This Christmas: Good Things I Don’t Have to Do

The last few weeks have felt especially rough. There have been lots of good moments peppered in but, honestly, life is feeling like a bit of a slog. I can’t put my finger on exactly why – most likely a perfect storm of renovations, work stressors, parenting challenges, hormonal fluctuations, and all this dismal/cold weather. I’m coasting where I can, showering at night, and trying to soak up festive cheer…but I’m feeling pretty low on motivation.

Back on (Canadian) Thanksgiving I wrote about “Good Things I Don’t Have to Do.

It turns out that most of the things I tell myself I have to do…I don’t actually have to do. I think I need to shake myself awake every few weeks with a stern: Elisabeth, you are an adultthis means you get a say in most of the things on your plate!


I recently mentioned to my husband that I had mailed off the Christmas photocards earlier in the day. He expressed appreciation for my efforts (bless him) and then said: “If it were left to me, I wouldn’t send out a single card.” I replied, in complete honesty, “And that would be fine!”

It really would be. Photocards are important to me (even if the process isn’t always entirely pleasant). There will always be a new ornament on Christmas Eve. And, if I have anything to do about it, I will watch White Christmas with my friend Joy every single year. But there are lots of other things that are good and on someone else’s agenda that simply don’t fall on mine (see also Grateful Kae – I’m not the only one!). This year, especially, I’m giving myself lots of grace and realizing what’s fun for someone else doesn’t have to be fun for me – at least in this particular season of life.

good things I don’t have to do this year

  • Make a family Holiday Fun List. Yes, I made one several years in a row. No I don’t have to do it this year. We can still watch Elf, deliver homemade cookies to the neighbours, and drink hot cocoa while looking at Christmas lights even if we don’t cross it off some fancifully designed list.
  • Buy matching family pajamas. This does not appeal to me (in. the. slightest), but I know this is a very common and happy tradition for many families. I track down second-hand (thrift or consignment store) winter/Christmas pajamas and give those to the kids on Christmas Eve. They rarely match (but have occasionally, by coincidence) and it’s just not a big deal. I honestly can’t think of something I’d want to do less than try to source matching PJ’s?!
  • Go see Santa. My kids have never believed in Santa. I think they’ve gone twice when we happened by a Santa in the mall, but were uninterested and never make any request to seek him out. Obviously we also skip the cookies and milk for Santa (and carrots and oats for the reindeer).
  • Elf on the Shelf. I once read about someone taking hours to make mini doughnuts out of Cheerios – hilarious and a great creative outlet, but definitely not for me. Levi did love his classroom Elf in primary last year, but she just moved around during the night – no mischevious antics. I’m sure this is loads of fun to some families, but I almost get hives just thinking about trying to pull this off in my own house day after day in December.
  • Make gingerbread houses. We’ve done cutout ginger cookies before but gingerbread houses? NO THANK YOU! The mess. The candy. The sticky icing everywhere. And then where do you store it? Again – a very fun tradition for many families, but doesn’t have to be fun for me.
  • Go see a live show. While I think this would be a great tradition (I love seeing live performances of just about anything), we haven’t made it our own. A local dance school puts on the Nutcracker ballet each Christmas and this is a must-see performance for many people in our town/neighbouring communities. I’ve gone once. And that’s okay! Although Abby is begging to go see it again this year as she knows a number of the dancers…
  • Wrapping gifts in matching paper. I love the aesthetic of “brown paper packages tied up with string” as much as the next person but when I read someone waxing eloquent about how they wanted their wrapping to reflect all the time and effort that went in to sourcing the gifts, I have to admit it doesn’t apply to me. My kids don’t care about these things at all. I buy whatever cute (or cheap) wrapping paper I can find on sale after Christmas, and that is what gets used. It could be blue with cartoon penguins next to red plaid. While I do love all the coordinating gift pictures…it’s not for me. And I honestly think the gifts still looks great in their hodgepodge under the tree. Twinkle lights do amazing things…
  • Cutting down a Christmas tree. We have done this in previous years but I have to admit I dreaded the experience. It was always cold or wet and it’s so hard to gauge the tree height accurately. Last year, when we couldn’t make it to the tree lot, I loved visiting the tree stand a 3-minute drive from our house and then paying $5 to have said tree delivered straight to our door. No saw or rubber boots required…
  • Holiday parties. I’m in introvert. I like to be home in my pajamas listening to Christmas music or watching Christmas movies with my family. Full stop. We do end up hosting a bit over the holidays but mostly at our place. No big office parties. No fancy to-do’s. Quiet and simple and at home.

