Keeping Your Main Thing the Main Thing During the Holidays

“Focus is often a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” –John Carmack

Growing up, my Christmas Eves were simple—and wonderful.

Because my grandfather was a pastor, every Christmas Eve, we would pile into our family car, drive through the South Dakota snow, and attend the little church on Melgaard Road. Following the service, all the relatives would cram into my grandparents’ small house.

We would eat. We would each open 1-2 presents. And make some of the most beautiful memories of my childhood.

Our Christmas was simple and wonderful. I wouldn’t change anything about it. In fact, I think it was wonderful because it was simple. It kept our main thing the main focus of the holiday.

Church came first. Always. Everything else came afterwards—and only as there was room for it. The less important was secondary and never allowed to press out the most important reason of our season.

There is a growing debate over how to fix Christmas. I’m not sure society is at a tipping point quite yet (retail numbers would seem to indicate otherwise). But as holiday displays show up in stores earlier and earlier, as more and more Black Friday sales begin on Thursday, and as consumers sink deeper and deeper into debt, the world is beginning to recognize that our holiday season is broken, expectations have become too high, the perfect Christmas is beginning to appear unattainable, and the less important is beginning to crowd out the most important.

But the perfect holiday season is not as difficult to find as most think. The perfect holiday season is found in simplicity, keeping your main thing the main thing, and not allowing anything less important to take its place.

  • Holiday gifts are fine—just don’t let them distract from the most important.
  • Seasonal decorations are fine—just don’t let them distract from the most important.
  • Christmas cookies are fine—just don’t let them distract from the most important.
  • Large, delicious meals are fine—just don’t let distract from the most important.
  • A busier schedule is manageable—just don’t let it distract from the most important.

Surely, each of us will define our holiday most important differently. Many will seek spiritual renewal. Some will celebrate family. Some will refocus on giving to others. Some will seek rest. Some will set aside this year to remember the passing of a loved one. Others will consider the opportunity to evaluate the passing year and refocus on the next. Many will choose a combination of the above.

But your most important step is to define your main thing this holiday season. When you do, you’ll surely have space to include some of the holiday trimmings. But once you feel the less important beginning to push out the most important, it’s time to refocus, cut-back, and simplify.

This may mean fewer gifts, fewer lights, fewer decorations, fewer cookies, fewer side dishes, and fewer commitments. But that’s okay.

Your Christmas can still be simple—and wonderful. I know mine was.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Yes, yes! I Totally agree and love this. I wrote a post recently on my minimalism of Christmas. You have captured exactly what I was trying to get at.

  2. Barb says

    Joshua, I truly enjoy reading your posts. It was fun to read this story. My aunt went to that church on Melgaard Road for years and years and I used to have an evening ritual of running down the sidewalk past that church when I lived there. I am in the beginning stages of embracing minimalism, but have wished for “simpler” for many years. We have practiced the “3 Christmas gifts for each of us because Jesus received 3 gifts” philosophy for several years now, and that has helped us muddle through the materialism part of this time of year. Thank you for your message. Merry Christmas!

    • Anna says

      Barb, what a great idea about the 3 gifts. Last year I realized I over-bought for our 4 grandchildren but I have trouble knowing how much is ‘enough’. I believe I will use this to add more meaning to the gift-giving for myself and for them.

  3. says

    It’s interesting, because I thought that paring down and becoming more intentional with Christmas would make it less fun. In fact, the opposite has been true! It’s been a LOT more fun, more meaningful, and way less stressful. We have fewer gifts, we don’t have a huge, fancy meal, we don’t travel all over the place, and we don’t decorate until right before. You’re right–fewer distractions mean we are able to focus on what’s important.

  4. says

    Great post. I don’t think there is any need to “Fix” Christmas. But I do there there is a need for people to actually focus on the true meaning. I’m living in Malaysia now and missing my family. My Girlfriend and I are planning to spend Christmas in Hong Kong. Focus on the basics!

  5. puNDuKE says

    I agree that it is a spiritual thing for me as well.. the change of the season and renewal are deeply a part of us in understanding what we are especially to one another.

