Holidays are holidays and traditions are traditions.
But traditions are not the holiday. And this is an important distinction.
Traditions help us celebrate and honor recurring events in our lives. Whether we are setting aside a day for gratitude or setting aside an entire season to celebrate faith, family, or both. Traditions should draw our attention to the underlying reason for the season.
Traditions should not detract from the season, they should elevate it.
Maybe Rachel Jonat said it best, “We don’t have to continue holiday traditions that leave us broke, overwhelmed, and tired.”
This is an important truth and paradigm-shifting realization. If a tradition is not serving us and enhancing our family’s enjoyment of a holiday, there is no reason to continue it. Traditions that leave us tired, broke, or stressed should be ended.
This may be only a minor point, except it seems many of our most culturally-accepted traditions have become more of a burden than a blessing.
Nearly 7 in 10 Americans (69%) said they would skip exchanging gifts this holiday season if their friends and family agreed to it.
A majority of those who spend time buying or making gifts (60%) said they would spend more time with friends and family if they didn’t have to worry about gifts.
43% of those who spend money on anything related to the holidays said they feel pressured to spend more than they can afford.
As the holiday season approaches, the pressure to spend spikes. As a result, 24% of holiday shoppers say they overspent their holiday budget in 2016 and 27% admit to not making a budget at all.
During 2016, 63% of Baby Boomers took on debt to finance the holiday season. Other generations took on debt as well, including 58% of Gen-Xers and 40% of Millennials.
But it gets even worse, an alarming number of shoppers are still paying off debt from last Christmas. 24% of Millennials still haven’t paid off credit card debt incurred during the 2016 shopping season, while 16% of Gen-Xers haven’t.
When asked what they enjoy and/or dislike the most about the holidays, Americans’ top three answers about what they like least involve purchases: commercialism/materialism, financial worry, shopping and crowds.
Also, fascinatingly, during the holiday season, people spend less time eating and socializing with friends. The things we enjoy the most are being pushed aside by the things we enjoy the least.
To top it off, 70% of Americans will rush out shopping on days immediately following an entire holiday dedicated to being thankful for all the things we already have.
When I speak of minimalism, I define it as the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.
This principle should wisely be applied to the holiday traditions and expectations we choose to participate in.
Just because everyone is rushing out to shop on Black Friday, doesn’t mean you need to. You can choose to spend that day differently and create prouder memories with your family.
Just because a percentage of your friends are going into debt to finance their holiday, doesn’t mean you need to. You can choose to celebrate within your means and enter the new year with peace.
Just because your neighbors are stockpiling Christmas presents for their children, doesn’t mean you need to. You can choose a simpler approach to spend more time and money with your kids, rather than on them.
Just because your family has always celebrated Christmas one way, doesn’t mean the expectations can never change. You can be the first to boldly propose something new. And given the fact that 70% of us would gladly skip exchanging gifts if everyone agreed… your family may thank you for bringing up the idea.
I am not anti-holiday. I am pro-holiday.
And I am not anti-tradition. I am pro-tradition.
But traditions should add to our holiday experience, not subtract from it.
Perhaps stately more clearly, I am pro-every tradition that reminds me again of the reason for the season.
We would each be wise to reevaluate the cultural, family, and personal traditions that have become part of our holiday celebration. And choose only those that serve us and add value.
Two years ago, we went with 3 colleagues to browse the crafts market, nearby the Arts Gallery during December. Quite a moment. We didn’t buy nor could afford the crafts, we did enjoy the displays a lot. So that’s a trip we’ll probable do again this year.
If shopping is fun and buying gifts for everyone (or anyone) brings you joy (and does not wreck your finances), then it is not stressful – do it! It serves you.
If decking your halls like crazy makes you happy – do it! It serves you.
