Are Holiday Traditions Too Much Stress?

Spritz cookies, candle making, sugar cookies, TV Christmas specials, Christmas Eve candlelight service, counting down the days with candy canes, advent wreaths, reading Luke chapter 2, Twas the Night Before Christmas, breaking the peppermint pig, paper crowns, pickled herring, and the list could go on.

All Christmas “traditions” we had growing up in my family. Some we did at home, others we did with the grandparents. Some were built into the weeks before Christmas in grand anticipation, others were a part of our family Christmas Eve celebration. Some were to remember Jesus’ birth and why we celebrate Christmas, others were for family heritage and family fun. As a kid, they all enhanced my Christmas experience. But as an adult, I know we can’t fit everything in every year and it can be difficult to decide what to do and what to skip to save our sanity. Holiday traditions can be stressful and in the age of pinterest and social media, the pressure to do and post all the cute stuff with our kids can be overwhelming and sometimes depressing. (For Halloween, did you carve pumpkins, hand make your children’s costumes, hand out regular-sized candy bars, AND serve hot cider to your neighbors? Did it seem like all the other moms on Facebook did?) Then there are all the memes that encourage you to abandon anything and everything that causes even the slightest amount of stress for your holiday season. But is that really the best option? Should we scrap everything? How do we decide? 

My peppermint mocha cookies I developed last year.

I feel like every year I set out to do less and still end up doing more than I planned. I’m still working on fine-tuning my filter to decide what stays and what goes each year, but I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had on the subject lately that are helping me on my journey and might help you, too!

The first question I’ve asked myself is: What does the Bible say about traditions? The Bible actually addresses traditions in a couple ways that I think are absolutely important to consider as moms deciding what we want to do with our children each year. First of all, we are encouraged to practice traditions that cause us to remember what God has done. God commands the Israelites to remember how He saved them by celebrating Passover, repeating the stories to their children, and in Joshua 4 God had them make an alter of stones to remember how He helped them cross the Jordan river and to tell the story to their children for generations. Jesus also tells the disciples to continue practicing the Lord’s supper after He’s gone in remembrance of Him. So traditions that point to Jesus–finding ways to remember Him and retell His story to our children–whether through story books, crafts, devotions, whatever, are not only good things to do, but we absolutely need to be doing them with our kids. I’m not saying they need to be the craftiest things on pinterest, but we should be doing something to tell our children the story of Jesus in a meaningful way.

But, Jesus also warns against doing outward deeds that are meaningless to our hearts. (Matt 23:27-28) He says, “Woe to you!” So absolutely DO NOT DO the super crafty thing if it’s going to make you bitter. Find a different way to pass on the Christmas story to your children and use a medium that comes more naturally to you. The last thing we want to do is look showy on the outside but have bitter and stressed out hearts.

So what about the other stuff? What about the stuff that is just family fun? Do we scrap it if it stresses us out? Yes and no. I’ve never thought that anything worth while is going to be completely stress-free. My key now is to figure out the exact source of the anxiety. Here’s an example. Every year I get annoyed when a child spills the flour everywhere and sometimes I might even yell if the cookie making process is getting out of control. But I still look forward to making cookies with my kids each year, and so do they. They don’t remember me yelling that one time–they count down the days until we make cookies together. I’ve come to accept that life with four littles is going to be a little stressful for me because it’s going to be messy and I don’t like mess. But, this doesn’t mean scrapping the cookie making altogether. What it does mean is maybe I don’t pass out cookies to friends every year anymore. Randy and I used to give cookies out at Christmas but the more the kids want to be involved, the more chances there are for messy cookies, thumbprints where they don’t belong, and unnecessary anxiety. So I won’t give cookies out anymore because that’s too stressful. When I don’t have kids licking their fingers every two seconds, this tradition might restart. So if you used to get my Christmas cookies and don’t anymore, don’t be offended, be thankful. 😉

Do I have to do the same thing every year? No! For this question, I say, do what makes you happy. My kids are growing, maturing, and changing. They are capable of more each year, but we still have littles. So now my two older kids might be able to handle more, but I still have to weigh the fact that I have an almost-three-year-old and a one-year-old around who want to “participate” but can’t fully. Last year I might have been able to do more because I had a napping toddler and a sleeping infant. Now with two toddlers, I have to weigh my options carefully and if I decide it’s not worth going the extra mile in something, I know there’s alway next year, or the year after. I’m never going to be able to fit everything in one year and that’s also what makes it fun!

So where can I get ideas for the meaningful stuff? Many churches offer family devotions to take home around advent and lent. They might even have family events that reinforce the meaning to these seasons. This is great because you don’t have to look far for inspiration if you follow your church’s calendar of events! Another source I love for advent and lent is ohamanda.com. Her advent devotional for kids is called The Truth in the Tinsel and her lent packet is A Sense of the Resurrection. If these are too time-consuming for you, there are so many excellent books you can read aloud to your children for each season–check out your local Christian bookstore. (We like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Christmas and “Benjamin’s Box” at Easter.)

If holiday traditions annually stress you out, this year I encourage you to remember the freedom you have in Christ to not do the same thing every year, and to not try to be the perfect pinterest mom. But don’t neglect the responsibility you have to pass down the story of Christ to your children! May your heart be happy and light and your fingers not be perpetually sticky. Happy holiday traditions!

Yes, we’ll be making these silly turkeys again this year, after all the other Thanksgiving preparations are finished. And it will be pure fun!