I Started Saying "No" at Christmas and It's Made the Holiday So Much Happier

When I was a kid, I adored everything about Christmas. With piles of presents, the smell of pine, festive decorations, glowing lights, and a smorgasbord of sweets, how could I not? As I grew up and had kids of my own, I couldn't wait to share the magic of Christmas with them. I fully intended to bake stacks of cookies, visit Santa, give massive amounts of gifts, and dress our home in gobs of sparkling lights just like my dad did when I was growing up. Until I realized just how much time and effort go into making all that magic.

During my first few years as a mom, I did all the things. To go with the Christmas tree that we trimmed as a family, I decorated the house with trinkets, candles, wreathes, and nativities. I hung lights. I baked enough cookies and sweets to keep our family on a months-long sugar high. I purchased loads of gifts and wrapped them. I took my kids to visit Santa. And when it was all over, I cleaned up too; removing ornaments and decorations then boxing them up, taking lights down, cleaning up the mess of wrapping paper and pine needles, and picking up the excess of toys that seemed to become nothing but a tripping hazard.

Since I was the one primarily responsible for creating and cleaning up the Christmas magic, the shopping and baking and decorating just added to the exhaustion of those early motherhood years. Frantically rushing to get all the things done didn't feel magical, it just felt like a distraction from my kids. While it was fun for them, it depleted me. And in the rush, I felt like we were missing each other as well as the meaning behind the season.

So in an effort to slow down and truly enjoy Christmas with my kids, I started saying "no" to many of the traditions I'd at one time thought we'd take part in for years. That meant no more overloading the house with decorations and lights, no more visits with Santa, no more spending hours — heck, even days — baking, and intentionally choosing only three gifts for each kid. And after several years, I still don't participate in the Santa charade. Nor do I create extravagant Christmas displays or bake holidays sweets. There are no more impulse buys or last minute trips to the mall, because I order their three gifts online, wrap them upon arrival, and wash my hands of any more shopping.

Despite sticking to this approach for years, my kids still do plenty of asking. My daughter wants the Elf on the Shelf to live at our house. My son wants cookies in every shape, size, and flavor. They want piles of gifts like they see at their friends' homes. They want a Griswold-style light display and a house full of red and green. But I continue to say "no" to all of this. Because I'd rather spend time doing things with them than doing all the extra stuff for them. Besides, in recent years when I've offered to bake, decorate, and hang lights with their help — because they are old enough to do so now — they've emphatically declined . . . which tells me those things aren't all that important to them anyway.

My friends give me a hard time about my apparent Scrooge complex, scolding me for not fully participating in the Spirit of Christmas. But the Spirit of Christmas isn't about stress and exhaustion, it's about family and joy and giving your best to those you love. And when I'm actually focused on those I love instead of completely overwhelmed by the excess of the season, I'm better able to give my kids the best of me.

Each year, we have a simple, slow season doing things we all enjoy. We cut down a live Christmas tree and decorate it as a family. We watch our favorite Christmas movies while eating store-bought treats, which makes for less stress and less mess. We do a tour of Christmas light displays in our city while sipping on hot cocoa from the comfort of our car. We visit a live nativity. We take a spin on a horse-drawn carriage downtown. We purchase and deliver gifts to those in need. And of course when Christmas morning arrives, we open gifts and snack on baked goods from our favorite bakery — which I promise, are a thousand times better than anything made in our own kitchen.

Some people truly have a gift for managing all the extras that the Christmas season brings, while enjoying it too. And if you're one of them, I applaud you! Your efforts are appreciated and enjoyed by those of us who aren't. But frankly, I just don't have the energy or mental space to do it myself. And even though my kids don't share in all of the holiday experiences their friends do, I don't feel bad about it because saying "no" makes me a happier mom. It saves my sanity and allows our time together to be relaxing instead of overwhelming. Saying "no" allows us all to enjoy Christmas and I know the magic is in the memories my kids will have of spending Christmas with a happy mom.