This article encourages letting go of those traditions that do NOT serve you – they do not bring joy. I always think of a tradition I insisted we let go… my Grandmother always did all of the cooking. She was an excellent cook. Every holiday she made yeast rolls that had to rise and she managed to have every dish hot & ready at the same time. My Grandmother died when I was 12 yrs old. MY Mother could never master those darn yeast rolls. We spent the next 29 years waiting and waiting for the rolls that would never rise. After much grouchiness, griping, hand-wringing, and major snipping at each other, my family would give up and eat the rest of the meal…3-4 hours later than planned. It was miserable. Every Year! When I took over hosting the holiday meals, I told my Mother that I would not be attempting those delicious rolls. I would be buying frozen Parker House rolls because Grandma’s rolls, in our hands, lead to UNhappiness instead of happiness. My Mother was only half way through grieving those rolls when our holiday lunch was ready on time & with SO mush less stress that she let it go and declared that she was fine with never attempting the yeast rolls again.
Now, some of you will want to say – but yeast rolls aren’t that hard! You can do it! But the point is – those yeast rolls ARE hard – for MY family. And they take a very happy memory – my Grandmother – and ruin it by causing distress and let down.
Those are the traditions that we need to let go!
Happy Holidays – whatever that means to YOUR Family!
Ooooops – next 19 years, not 29 years :-)
Great post! It is thought provoking. Every has their own idea of a holiday tradition. Its upto them that how do they celebrate. Everything given would revert in numerous ways.
I can’t tell you how much this article resonates with me! I spent many years absolutely hating the holiday season for the reasons you’ve outlined. The expectations and obligations were just not enjoyable and were a major cause of stress. We have downsized everything about our holiday celebrations and the whole family is happier for it. This is a topic that’s close to my heart and I’m sharing this article in a roundup post to publish on 12-9-17.
Christy Williams says
Great article. I have a couple of thoughts I’d like to add to the conversation.
First off, while I get the whole “anti over consumption, be grateful, stay out of debt” mantra, I’m tired of all the Black Friday bashing I see every year in the minimalist circles. I consider myself a minimalist, but I still typically shop on Black Friday. It’s the day I can most frugally buy new clothing for my family. We needed new winter coats this year and got $200 coats for $18 each. Many people I know (myself included) try to get ALL of their holiday shopping done on Black Friday, and this is great because it frees up the rest of the holiday season for more meaningful activities. So anyway, my point is that Black Friday and Minimalism are not necessarily polar opposites, they can actually go hand in hand quite nicely.
Ok, my second thought is this: no man is an island. I would love to change some things about the way our family celebrates Thanksgiving. This year in particular left me totally drained. But my kids and husband LOVE the way we celebrate. If I stand up and say, “Nope. Nope. Nope. I refuse to continue these traditions that do not serve ME” it would be selfish of me. They don’t serve me, but they do serve my family. So anyway, I guess I’m just thinking out loud here, trying to find a balance. Maybe other readers are feeling the same things and need to hear that they aren’t alone in this. Or maybe I do, haha!
Denise Smith says
While I do not enjoy shopping on Black Friday, mindlessly and with throngs of people, I agree that it can be a great time to purchase items you are needing and getting your Christmas shopping done, if that is your plan. Great deal on your coats!!
I am feeling the same way, that some traditions I find draining are of great value to my family. I consider part of my gift to them is my continuing with these traditions out of love for them. It’s not about me…
That is great, but do you need 200% coats? Or 18 dollar coats. Did you have no coats when winter started? No coats from last year?
Laura Bassett says
Wow, is this “new coat shaming”? It’s not a greedy, terrible thing to want to freshen up your wardrobe. Older coats can be donated, (a good thing) and the fact that the new coats were bought at such a terrific discount makes the shopper super frugal and super smart! Hats off to you!
Particulalrly when it comes to family, with realistic expectations, the traditions need to serve us. If anyone loves a particular tradition so much, consider giving them the reins.
I find that the problem with “but (the traditions) serve my family” often means that the one person who would rather stop is carrying the weight of pulling off most of the tradition. Our family (my husband and I, two daughters, two sons-in-law, two grandchildren) has simplified greatly and purchase almost nothing, instead opting to go out with each other during the year – museums, movies, free concerts, inexpensive dinners, etc. It’s perfect!