    I rarely comment on your e-mails/posts but I just want you to know my wife and I have been following and receiving your e-mails and I always look to them for guidance to bettering myself in minimalistic terms since I feel we still have much to learn. I agree with a lot of what you say and wish to better ourselves in this sense and we appreciate your passion involved with this and sharing the wisdom. Thank you very much!

  6. says

    I great reminder that if we operate from a values based approach to life – whether it be Christmas, work, relationships, living etc – you can’t go far wrong.

  7. Teresa says

    I usually go “all out” decorating our home for Christmas, making cookies for the neighbours etc. While I’ve always enjoyed it, it also creates stress. This year, I decided to go more minimalist. I set up the tree with the lights, and then my husband I realized that we liked it that way, and didn’t add anything else. It’s already gorgeous and we LOVE the simplicity of just lights. We have stockings by the fireplace, advent candles and a nativity scene. That’s it! It took me less than an hour, instead of all day. I spent the rest of the day drinking hot cocoa, listening to Christmas music, and reading a great book under a blanket on the couch.

    I also donated most of the other decorations to charity earlier this fall, since I didn’t need them anymore. So far, I feel relaxed, am enjoying a beautiful house and am looking forward to spending stress free time with family and friends in the next month!

    Minimalist Christmas was my Christmas gift this year!

  8. says

    Thank you for giving me the confirmation that I am on the right track, for me, this year.
    LESS IS MORE to enjoy the important things this year and in the years to come.

  9. Amelia says

    This is where my heart is! It is so refreshing to read your blogs on a daily basis. I have conversations with people and it is clear there is an empty place for manny in their celebrations this time of year. People desire more meaning and purpose. Yet, there are so many things that deceive us with false promises of instant and deep fulfillment. It can leave such a void as soon as we’re taking out the trash the very same day. “What now?”
    What do I now look to for the reward of the labor of my days. It truly saddens me.

    However, I have a great joy and expectation personally as I look toward our family celebrations. I am thrilled and overjoyed to know that my children will reach into another families life and bring more than just a tree and gifts. We celebrate the emence joy of what a Incredible loving God who came through a baby in a manger means for the true purpose of our lives.

    I hope I haven’t made my comment too long. I’ve been following your blog for a while now. I just want you to know how the daily perspective you share reaches farther than you could ever imagine.

    Thank you truly.
    Amelia Rose

  10. John says

    I don’t think we need to “fix” Christmas either…I think the problem is our culture as a whole. We are flooded with wanting and needing in advertising and from family. We have mistaken things for love. Yule used to be a time of reflection and gratitude, when a time of lean finally made the turn back to a time of bounty. Now it is about greed…and we fuel it by participating in Black Friday starting on Thursday…hell, even by participating in Black Friday at all.

    I like the idea of limiting the number of gifts. I think that next year I am going to limit gifts to things I make. Each person may only get one or two things, but I will put more thought than just what is on sale. I have a year to figure it out for sure.

  11. Kelli says

    Thank you for this reminder. I find my family tries to have our main thing be everything. For next year, I am going to work on having a family-wide unified focus. Your posts are always so inspiring.

  12. says

    Your childhood Christmas sounds like mine. I appreciate the simplicity so much and would love to duplicate that for my children. Some of my warmest memories of Christmas are in a little church in the country. Those are also my earliest memories of Jesus. Merry Christmas to you and your family Joshua!

  13. says

    Agreed on many things…each year we try more and more on the true reason for the season and making family memories. We love to cook together so love that time together.
    I have read your blog for a while and never realized your were from SD and better yet near my home. the reference to Melgaard Road make me smile….I miss the simple Christmas celebration in SD with my family.

  14. Kari Anderson says

    I really enjoy reading your blog! I’m new to minimalism as in only about 5 months in. I stumbled across “The Minimalist Mom” blog over the summer which led me to yours. It’s refreshing and inspiring to read and if I lose focus, I can re-read my favorites and get myself back on track. Thank you so much! By the way, where in South Dakota did you grow up? I grew up in Reliance and currently reside in Sioux Falls.

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