful at implementing those challenges, or, really, at saying no to anything at all. I’d love to hear how it worked out for you.

I gotta go, the UPS man just showed up with his dolly.



December 11, 2015


  1. Emlouisa

    December 9, 2015

    Oh Shelah. This made me laugh out loud. I mentioned going on vacation this year instead of doing the traditional Christmas and my kids started bawling. Since I’m having surgery right after Christmas I’m trying to go easy—didn’t decorate the basement, only put up one tree, etc. But it still feels overwhelming. no skipping Christmas for us either.

  2. Jessie

    December 9, 2015

    My friends and family probably think I’m a scrooge, but I am pretty minimalist at Christmas. I bake some treats for nearby neighbors, buy my kids 3 set things (pajamas, a book, and one other toy/thing they want) and a few stocking stuffers, and that’s it. I usually buy my parents a gift too, especially if they are going to be visiting us. Gifts are definitely not my love language and trying to think of stuff to buy for people gives me anxiety, so I mostly opt out. I, personally, would be fine if my neighbors, Primary president, coworkers, etc. didn’t feel extra stress over getting me some kind of little gift. As you point out, however, unless we all decide to simplify, people start feeling left out.

    Last year I took my kids on vacation the week of Christmas instead of buying them other presents. On the one hand, it was a lot of fun to do something different, see relatives, and swim on a tropical beach on Christmas Eve instead of playing in the snow. We brought our stockings and Santa found us to deliver a few small things that wouldn’t add too much weight to our luggage. But, ultimately, the kids and I decided that we’d rather be home for Christmas. We missed being in our house and our usual traditions, and I discovered that traveling at Christmas is more expensive than other times of year. So we’ll be home this year opening our one or two presents each 🙂

  3. Ramona Gordy

    December 9, 2015

    So funny
    My husband and I had “Ribs” for Thanksgiving. We were planning a big shing ding, complete with “prime rib”. But a week before T-day, and I had not even started to shop, chop and clean my house, I threw the white flag, cancelled the invites and my husband and I had bar be que ribs for T-day, baked sweet potatoes and a salad. I think the original Pilgrims had some of the same ha aha

  4. Lily

    December 9, 2015

    I have a good friend that always takes a trip to Europe during Thanksgiving. Someone asked him one time why he didn’t stay at home for the holiday. He replied “Are you kidding? The family would come over.”

  5. J.

    December 9, 2015

    Because of a myriad of things including job loss for my husband a few days ago, we will not be celebrating much Christmas but we will have a nice Christmas dinner. It is just the two of us, so it is not such a big disappointment, no kids here, no Santa, and it happens that are decorations packed away in another state. The scriptures will help us remember the reason for the season.

    Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, and this year for the first time we celebrated with two other older couples at one of their homes. Very good food and company.

    Our neighborhood has literally hundreds of trick or treaters coming through from 5-10 p.m. I have never seen anything like it in my life! This is the night to go to Home Depot or the ice cream shop that is always so busy and have an ice cream cone in the unusually quiet surroundings.

    I am sure this comment does not resonate with many readers, but the holidays change a bit as we grow older. Still nice but not as flashy.

  6. Liss

    December 9, 2015

    We went to Disneyland when the kids were 7 and 5. We told them that was our Christmas but Santa would probably fill their stockings. So we lugged stockings and a few stocking stuffers and with some time share presentation Disney Dollars, Santa also surprised the kids with Christmas ornaments. We went away with all the presents the year before. That was a little overwhelming to try to do Christmas AND vacation. It was nice to get away from extended family. We have thrown over the neighbor gifts etc. Who wants more useless, kitschy, holiday-themed junk or food they shouldn’t eat? For years before all of this, I made a point of giving a super practical non-food gift as our neighbor gift–like a 48 hour emergency candle with something about “the light of the season” on the tag (I have unashamedly Googled all the cute sayings for any and every tag we’ve ever used). We boycott Halloween: we go to the ward trunk or treat, but then since we’ve already hit up the neighborhood for candy (and kids have seen all their friends in costume too) we hide out in the basement and eat dinner while watching an appropriately-themed movie for Halloween. This year it was E.T. As for Thanksgiving–I grew up with a mom who hates “fowl food” so we always ate ham. I think the renegade attitude for the holidays might have started there….

  7. Mary

    December 9, 2015

    I hear you.

    May I recommend the book “Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season” by Jo Robinson and Jean Staehli? I read it when our kids were elementary and preschool aged. It is still in print. Applying the principles in that book transformed our family’s response to Christmas in liberating way. Christmas has been infinitely more reasonable and peaceful ever since.

    When our children were young, they found a great deal of comfort in Christmas traditions so we didn’t do a go-away Christmas when they were little. But we did once spend a Christmas away with our children when they were in their late teens and early twenties and had a greater understanding. We spent a week working with a charity organization on a project of theirs. It was good.

  8. K34

    December 9, 2015

    I may or may not love to gloat about my success with persuading my children to not go trick or treating. I want nothing to do with Halloween so this is a big victory for me 🙂 We do the trunk or treat, and the school parties, but on Halloween we stay home and watch movies, play games like bean bag toss and pin the carvings on the jack o lantern, and eat the candy from the candy bowl. I actually kind of enjoy the holiday now.