I totally agree with Christy Williams but would like to add one suggestion. As you freely admitted how putting the whole meal together is very draining for you, why not take all the people old enough to be able to peel a potato and teach them all of your recipes they apparently live for every year? This, after a couple of years doing it will start to become easier and easier and before you know it they could make those beloved recipes in case you ever need to step back whether due to illness or age some day and they will always remember the legacy you left them by having the patience to teach them. Or to make it even easier, after a couple years you could assign everyone a dish to make for the meal and nobody will have to drain themselves to make the meal happen. I always wished that my mother or grandmother would’ve taken the time to teach me and/or my sister some of the wonderful recipes they had. I am a pretty good cook myself, but some dishes my mother made I really miss and my younger sister never learned to cook and she’s in her 60’s.
Amy | More Time Than Money says
Thanks for this. It’s so easy to just keep on doing what you’ve always done, without considering why or what you could do instead.
Very well said, and so true. Thank you for such an inspiring and eye-opener post. You said what many of us are afraid to say.
Liz (Eight Acres) says
Great reminder! I have greatly reduced the stress since we stopped giving presents. No more shopping in crowded malls! We buy presents at random times when we see something, but not under pressure at Christmas time.
I do the same. I shop for xmas gifts all year round. If and when I see stuff fitted for that person I am gifting for xmas.
Thanks for your minimalism advice. I think we can still enjoy the Holidays without receiving any gifts. Sometimes the things people really want just can’t be bought.
Sarah L says
I meant to add, it’s just as fun to pick names off the salvation army tree, or the like, so those of you who don’t want to gift to friends or family, maybe pick one of those names!
Sarah L says
Well…I guess I am one of the 3 out of 10. I LOVE to decorate and buy gifts and I choose so carefully for each person. My husband has a huge family so I buy and mail a lot of gifts, and of couse, I love seeing my kids enjoy their gifts. Growing up my mom never had wrapped gifts for me, Christmas was often like my birthday, pretty much forgotten because she didnt want the hassle of doing anything and as an adult I still don’t know why, because it’s wonderful to decorate, and make holiday treats and see someone open a gift you gave them! On my side of the family we were small to begin with, but in 3 years have lost 4, and we are so few now, and some so lonely at Christmas I do like to try and remind them someone was thinking about them. We manage to buy for everyone on a small salary by shopping smart, and all year. I would never change that.
This is really a great way of thinking. I just loved the thought. Awesome blog
adrian rackham says
Why is it that at Christmas time that in the UK every relation or family member asks “what do you want for Xmas?” that question is the automatic “stress me out * question! Through out the year we are struggling to find cash to pay for essential items (ie: cookers, repairs to vehicles, washing machines etc),So what do we do? Put everything on finance. Christmas was never ment to put people in debt, use your Xmas money open a savings account use it for what you need through out the year it may help you to stay out of debt.
My family has a tradition of buying really over the top silly gifts (average cost $5). We place them around the fireplace when no one is looking and draw numbers to see who gets to pick the first gift. Only after you open the gift do you find out who the giver is. We have one gift we have passed around for over 20 yrs and whoever gets it has the best laugh! Usually after eating dinner and our silly gifts are opened we play board games for the rest of the night. My grandchildren seem to really enjoy all of this. Our biggest blessing is just to be together and have a few laughs. I should add here we also have “real” gifts but we stay within a modest budget.
Love this tradition!
The Truth Be Told… “Less really IS More.” What I have learned lately from my 20 something sons. They would rather have experiences than stuff. I love their out look. It has taught me something as I try to down size. And purge all kinds of stuff inherited from relatives that have passed on and some, A LOT of my own. Is the reality , you can’t take it with you. So now , I have even their stuff to contend with. And spending the time taking care of various “stuff” is weighing me down. I need time for me and my art. I can’t even imagine getting more stuff this Christmas. I’d rather have fun doing something together as a family. This is the year I am going to attempt to get everyone on board with that thought. Blessings of the Season to everyone. Health and happiness!
