For a More Meaningful Holiday, Start Thinking Differently

Enjoy this excerpt from my latest book A Minimalist Holiday.*  

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you purchase through my links, I may earn a small commission.

candy cane heart

Ask a different question

The holiday season begins for many of us – and certainly for our children – with the question, "What do you want for Christmas?"

And we encourage our kids to wish for things.  Probably most of them want tangible items – things to play with, wear, read, or craft.  Others hope for something extraordinary, such as snow at their home in San Francisco, or the unexpected return of a parent who's deployed overseas.

To take steps toward a simpler holiday, place the focus on fun activities your family can enjoy together, set healthier expectations for gifts, choose quality over quantity, and stop looking for things to want.

But maybe you've done all of that, and want to go a bit deeper.  It's time to ask a different question.

"What can you give this Christmas?"

One of my favorite Christmas carols has a lovely, simple melody by English composer Gustav Holst, and profound, yet earthy lyrics by English poet Christina Rossetti.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter, a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay.
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air,
But only His mother, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can, I give Him – give my heart.

I love the connection between basic, even rustic elements like wind, snow, hay, animals, and a mother's kiss with the transcendent reality of "God with us."  And that last verse reminds me that the most important thing we have to give to God – and to each other – is something that even the poorest possess.

What can we give this Christmas?  Even children can come up with good answers to this question, since all of us have abilities and resources that come from the heart.  And the wonderful thing about this type of giving is that it keeps you focused on others and on what's important – kindness, peace, and goodwill to all.

Together, brainstorm a list of at least 20 things your children can make, do, or say that will have a positive impact on family, friends, neighbors, and strangers during the month of December.

[I talk more about this in the book, and give more than 20 examples.]

Type up and print out the list you devise, hang it somewhere prominent, and as the month goes by let everyone enjoy checking off the ways they've been able to give.  Your kids can use their unique talents and resources to bless others.

(Psst... you can do this yourself, with or without kids.)

By asking your kids (and yourself) a different question, you shift your heart and mind from what you can get to what you can give.  You learn that you already have more than enough, and that it's fun to give out of your abundance.

Now you're at the heart of minimalism.

Here's a bigger and better guide to a more joyful holiday!  I've completely revised my book, A MINIMALIST HOLIDAY: Simplify Your Celebration for More Meaning and Joy, and added tons of additional content (the word count is almost 50% greater).

A Minimalist Holiday can help you identify the seasonal traditions that hold the most value for you and learn to say no to the rest.  It can be your guide to

  • remove clutter and prepare your home for the holidays
  • budget money and time for maximum satisfaction
  • inject humor and comfort into common holiday challenges
  • help your family learn that the most wonderful parts of the season have nothing to do with gifts!

With chapters detailing an easy pre-Christmas clear out, a sure-fire holiday diet, tips on how to give without buying, and the Danish concept of hygge, there's something here for everyone.

Updated October 2023


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