5 tips to lessen your family stress this holiday season

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Dec 2, 2016

Photo by Chelsea Francis

Holiday concerts. Last-minute gift shopping. A longer-than-normal list of church and family events. And to top it all off, our teenagers often have mid-December final exams.

No wonder the holidays feel stressful.

I imagine scenes of our family holidays that include fireplaces, pajamas, and relaxed card games together. And yet our reality often looks like rushing to the next event and cramming in late-night runs to Target for the gift that’s needed tomorrow.

Over the years, my husband, Dave, and I have found that less can be more during the holidays. As we choose better, and choose less, we actually end up enjoying the holidays more and feel more connected as a family.

Tweet this: Choosing better and choosing less can help your family feel more connected.

Here are five ideas—most of which we’ve gleaned from our friends—that help us make less more:

1. Shed some traditions.

I love traditions, and my husband and kids cherish them even more than me. But over the years, traditions have accumulated. Layer by layer, that great gift-buying ritual we added when our kids became preteens gets added on top of the children’s Christmas book evening we instituted when they were kindergarteners. Eventually, all those rituals start to become suffocating, not life-giving.

So we’ve asked our kids what rituals they care about the most. And we’re cutting most of the rest.

Our weekly hot chocolate, candle-lighting and carol-singing Advent ritual stays. So does driving around our city to check out lights on Christmas Eve. But we’ve cut cookie decorating and making homemade gifts for our neighbors this year. We just can’t do it all.

2. Don’t go to every party.

I am an off-the-charts extrovert. I love parties—attending them, hosting them, spreading the word about them. But I also love time at home.

I used to think an invitation to a party meant I automatically needed to attend. Now I’m much more cautious. I say “no” more, and I’m better about dropping by a party for an hour instead of camping out all night. So now when I see an upcoming holiday event on my calendar, I can look forward to it instead of wishing I had an excuse not to go.

3. Buy gifts in bulk.

You might disagree with me here, but I have no problem buying multiple family members the same gift. If there’s a sale on men’s down vests, odds are good that most of the adult males on my Christmas gift list are going to get one. When I buy gifts for the other families in our small group, I usually get them all the exact same gift. It doesn’t seem like anyone minds, and I have way more peace of mind.

4. Create “draw a name” gift exchanges.

On one side of the family, our kids have six cousins. And I have three siblings, all of whom are married. So we often draw names. Each of our kids gets a gift for one cousin, and we adults buy a gift for one sibling. We spend less, buy gifts that are more thoughtful (even in bulk!), and feel like we are stewarding our time and resources better.

5. Serve in meaningful ways.

I’ve found that focusing on others—instead of myself—lowers my stress. Our kids have already served this holiday season by funding a Christmas gift for the child in Brazil we sponsor through Compassion International. Lest you be under any illusions, when we first discussed Ticiane’s Christmas gift over dinner, our kids were initially reluctant to devote a portion of their allowance toward it. But then when Dave and I asked our kids to imagine what Ticiane’s Christmas experience would be like compared to their own, they were quicker to open their wallets. Your family doesn’t have to feel compelled to jump on board every service opportunity you’re given this season, but find one or two avenues that are meaningful based on who you are and what you know about your kids already.

I’ll be honest: I’m not sure if our attempt at a “less-is-more” holiday season will work this year the way I’m hoping it will. But somehow writing this list gives me courage—and perhaps a bit more resolve—to work to keep things simple. For the sake of our sanity, and for the sake of the season itself. Choosing less can keep us open to the gifts of generosity, gratitude, beauty, and connectedness we long for.

What else do you do to help your family choose less and enjoy the holidays more?

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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