I find as my parents get older, their Christmas lists get shorter and shorter, yet I still have to fight the temptation to question that or buy them more. I completely agree that they need less stuff at this stage of life, but it shows how hard consumerism habits are to break. As I’ve adopted minimalism, I don’t mind getting less, but still feel a little guilty getting less for others.
I feel so much the same.
I saw something on facebook that said in Iceland they get a book (so each person gets a book) and they spend Christmas Eve in bed reading the book and eating chocolate. I would absolutely be all for that. Just go get one from the library and then you can return it. I set up 529 accounts for my nieces and that is where their christmas and birthday money goes. They will appreciate it some day and they get enough stuff from everyone else that they never play with anyway.
The same subject comes up every year since the same patterns and habits are entrenched in this society. Learn the truth about the holiday season, don’t respond to this capitalist society’s pressures to conform. Set yourself free from all the stressors, trappings and foolhardy expense.
My family and I have decided through prayer that holidays are burdensome and against Gods plan. We choose to observe holy days that keep Him the focus, and are commanded that we keep. It has been freeing until we get bombarded with questions or people try to guilt us by saying it’s not fair to our children. The evil one is the great accuser and we choose to stand blameless, washed in the blood of Jesus.
Becoming minimalist is a wonderful goal and I’m thankful for God’s guidance to your Devo and to your blog!
We went through this nearly 25 years ago. We were new Christians and just couldn’t reconcile the commercialism & greed of Christmas with our new faith in Jesus. Interestingly, it was other Christians who gave us the most grief and tried to dissuade us from our convictions. We asked friends & family to donate to a charity of their choice in lieu of giving us gifts. Our children have not suffered in any way, and have learned to help those in need; we have taught them to help people 365 days a year, not just for a few weeks in December. I remember those agonizing days of knowing that what we were doing was right, and yet it seemed that everyone was against us and pressuring us to conform (often not very kindly). Find your peace and solace in Jesus, and He will give you strength & grace. Blessings!
Each family can establish their own Traditions. One of my friends has a tradition of providing an activity for the whole family during the Christmas holiday rather than buying gifts. For example, it could be going on a sleigh ride, a concert or donating time at a nonprofit together. Another of my friends, opened savings accounts for her grandchildren and puts money in each child’s account on birthdays and Christmas. They get the lump sum when the become an adult.
Mrs. M. says
I would like to put more emphasis on Advent. It used to be that Advent season was celebrated more in the churches. Now it seems the Christmas hymns are sung early on. If I recall correctly, when I was growing up in the 60s, the Advent hymns were sung for about four weeks, and Christmas hymns were not sung until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
We have decided not to do presents or decorations this year for Christmas and I feel a sense of freedom and release from stress! I plan to find Advent resources and make that the focus of this season.
I’m in the church choir and we won’t be singing Christmas songs until Christmas Eve. However, there is a radio station here that will be playing Christmas music starting on Thanksgiving Day.
I have decided to put an Advent tree out on the first day of Advent and put only purple ornaments which I purchased a couple of years ago because purple is my favorite color and that’s the color of Advent and then on Christmas Eve, I’ll put my usual ornaments on it and then it’ll be a Christmas tree.
We stopped exchanging gifts years ago and it really has helped with the stress. We concentrate on the reason for the season.
The commercialism of Christmas drives me crazy. I used to work retail years ago and you’ll never find me in a store on Black Friday.
Diane Bissonette says
Probably for the last ten years or so I have given to charities in the names of friends who I know support a particular cause. Or the family could volunteer together helping feeding those who were less fortunate. It is always easy to find a place to go. One time our family each purchased one gift for $30.00 wrapped it and put the present in the middle of the circle. We drew numbers and #1 picked first and opened the gift and #2 could “steal” that gift and then #1 would take another wrapped one, etc. There were 15 of us so we spent hours laughing and admiring the gifts.
I find it interesting that in the Bible the wise men gave their gifts to JESUS, not to each other. I love how so many of the people commenting are following through with that concept, sharing their time and talents and treasures with those who need it most.
