Go Zen – Instead of Frantic – for the Holidays


Confession: I’ve been thinking about and looking forward to the winter holidays since before Halloween. Our oldest has an October birthday and it feels like the kick off to a fun few months. Fun but sometimes a bit too busy. Enjoyable but sometimes stressful. Exciting but sometimes with a hint of panic.

We’re having another low-key island Christmas so I won’t have to deal with travel this year or dividing our time between family gatherings. But even quiet island life gets busy. Horse tram rides with Santa, Christmas Pantomimes, Preschool play, work holiday parties – I don’t think we have an event free  weekend until 2014.

Decide now to do less this holiday season. This is no easy feat with all those invitations, the delicious and adorable holiday items up on Pinterest and if you have kids, the already palpable excitement over the coming fun and gifts.

1. Outsource. This could mean anything from buying Christmas cookies at a bakery instead of home baking (no shame!) to letting the kids decorate the tree. You don’t have to do it all and it’s fine to get help. If you have the means hire a cleaner to blitz your home right before the festivities.

Another option is to swap services with friends. Barter and trade anything from homemade Yule log cakes to babysitting to outdoor light installation. The job you find tedious or don’t have the time for may be something your neighbor or friend deeply enjoys and vice versa.

2. Decide to do less. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and cut something from your list. Block off a weekend day between now and Christmas for doing absolutely nothing. Don’t accept invitations, don’t plan on shopping or decorating the house, just plan on having a quiet day that unfolds as you like at that moment.

3. Set a shopping cut off. I am determined to have everything done by December 1st this year. I don’t exchange gifts with a lot of people and as you might guess from the title of this blog, I don’t buy a lot of gifts. We’re focused on quality over quantity so there will be no Dollar Store runs for stocking suffers or returning an unexpected gift with more than a heartfelt thank you. Decide now when the gift buying stops so you can start enjoying the holiday season earlier.

4. Stick with your routines (or get back into them!). We’ve had a strange couple of months here with travel and some exciting but time consuming work and life events. My Crossfit attendance has been sporadic and I’ve had less than optimal sleep. We’re trying to get back to our ‘normal’ sleep and activity schedule in the lead up to the holiday break.

If your family struggles with routine during busy seasons try to keep yourself on track in the next few weeks. Late nights, excitement and too much sugar are just around the corner and they will be more enjoyable for everyone if you stick to your regular routine now.

5. Try something new. Along with doing less and sticking to routines, try something new. Try something that isn’t about buying or making but about a calming thoughtful ritual. I read about a family that lit a candle over breakfast during the holiday season and how it was a special and calming ritual for the family. We actually did that with our jack ‘o’ lantern during Halloween and I found it to be a nice ritual that our oldest son and I really enjoyed.

So light a candle, take ten minutes to meditate before bed time, commit to a long bath on Sunday evenings or find a small new way to give yourself a moment of calm during the season.

How do you keep the stress low and enjoyment high during the holiday season? Do you say no or put limits on things or do you just go with the exciting tide of events?

P.S. For anyone looking for guidance over the holiday season Marianne Elliot, yogi and author, is once again offering her Zen Peacekeeper Guide to the Holidays. What does this online course look like?

From Marianne: You’ll get a peace-offering (in the form of an email) from me every day from 26 November to 24 December. I’ll tell you the truth about the practices that support me to find peace in the midst of chaos (including what happens when I neglect them and how you can learn from my mistakes). You’ll get videos, audios and written ‘recipes’ for these simple practices (for writing, eating, yoga, walking, sleeping and meditating) to help you keep the peace in all the places peace needs to be kept over the holiday season.

This course closes on November 25th so if you are looking for more peace for yourself and those around you this holiday season head over and sign up. I’ve heard great things about this course!

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  • Yikes! I tried to follow thru to sign up for that Zen thru the holidays but couldn’t find the course or how to sign up for it. Help!


