Christmas Traditions are Thrilling

I pretty much love everything about Christmas. The lights, the gifts, the anticipation, the decorating, the family time, the focus on joy and peace and generosity- and the traditions. I’m all about Christmas traditions. My kids are still young, but we have already established quite a few traditions.

We always go to see the trains at Meijer Gardens and at Breton Village, we go to the Ada Christmas Parade and get our picture taken with Santa, I give each child an ornament each year and a new pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve, we have a birthday cake for Jesus and use our good deeds leading up to Christmas to collect birthday candles for the cake, the kids memorize the Christmas Story passage from the Bible, we read a Christmas book and an advent book and open our advent calendars every night, and we always take an evening to drive around and see the lights, while drinking hot chocolate.


RELATED: Greater Grand Rapids Christmas Tree Guide

Siemens kids Santa

And apparently, I have passed on my love of Christmastime to my children because last year they were so excited they literally started listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween- and they even talked me into putting up our Christmas tree before Thanksgiving.

And thus our family joyfully embraced the holiday of Christmas!


Christmas Anticipation is Almost Better Than the Actual Moment

And then… December arrived and crushed my Christmas spirit. I had envisioned evenings spent with the family in front of the fire, sipping hot chocolate and admiring our sparkling Christmas tree, while peacefully reading our Advent books together…

But in fact, every evening of that first week of December was full. My husband had to work one evening, I had a church outing one night and dinner with friends on another, we had a third grade holiday concert and my husband and son had two Cub Scout meetings.

By the end of that week, our Advent book was unopened, the wreath was still in the basement, we had no birthday candles for Jesus and hadn’t read a single Christmas book. Not to mention that during that week, I had also signed up to bring meals to two friends, to make frosting for Gingerbread House Decorating in my daughter’s class, to send in items for three different class Christmas parties and to buy items to donate to four different collection drives. Also that month we had three Christmas parties, one cookie-decorating get-together and time to make Christmas gifts for teachers. I was completely stressed out!

Cue the Elf, Delight of Busy Parents Around America

And in case we didn’t already have enough traditions, I tried to start a new tradition last year. The year before, in second grade, my son had heard about all his friends who had this “Elf on the Shelf” and he kept asking when our Elf was going to show up. Of course, I felt bad that we didn’t have one and had to make up some excuse about how our Elf is invisible or on vacation or something.

Until I found an Elf on the Shelf for 75% off at Target’s post-Christmas sales. Perfect! (Actually, it was a stuffed doll version of the Elf on the Shelf, but basically the same thing.)


I had put it away with the Christmas stuff and forgot about it until the kids were taking out the decorations the following year and found it, throwing it around and playing with it. (I’m pretty sure that’s not how the tradition is supposed to go.)

And then my 8-year-old saw it and read the packaging and said, “It’s not even a real elf- it’s just a ‘plush model’.” I half-heartedly tried to explain that of course it was real, but he was clearly not convinced. And any time the Elf was mentioned that week, he would smugly say, “Well, it doesn’t even matter; it’s just a plush model” or “I know that you’re the one who moved it because it’s just a plush model.

I tried to ignore it but all this stress was beginning to turn me into a very grumpy mom and there was virtually no Christmas cheer to be found at our house…

The Truth About December in American Homes

And now, friends (my husband is not going to be pleased about this), I’m going to share a picture with you. THIS is what my house looked like at the end of that first week of December.  


This was in the morning and those dishes you see are all from the night before! We had my son’s 3rd grade holiday concert the evening before, which meant I was rushing to get dinner on the table for the kids, find something decent for the 3rd grader to wear, then go get myself out of my yoga pants while the kids ate, as my husband ran in the door late from work, and we all jumped in the car, leaving the dishes and half-eaten dinner on the table and rushed off to the concert.

Once we returned from the concert and finally got four kids settled in bed, hubby and I collapsed on the couch with our re-warmed dinners. And didn’t get back off that couch until 10:30 pm. Hence the sight that greeted me the next morning.

Note the leftover dinner on the table from the night before. And the cereal, which may have been from breakfast, but just as likely was from dinner the night before because the 2-year-old was refusing to eat anything but crackers and dry cereal. And the bowl of Halloween candy still sitting on the kitchen counter.

And if you look closely, the Elf on the Shelf hanging off of the ceiling light because that was the ONE thing we managed to do before going to bed the night before.

Me: Ugh. We should move this. Where should I put it?  Husband: Here. (As he throws it into the light.) 

When I walked into the kitchen this next morning, I saw my son standing on a chair, reaching for the Elf.

“You know, you’re not supposed to touch him,” I reminded him.

It doesn’t really matter – it’s just a plush model,” he replied.

And that was it. I snapped. The stress, the busyness, the exhaustion, the disappointment, the unfulfilled plans, the disaster of a kitchen…

“Well, CONGRATULATIONS! You have successfully RUINED Elf on the Shelf for your younger siblings! ANY chance they may have had of believing this or having ANY fun with it is ruined. RUINED! And if I ever hear you say “plush model” again, I don’t even know what I’m going to do!!

And thus concluded the first week of our joyous season of Christmas.

Yes, I did apologize to my son (and no, I have not heard him utter the phrase “plush model” since). And yes, I did also decide that I probably needed to take a step back and re-evaluate some things.

Can We Cut Some Things out to the Christmas Season?

I wish I had some profound conclusion or epiphany that I could share with you that cured my grumpies and saved Christmas; unfortunately, I don’t. I know that many of you probably experience similar emotions during the holiday season (please tell me I’m not the only one!) and if you have some wisdom to share with me, I would love to hear it!

A step back can usually provide a new perspective, and if I can just step outside of my crazy life for a second, I realize how silly my “problems” really are and how I have let insignificant things get the best worst of me.

It’s important to know yourself and to be aware of your stressors.

I know that doing too much and overscheduling myself leads to stress so I do my best to avoid that. I also don’t handle disappointment well and like things to go according to my plan. If things change at the last minute, it throws me off. And if my “vision” of how things are going to go doesn’t happen that way, I’m disappointed, leaving me feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. I try to hold loosely to my plans around the holidays in an attempt to alleviate stress.

But on the other hand, Christmas is just a busy time of year! And while there may be a few things I can cut out of my schedule or shortcuts I can take, when I look back at my holiday season, I think the truth is that there is a lot (like, a whole lot!) that just can’t be cut out.


Sometimes You Just Need to Buck Up and Accept the Mania of the Season

To be totally honest, the realization I came to is this: I just need to suck it up! This may not be helpful advice to most busy, stressed-out moms, but somehow this perspective feels slightly refreshing to me. Being busy is not the end of the world. It’s a season.

Being late is not the end of the world. Bringing store-bought cookies to the party is not the end of the world. 

This year on December 1, I’m taking a deep breath and reminding myself to try and keep things in perspective- and suck it up!

I love Christmas.

The last thing I want to do is ruin it- for myself or my family- by being stressed out. We’re going to be busy; there’s no way around it. If my family has to read five chapters of the Advent book one night to catch up, it’s not going to be a big deal. If we don’t make it to Meijer Gardens this year, it will still be there next year. If the Elf tradition doesn’t catch on (and if last year is any indication, it’s not looking good) so be it. Traditions are great, but they shouldn’t make or break my Christmas. And though I am tempted to add more traditions to our repertoire (Jesse tree, anyone?) I’m thinking it might be wise (for my sanity and the well-being of my family) for me to hold off, at least for a little while…

There’s always next year, right?


So how do you handle the stress and busyness of the holiday season?

Traditions Shouldn't Make or Break Christmas

See Keri’s other articles on modern day motherhood:


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