That’s because most people don’t understand the reason the gifts where given. It had nothing to do with His birth and everything to do with custom or tradition. Gifts where given to kings as a sign of reverence and respect; and they understood. He was not only the king of the Jews, but the King above all kings.
YeShua didn’t need those gifts and truth be told neither do most of us.
Thank you for this post. The older I get the less stressed I get about things and the less I do as far as decorating and gift buying. As for gifts, The adults in our family don’t exchange gifts. We buy for the children until they turn 18. Once they’re 18, we no longer buy for them. When I was growing up, I had several cousins. So, all of the cousins drew names. This way each family only had to buy a limited number of gifts. Each child provided a wishlist. It worked well. On my husbands side of the family, the adults who were gathering together for Christmas would each buy one gift with an agreed upon dollar amount. Then the night we gathered we played a round-robin game. It was a fun tradition, but difficult at times to find a “generic” gift that someone would like.
Love this! Our family has been giving a gift to one adult only each year (we rotate names from year to year) and then mainly focusing on the grandchildren (one gift each). It works nicely, but I’d prefer to even stop the adult gift-giving. We all have TOO MUCH STUFF! I’m going to propose that from now on, we give the amount we normally spend on a gift to a charitable organization in someone else’s honor. Thank you for helping us all to stop the insanity. The focus should be on Jesus anyway…He’s the reason Christmas was started in the first place!
Hoping to do away with adult gift giving this year. Encountering some resistance from the family. Thank you for the inspirational blog, Joshua. Always a good read.
So agree with this approach. So much need out there. We need to gift those in need. Many of us have all we need.
Barbara Crocker says
If people quit putting so much emphasis on giving gives and use jesus’s birthday on serving maybe people won’t feel so deprive and overwhelm on spending money when they don’t have to
Lynette McGeachie says
I love Christmas, and I love being able to send something to my Children and grandchildren . I keep it small and I never go for broke. I put a lot of thought into every gift. I still do Christmas cards for everyone else. It makes me feel really good and it’s a great feeling. I start early so I’m never under pressure . Merry Christmas Everyone.
Lynette, I feel the same way. I enjoy the little gifts I pick and I love sending cards. I know how happy it makes me to receive a holiday card in the mail. I don’t spend a lot but it gives me joy.
Nancy Matthews says
Decades ago I discovered Robinson and Staeheli’s wonderful book, “Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season.” I read it, even led some workshops based on it, and enjoyed putting some of the ideas into action. The book suggests ways to assess your current traditions, remember past traditions, consider new ones, and integrate them into a Christmas season you’ll actually look forward to! And there’s no judgment — it’s simply a tool to help you evaluate and choose what you’d actually like to do.
The biggest change for us related to gift-giving. Over a number of years and after many conversations, our immediate and extended family members now only exchange cards informing the recipient of what charity has received a donation in their name. (For example, one year I gave the doctor in our family a donation to “Doctors without Borders,” and my kids were happy to have a donation for soccer balls to be sent to a refugee camp.) We still put little gifts in each other’s stockings, but they tend to be chocolates and used books. For us, this puts the emphasis on the real meaning of Christmas and whose birthday it is. It didn’t happen overnight, but this has become the new normal for our family, and we love it!
Love this. We have often spent more than we could afford over the holidays, and felt guilty when we couldn’t do more. Luckily, our families long ago cut back on gift giving to everyone, but even just buying for the children is too much when you have 15 nieces and nephews (on one side). Plus, I find that sometimes the kids seem to get way more stuff than they need, so sometimes I’d rather give something to an adult in the family rather than the kids. I prefer giving gifts of experiences rather than things when we can, and also would like to focus more on giving to those who are struggling more so than our families. We are all rethinking the traditions and expectations this year, and I am happy that most are open to that.
When I was young only children got gifts. Stopped giving to adults many years ago. My grandchildren get money. Stopped shopping during holidays many years ago. It’s just not worth it. I appreciate your minimalism advice very much. God bless you.
Thank you for a timely reminder about how to focus on what I truly value. I notice that when I ‘speak out’ and am ‘brave’ about cutting back on consumerism to those around me, there seems to be a sense of relief in other people. Many are also starting to realise – we do not all have to continue this madness of spending money we don’t have, on things we don’t need. When one person speaks out it gives permission to others to live more minimalist.