  • It IS hard to slow down around this time of the year, lots of temptation and hype out there. :)

    Thankfully the kids write their letters to Santa early, so their presents are already bought. In fact the only present I need to pick up is the one for my husband. Still contemplating to buy it from our local shop at a higher price or order it on amazon for cheaper.
    So hopefully during Advent we can again focus on Chistmas concerts, carol singing, pantos, decorating the house, the tree, cooking, meeting friends, and then hybernating as a family of four on the 24th, 25th, 26th.

    Having little rituals like the candle-lit breakfast is a wonderful idea! This year, as the kids a bigger, we want to start a new ritual: carrying the Christmas tree home. The place we usually by the tree from is about half and hour walk away. So far the kids are very enthusiastic about the challenge! :)

  • Each year we simplify further. I’ve finished all my gift shopping. I did it yesterday in one-fell-swoop. But we buy so little, and what we do buy tends to come from one shop (consumables and gift vouchers). I’m reducing the items I make also this year. It turned into a bit of a chore last year. There are still things I like to handmake, but that’s the point ‘I like’ to do it. The Kids grow so fast. I want to be able to enjoy the holiday season. And that means slowing down and looking around.
    ps – meditation. I’ve just developed a meditation habit. I’m loving it!

  • I discovered you blog a little while ago when researching minimalism but this is my first comment. You are very inspirational and I think it’s great to focus on simplifying our lives. Last holiday season I took a huge step in simplifying and made all my gifts. This year I am trying out not participating in the holidays at all as that would require purchasing an expensive plane ticket to see my family, then planning gifts when the people I care about don’t need or want stuff just to have more stuff, so we will see how that goes. Instead of feeling pressured to participate in the consumerism side of the holidays, I want to show my appreciation for people in other ways throughout the year. I know many people don’t feel they have the freedom to not participate at all, or they simply love the holidays and everything they entail regardless of wanting to simplify, but we will see how this year goes.

  • Last year we had a huge construction paper tree with paper ornaments that the girls and I created. This year we will have a Pink and Purple theme decoration for a plastic white tree; for the first time the girls are really excited about a plastic tree. Besides the tree and some lights we don’t put any decorations in the apt. We will stay home, as we often do during Christmas, and have a good filling breakfast. The boys will get money and the girls will get a wii and some Uggs they have so much asked for. Teachers will get the usual, a coffee house’s gift card. As I don’t buy presents for anyone else, I have nothing to stress about, unlike years ago when I was buying too much and getting into debt to “keep everyone happy”

  • Several years ago we decided we were done with the insanity. I no longer send out Christmas cards, bake insane amounts of cookies to give away, attend round after round of Christmas parties and obligations. It has been fantastic. We decorate simply. Gifts are simple. We spend the season driving around and seeing lights, curling up for movies, making ONE batch of cookies at a time, and just enjoying each other. My kids are 4 and 6 and they have never known an over the top dang near hysterical Christmas. For that, I am grateful.

  • We’re trying to simplify the season as well. This will be the first year my siblings and I do not exchange gifts. Instead we are going to take turns paying for fun outings when they visit for the holidays. For our boys, I organized a toy swap, so I won’t have to spend a time. Great grandparents get donations to charities near their homes. All that’s left are parents, my little BIL, and teachers. I will splurge on teacher gifts, but that’s only because I come from a family of teachers and know how much they bust their asses for little pay. I’ll do a giftcard for supplies and another for something fun. I doubt The Husband and I will exchange presents. If anything, it will be consumables. He adores craft beers, and I just like chocolate and baked goods. I love being married to a simple man!

  • I found your blog recently after reading your article in The Globe and Mail, “We’re a minimalist family.” I immediately forwarded it to my husband and we have decided to really make an effort to change our lifestyle in a similar way, something we had talked about for a long time but never really done. I was so inspired that I wrote a piece in my own blog (https://thegrowthc.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/the-things-we-carry/) citing your article and the incredible changes you’ve made! Please keep writing – I am excited to read more.

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