There are always lots of “good” things, especially during a holiday season, but not enough time to do them all – so you’ll find me wearing my regular pajamas come Christmas morning. And, for the record, I still haven’t done those Pilates videos.

What about you? Any traditions you’re mindfully opting out of this Christmas? Any new ones you’re looking to incorporate for the first time?

Header photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

18 thoughts on “This Christmas: Good Things I Don’t Have to Do”

  1. I am WITH YOU. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf and I am a firm NO WAY on gingerbread houses. (My husband likes to do them, though, but that’s on him. I have NOTHING to do with that kind of thing.) I also love the idea of matching gift wrap… but it’s impractical! We always have left over wrapping paper from previous years, and I’m not going to waste it (or waste hours trying to find its twin). Usually I do some baking projects, but this year I am not feeling it. So… we’ll see! It’s all about priorities, and mine are wrapped gifts for all members of the family, holiday cards, and a book countdown calendar for my kid.

    1. I’m really not into baking projects this year either. I did do a single batch of ginger cookies which we spread around to a few neighbours and I’ll make one batch of peanut butter balls…but I just don’t feel like cooking treats this year. Maybe because I hate having to resist them? But I’m just not craving them…maybe because I’m feeling overextended, or maybe because I really it’s not a holiday tradition that is fueling me right now (I will make two items for sure – cinnamon coffee cake for Christmas morning breakfast and unbaked cherry cheesecake for Christmas dinner dessert).

  2. I say no to basically everything on this list as well! I did buy matching pjs for the boys and me – but not my husband. I actually needed new pjs and I knew my older son would love it if I wore dino jammies. These are Christmas dino jammies but I will wear them regardless of the season! I got a few more pairs for the boys at Target and then lucked out and got a matching pair for them at a consignment store – but entirely accidentally. I bought several pairs of holiday jammies for them and when I got home, realized that 1 pair matched! What luck!

    But I opt out of everything else. I am off of social media right now and a big part of that is that I don’t need to see all the merry-making others are doing because in moments of weakness, it can feel like I *should* be doing all of those things! But we are very thoughtful about what we do and don’t do so I shouldn’t let others decisions make me feel bad about what we are doing/not doing.

    One new thing I’m doing this year is taking my older son to a light display at our local arboretum. I’m going with another friend and her 2 boys. I hope it is not frigidly cold so we can enjoy it, but I think we could do part of it from the car. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and with Paul almost-4, he’s at a good age for it! This is my 2nd year of having an advent calendar. He gets 3-6 m&ms/day and then every 4 days he gets to open a present, which is a Christmas book. Last year he was THRILLED every day regardless of whether he got a gift. This year there has been much whining so if that doesn’t improve, I am going to put the advent calendar away for several years until he can be more appreciative and whine less!

    1. Oh child whining – that is so frustrating, especially when it involves something that was designed to be fun. That is one of my absolute least favourite parts of parenting! Hope things settle down, but I have 100% pulled the plug on some things that were supposed to be fun that ended up feeling like a net negative. Hope the light display is fun. I have got to get the kids out to a few of our favourite light destinations! I feel like I’ve usually taken them a few times by now, but this year with all the renos and a new job, my head’s not quite in the game!

      Christmas dino jammies feel fun! If I saw a matching set at a thrift store I would definitely go for it…I just don’t seek it out. I know some people order their sets months in advance (but I do think through holiday cards months in advance).

