Christmas is what we decide it will be and that means there is a need to guard our hearts and homes a little-relatives, the media, the neighbors, friends, stores, your church, etc, will all come into play as an influence so it is right and good to set out in our heads what we want Christmas to look like for our family.
---If we want to keep it simple and religious, then deciding ahead of time how we will go about "guarding our hearts and homes" is a necessity. What we allow into our home, is what will influence those little ones in our home-from the gabs of toy magazines, and commercials vs. the Advent calendar and Nativity. We will be the thoughtful filter, the idea-shaper for how we want our Christmas season to look for our families.
---Start small, very very small. We all know a one year old will play with the box. (And I have had eight year olds have just as much fun with a box too?:) The more gifts equals the more shopping and wrapping and planning and DOING (and the more stuff in your house to clutter it!). And when children start remembering what last year was like there is a certain expectation (not ill-willed-we all have expectations) to look forward to. Things get more costly, and life gets busier as one adds children to the family.
It is much easier just to start as you mean to go along. There are SO many great ideas of how to keep things simple and the expectations in check, and all of them are neat traditions like the three gifts to represent the gifts of the Magi, or something to read, wear and play with, etc. I've learned most of these cute little tidbits of genius through friends, but wish I would have learned them 22 years ago when I first started out.
---Find a way to make it relatively peaceful and fun. It SHOULD be fun! As I added babies in with toddlers and older children, my idea of fun had to become very simple I learned, because chaos day after day is NOT fun and the daily needs of children and the household still existed and must be met first. That means weeding out what made things chaotic, and narrowing it to a few traditions that really counted. We don't have to bake and craft and go to parties every day, maybe just once the entire month. If there is anything that we all have to struggle with today, it's too many choices, and opportunities and then there is Pinterest.
---And expectations! It isn't a requirement to make gifts for the entire neighborhood, and teacher's gifts can be very very simple and then after all guess what? I have the best news! There is NO Christmas elf that will come and arrest us and throw us in jail if we don't do teacher gifts or neighbor gifts or postman gifts or Elf on the Shelf, or if we skip taking your kids to visit mall Santa, etc etc etc. We won't go to Christmas jail (but a day in solitary confinement might sound ok on December 26th? Will they serve hot cocoa and let us bring a book?:)
So we must learn to let it go if we can't do it, or don't want to do it, or can't afford to do it, or just had a colicky baby (hello Andrew!) or are due on Christmas Eve with your fifth baby (hello Patrick!).
All of this extra stuff, like most of life, has gone hog wild in the last decade to the point where it's all almost laughable. Such high expectations, such busyness, it's no wonder we feel overwhelmed. It should not be one bit about stress, but about peace and that comes in simplicity and discretion and thoughtfulness. That is where the Christmas magic is found in the first place.
And last, the most important thing:
One day a mother's Christmas will change. And it hurts our hearts I assure you. It will make us shed tears of reminiscence and nostalgia and sadness for what will never be again. PLEASE, if you have little ones, just enjoy it. Soak it all up. Don't run yourself ragged and miss the "sparkly eyes" because you are too busy and tired. Don't waste time striving for perfection or stressing about incidentals. If you have believers in your home, treasure it. If you have shouts of joy on Christmas morning as a child unwraps a present that cost $7.99, revel in it. One day things will change-and not change for the terribly worse, but it will change. Surprise and joy and wonder are at their height in the young childhood years and one day you will wish them desperately back if just for a moment.
Set the path before you, walk slowly and carefully, and keep your head clear and focused and have a simple vision.
Some past thoughts on Christmas here and here.