    I am very unwilling to deviate from Christmas traditions though. Traveling would never cross my mind. To me, Christmas is for immediate family only. It should be peaceful and full of light, and I don’t mind the advance work to create a day like that. I totally hear you on the spreadsheet. Mine is color coded 🙂

  9. Karen R

    December 9, 2015

    To be fair, in the book “Skipping Christmas”, John Grisham’s characters learn that they can not skip Christmas either. They try, but it doesn’t work.

    I think it is pretty much impossible to skip Christmas when you have kids. Unless you start out skipping it from the very beginning. But usually we do not feel like skipping it until we are worn out from all the work it requires year after year. We don’t realize this will happen when we first start out with an adorable little baby and we can hardly wait to develop wonderful traditions.

    I read unplug the Christmas machine also (years ago) and there are good ideas in the book. But once you have developed traditions surrounding Christmas, it has to be a family decision to cut back, or it won’t work (and there will be lots of weeping and wailing if you try to cut back without all or most in agreement.)

    I better go check the porch for my package that is supposed to be here tonight.

  10. M2theH

    December 10, 2015

    I stopped doing neighbor gifts a long time ago. I figure it would be better to take meals, bread, and treats over throughout the year, not just on Christmas.

    I say trim the gift giving list. At a certain point it’s okay to stop giving presents to extended family, or even siblings.

    Hawaii is sounding pretty good about now. I bet I could convince my kid to go for it. We asked what she wanted for Christmas, and she said nothing, I have everything I need. She’s ten. Maybe next year.

  11. Michelle L.

    December 10, 2015

    Ha! You made me laugh out loud. My favorite Christmas tradition in my ward is donating money to a ward Christmas fund rather than doing neighbor gifts. The bishopric ponders and prays over where to send the funds and over the years they’ve paid hospital bills, outfitted missionaries, provided shoes for an entire village, sent a Russian branch to the temple, etc. And I don’t have to buy neighbor gifts! It’s great.

  12. Laura

    December 10, 2015

    This article made me laugh out loud for like 5 minutes. Thanks for the chance to decompress a little during this busy season! Merry Christmas!

  13. Emily

    December 10, 2015

    A few years ago we started simplifying by instituting a “want, need, read, wear” Christmas list. They listed items in each category and received one gift from each (4 gifts total). Santa still filled stockings and still gave them each one extra gift. It was an adjustment the first year–Christmas morning went by much more quickly. But they just as quickly adjusted.

    Then a couple years ago we realized our kids had way too much stuff and why keep buying more stuff. We wanted to give memories instead of things and so we gave them a family vacation instead of presents. (It was too expensive to do regular Christmas AND a family vacation each year.) The kids received 4 clues–very inexpensive, simple clues–to try to guess where we’d be going. They absolutely LOVED it and now they can’t wait to find out where our next family vacation will be. It’s been the best thing ever.

    I’ve also simplified the gifting–cheap, delicious bags of cocoa-drizzled kettle corn from Trader Joe’s wrapped with a ribbon. Friend gifts are also very simple–a $1 festive holiday cup filled with candy or a pair of cheap fuzzy socks. I think the more you can simplify, the more you actually enjoy the holidays. 🙂

  14. Josh Smith

    December 10, 2015

    My Parents flew in from STL to meet my new triplets for the first time this past Thanksgiving, so we did Filet Mignon and Baked Potatoes that day. I think the pilgrims would be proud. We fried a turkey a few days later and had a “proper” Thanksgiving…but the steaks were better in my opinion.

    Safe travels this holiday season.

  15. Michelle

    December 10, 2015

    What a funny post! We keep it simple at Christmas, simply because we haven’t ever lived in one place long enough to give our neighbors or ward members gifts. We don’t give gifts to extended family (our families do a rotation so we are only buying gifts for one sibling from our families and each grand child buys for one other grandchild).

    Also, we have never had enough money to go all out with gifts for our own family. Our children get one gift from us (their Santa gift) and we fill their stockings. Even without us buying them gifts for under the tree, they each have 4 or 5 gifts per child from grandparents and their cousins. Granted, my kids are still young (8,6,4,2) but they have never seemed to mind having fewer, cheaper gifts than their friends.

    And even with all this, I still feel like our house is super cluttered after Christmas!!

    Still, it does get so crazy at Christmas time making treats, going to Christmas parties, writing cards, etc. after about Dec 4, I put a stop on all Christmas activities that haven’t been written down yet. If it’s not on the calendar by Dec 4, then we aren’t doing it! Or else it is too crazy around here!

  16. nana12

    December 10, 2015

    One wonderful idea I read ties the gift giving to the first Christmas – and its only 3 gifts.

    One wrapped in gold representing the gift of gold the Magi gave the Christ child. This gift would be a fun gift or a gift of pleasure.

    One wrapped in green representing the myrrh which was an oil used in everyday tasks. This would be a practical gift; something that’s needed.

    One gift wrapped in red representing the frankencense, which was a costly oil used in the temple. This represents a spiritual gift which could be a church book; scriptures; painting; gift of service – whatever feeds the receiver’s spirit.

    Loosely explained from LDS Living Magazine.

    I’d love to do with with my adult children’s gift exchange: we give all green gifts one year; gold the next; red the next. Narrows down the focus.

    If my children were home, they would get 1 of each color, but only the 3 gifts.

    Wish I had known of this when we were in the throes of small children and gifts.

Comments are closed.