      It can be tough to figure out what is really important/worth the effort and the set of answers is going to vary wildly from person-to-person. Embrace the stuff that words and ditch the rest (the key is trying to do this without guilt, and it sounds like you do a great job with this – gold star). Or as I like to say to myself with respect to minimalism: keep the flowers, pull the weeds.

  3. Haha, it cracks me up that we are almost like Christmas twins! I think a lot of other people probably feel this way, too- I heard from another real life friend after I posted my blog post about this topic that she also does NOT partake in pretty much anything on my list, either. šŸ˜‰ I think it’s like anything- the people who DO do those things tend to share, post, etc. and it gets all the glory. You don’t hear much about people NOT doing them, because, well, they’re not doing them! hehe.

    Re: the gift wrapping- I am sort of in between on that one. I generally buy a few rolls of “coordinating” paper (just paper that I feel looks nice together). Then, when I run out of that (because inevitably I always do), I just use whatever else I have leftover from a previous year. So it’s semi-coordinated? It might bug me to say, wrap a gift in reds/greens and then have others mixed in with like, purples and pinks. But I know myself, and I would probably not buy purple and pink christmas paper in the first place. So usually whatever I have lying around will already be in the general color scheme that I deem to be “christmas appropriate” (red/green/white/silver, preferably). Haha now I am sounding a little ridiculous. ;_) Hopefully you know what I mean!

    1. Your gift-wrapping mindset makes complete sense!

      In general I do the same – buy paper that tends to match, doesn’t look overly gaudy. My mom happened to leave some bright blue/white/red penguin paper, but I wouldn’t have normally picked out a print like that, for example. I like neutral patterns, often with a “brown paper” vibe. I think I could also call my stuff semi-coordinated. And I think somehow under the tree (especially when we mix in external gifts that filter in from other sources), it just always looks cheerful and festive, regardless of some potential “clashing.” I have really backed off on bows/ribbons etc. but have friends that do elaborate wrapping with all sorts of coordinated ribbon. I love the look of it, but have no motivation to recreate it on any mass scale (i.e. for an appreciable number of the gifts under our tree)! I can see Abby really liking to do some of these finer details as she gets older, which would be a fantastic team effort!

  4. i’m opting out almost all christmas specials. šŸ™‚ even ginger bread house decor, we could do it but I find it really wasteful. i love you saying that part of being an adult is we can decide not to do something šŸ™‚ glad that your husband is quite low key about those things too. i think destination Christmas trip would be my preferred way to celebrate going forward.

    1. Yes, I think it is immensely helpful to have everyone on the same page (or at least have someone that is willing to do an activity alone – like me with the photocards; I don’t begrudge the fact he wouldn’t do them if I didn’t take the initiative, but he does willingly do the annual photos + help me pick the photocard design, so he’s happy to support it).

      I think a destination Christmas sounds really fun some year!

  5. The best thing about being an adult is setting the rules! We don’t HAVE to do things – and that’s wonderful. I find it’s so important to set boundaries always, but especially this time of year, because otherwise we can get resentful and exhausted.

    1. Isn’t it hard to accept/give ourselves the license to march to the beat of our own drummer, so to speak. For the most part, we do get a choice in almost everything – and this most certainly applies to holiday events/traditions!

  6. I think I’m opting out of all travel. In the past, we would go to my husband’s family’s celebration (about three hours away) and try to get to my family’s home (about eight hours away). Last year, we didn’t do any traveling because of the pandemic and while I could use the same excuse this year (the hospitals here are FULL), I’m just going to use my sick dog as an excuse. My husband can go visit his family, but my family will just have to come see me if they want to. I really hate traveling and the pandemic has really crystalized for me that I can say no to all the traveling that is stressful and not fun.

    But photocards are important (to me). Going to see the lights at the rotary gardens is important. Putting up a tree is important. It’s nice to have clear priorities!