I have found some people very open about cutting back. Others are just horrified and get angry.
At this point, I haven’t totally embraced minimalism, but I’m getting there. Things like miniatures mom gave me, the last sweater she knit, those sort of things I still feel very guilty about giving away. One step at a time.
My wife’s family has this wonderful tradition. None of the adults in the family exchange gifts. Instead, the adults only provide gifts for the children in the family. On Christmas day, it’s so much fun to enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the kids with their gifts. It’s festive, without the added pressure of an adult gift exchange.
I so agree as we only by for the children, too. It is enjoyable watching the children open gifts.
We also like to make up a box for people in need, usually through the church. It is fun to put together some things for people who really need it.
Have a wonderful, nemorable holiday. Thanks again for all your knowledge about minimalism.
laura ann says
Adult gift exchanges should relate to food- baked goods, food baskets or even grocery gift cards which means zero clutter, especially for seniors. Most of us have all we need anyway.
Last year our family started serving more, starting on Thanksgiving at a kitchen and going through Christmas. I didn’t think much of it until my 3 kids all teenagers asked if we were doing it again. I of course thought they were asking because they didn’t like it. To my surprise that was their favorite memories of the holidays and they talked about how meaningful it was. Stepping away from traditions is okay, just ask your kids.
Joshua, thank you for this
post. This Thanksgiving
I am grateful for many things,
and one of those things is
your blog. Thank you for
inspiring us to focus on
what is most important in
life, whatever that may be
for the individual. If I had it to
do all over again, I would have raised my children with
a minimalist lifestyle. The good news in the words of
St. John Paul the II, ” The
future starts today, not tomorrow.” I Wishing you and your family a Happy
Sharen Sarver says
The holidays always make me think of a line in one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs called The Pretender: “…..where the ads take aim and lay their claim to the heart and the soul of the spender….” I do not buy into it! Thank goodness!
I’m fortunate that our family gave up gift giving over 10 years ago, and that frees up money to spend on things we want–especially at a great price. When I read that nearly 70% of us don’t have $1,000 for an emergency while vacation spots are overflowing, and restaurants are full, it’s a bigger issue than “stuff.”
I went bankrupt partly because of the celebration “musts.” About 7 years ago my sisters and I agreed we would not exchange gifts. Our niece and nephew get Christmas Eve pjs from me and that’s it. My mom was VERY upset, but it was a great decision for us. Then about 5 years ago, I decided that I enjoyed holy days spent quietly, maybe having lunch with friends. The crazy travel, decorations, etc made me incredibly anxious. People call me Scrooge and I can live with that. Having said all that, I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah
I meant.. my family and i decided ” NO GIFT giving this year other than the children.”
great article!!! This year my family decided to gift giving (other than one gift to each children. nieces and nephew). But my sibblings and parents decided if we truly want to give..to bring a side dish for our dinner. that way we can all enjoy it together.
Thank you for this, I nevery really know what to say to people who tell me I’m a Scrooge because our family has changed some traditions, stopped others and created our own in the past couple of years.
Heidi A. Hanni says
Last year I purged. I quit the practice of Law, sold ALL my stuff except a few personal things. Rented out my house & hit the road…dogs n all.
I came full circle, I’m back in my home state close to my daughter, she’s having a baby, I’m working 2 part-time jobs and I feel
Great. My tradition’s don’t involve spending $$. I’m going to watch the Macy’s Day Parade with my grandchildren ?
laura ann says
Linda: agree, people like us keep it simple, maybe get gift cards in advance of the rush, make home made food baskets and keep the rat race out of their lives and simple gifting. giving to local group homes perhaps. Why do anything else, others can join the rat race/craziness of the season w/ crowded malls/stores.
Since we’ve been out of and away from the rat race for so long, does it still exist in the excessive consumerism I can recall from the years past before the recession of in ‘08?
Do people still go to malls and shop til they drop?