I love Christmas – I always have. I love the sights and sounds, the scent of pine needles and mulled wine, and the chance to spend time with family and friends. And I love that hint of magic which always seems to hang in the air, even when you’re an adult.
But if I’m honest, the last few years have been a little strange. My family and I have tried so hard to recreate the wonderful Christmasses of our past, but dwindling numbers have left the whole thing feeling a bit flat (most of my grandparents are no longer with us, one of my brothers lives in Canada, the other is a doctor who normally has to work, and none of us have any children). And I know plenty of others who’ve had similar issues, either because of changing circumstances or because they’re tired of the pressure and endless to-do lists that the festive season seems to bring.
So, this year we’re taking a simpler approach. Rather than try to do everything and just make ourselves irritated in the process, we’re going to pare things right back and embrace a minimalist, more meaningful Christmas. If you want to do the same, here are a few tips that might help…
Choose which traditions to keep
Don’t feel you need to hold on to Christmas traditions just for the sake of it. Work out which are important to you and do away with any that no longer hold their magic. We’re hosting Christmas for the first time this year and we’re going to get rid of a few festive rituals that don’t really mean anything to us, or which involve unnecessary stress. And we’re going to create a few new traditions that work for this stage of our lives, including having the main feast on the night of Christmas Eve, followed by a long, lazy brunch on Christmas Day. The aim is to have the Christmas we want, not the one we think we should have.
Keep decorations simple
When it comes to decorations, less is generally more, and a bit of natural foliage and lots of flickering candles are all you really need to create a festive atmosphere. I’ll be getting a big tree because that’s one tradition I do enjoy, but Christmas can still be Christmas without one if you don’t fancy the hassle. As for other things like baubles and lanterns, try to choose timeless pieces that can be reused year after year, and opt for sustainable materials such as wood and paper over non-recyclable plastic and tinsel.
Do gifts a little differently
So many of us spend money we don’t really have on gifts just because we think they’re expected, but presents really aren’t what make Christmas special. I like to keep my house minimalist and clutter-free, and I’d much rather receive a small, thoughtfully chosen gift than more ‘stuff’ that I don’t want or need.
And there are so many ways to do gifts differently. You could give experiences (spa days, theatre tickets etc) rather than things, organise a Secret Santa draw with a set budget, or borrow the Icelandic tradition of exchanging a book at Christmas. You could even avoid gifts altogether and make donations to charity instead, perhaps choosing individual causes for each recipient to put a personal spin on things.
Whatever approach you want to take, have an honest conversation with family and friends to avoid any awkward moments or hurt feelings further down the line. And if you do purchase presents, focus on finding intentional items that will be treasured, rather than panic-buying meaningless things just for the sake of ticking someone off your list or matching a certain value.
Take the stress out of get-togethers
I’ll be honest: there is a part of me that likes playing the hostess with the mostest à la Monica from Friends. But I also know my limitations when it comes to time and money, and in the run-up to Christmas I generally have little of either to spare. As we’re hosting Christmas this year, we’re going to ask visiting family to contribute to a kitty for food and drink rather than buying us presents – after all, spending time with the people we love is all that really matters. Another idea could be asking everyone to bring a dish, or turning the festive cooking into a fun event where everyone gets involved over a glass of wine.
Make time to slow down
Finally, don’t feel pressure to go to every party and event you’re invited to – it’s OK to say no and prioritise rest and relaxation. I’m determined to carve out time to savour the little things this Christmas – perhaps going for a walk on a frosty morning, curling up with a hot chocolate and a good book, or even just snuggling up in my PJs and watching a festive film. I know it’s not always easy, especially if you have lots of family commitments, but even setting aside half a day to do what you want can make a huge difference.
Of course, the above are just ideas, and there’s no right or wrong way to do Christmas. I’d love to know your thoughts, so please do share your own experiences below. What makes Christmas special for you? And have you felt the need to simplify things in response to rising stress levels or changing circumstances?
All photography by Abi Dare