    1. Years ago we traveled to see extended family it Christmas. It totaled 6 long stretches of driving (3 there and 3 back). We encountered horrible snow storms on EACH of those legs. Abby ended up being sick the whole time (and she was under 2, so it was miserable!)…and we said we’d never do it again. The furthest we’ve gone in almost a decade has been 4 hours away to my parents, but even that has been sporadic. Now that we have a larger home (we were in a very small apartment until 4 years ago), it just makes sense for people to come to us since we’re the only ones locally with younger kids. That’s exactly what’s going to happen again this year – COVID restrictions permitting!

  7. I do a few of these- one tradition (that I now kind of regret) is making gingerbread houses FROM SCRATCH. Like, i make the dough, roll it out, cut the shapes for the houses, bake them, assemble them, then the kids decorate them. I know…. screeeaaam! My kids are 19 and 12 and they’re already asked when we’re making the gingerbread houses- sigh.
    I also like really nice wrapping paper, BUT- I don’t do Elf on the Shelf. My family would laugh in my face if I tried to get us all to wear matching pajamas. I’m not a fan of parties either. So… it’s all about deciding what’s important to you. You have to enjoy the season too- and if the adults are stressed out, the kids won’t really enjoy it either. I’m sure your kids feel like their Christmases are special!

    1. Gingerbread houses from scratch – gold stars to you! Sounds like the kids love the tradition šŸ™‚ My brother did this once when he was a teenager and I was about 8? I LOVED it, but my Mom never did it before or after the year he took the initiative.

      I think it’s all about recognizing the fact there are basically limited options in terms of potential traditions but there IS limited time. Choosing what works and going with that (and then not feeling guilty about what we don’t do)…

      Can’t wait to see the finished gingerbread houses if you post pictures to your blog!

  8. Since we don’t have any kids, I think the pressures to make the holidays extra-memorable are a little less… and while I do cherish and enjoy certain traditions, I know that sometimes it’s okay to opt out (like last year, I didn’t get to watch all the holiday movies I *wanted* to watch and for a moment felt kinda bummed about it, but then I realized that I did some other, new things instead that were fun and memorable in their own way…. ).. it’s all about finding balance.

    1. Being mindful about opting out does feel “empowering” in a way. But it can also feel disappointing, too. It’s hard to strike the right balance. Sometimes I don’t have the energy for a particular festive event or fun tradition, but then am so happy when it’s over that I DID fit it in. Other times, I make the effort (when I don’t want to), and it ends up being even more draining than I imagined. Trying to learn what to keep and what I say “no” to can be tricky, but I think I’m getting a bit better at striking the right balance?!

  9. I am so glad you had a more balanced approach this year. It sounds like it was completely right for you at this time in your life. And I suspect, as the kids get older, that they will make their preferences known (and, more than likely, you’ll be adding some new things to your activities [even if they’re not on a fancy list!] as other things drop off…). Also, the matching wrapping paper? Not worth it. Use up the scraps. Totally with you on that one!
    I’m just, well, me, and we don’t do big gifts in my nuclear family. I give my nieces (virtual) cash, and do donations for my brother and SIL, and parents, to organizations they support. They do the same for me. My parents, though, are big gift-givers and I can’t convince them that I don’t need things! (That said, one of this year’s “things” was my mom’s cookies, so… I’ll take that, thanks!)
    Finally – I am intrigued by how family “traditions” evolve over the years. My parents and I were reminiscing this weekend about how different Christmas was when I was in elementary and middle school, and even high school. Families grow up, change, move, and… that affects the rituals and traditions that we have. It just means that new ones emerge in their place, but the changes (for me) happened so gradually that it’s only in hindsight that I see how “big” they were.
    (SO SORRY for the long, rambling comment. Clearly I have more to say on this than I realized!)

    1. I have SO much to say about traditions and think about the habits, routines and special events that we enjoy around Christmas (specifically) all the time. I think some families also tend to appreciate/prioritize traditions more than others. I think my family was pretty middle-of-the-road. Not loads and loads of annual traditions – and we never necessarily labeled them as such – but just lots of little things that we did year after year that took on real significance.

      Hope you had a good Christmas; I know COVID really hampered your travel plans, but hope it still felt special and festive in its own way.

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