Could Be Less Really is Better

When I started researching Western Christmas traditions I discovered pioneer celebrated with the holidays with homemade gifts and were described as being filled with “humble fare.” This made me think how elaborate the season has become. Then I realized the older I get, the more simplicity appeals to me.

I thought about holidays past, and admitted one of my favorites occurred a year when my husband was unemployed. Surprisingly, that took away of the holiday stress. I wasn’t going crazy searching for the perfect gift for family and friends because everyone knew we couldn’t afford presents. I didn’t worry about what to wear to my husband’s office party or how I’d spend an evening with people I didn’t know. Not being able to spend money on gifts and activities forced us to emphasize the important aspects of the holiday. We concentrated on what mattered—family and close friends.

We gave more than lip service to spending quality time with our children. We asked each child what his favorite Christmas movie was and watched each together as a family. We looked at Christmas lights. We baked everyone’s favorite holiday treats. We talked. We laugh

Thinking back on those memories to write this I recalled a little book I bought years ago entitled The Little Book of Christmas Joys by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Rosemary Brown, and Kathy Peel. I pulled out my dog-eared copy and read through it again to pick some suggestion to share some with you.

 #7 * Take a basket of Christmas goodies to a notoriously grumpy neighbor.
#8 * Be nice to sales personnel. They’re often wearier than you are.
#18 * Let go of a problem you can’t solve. Enjoy the season.

#38 * Take a shut-n a scrumptious Christmas dinner.
#53 * Go caroling.
#69 * Before going to bed every night of the Christmas season, ask yourself, “Whose life did I make brighter today?”
#91 * Offer to run holiday errands for an elderly friend or relative.
#104 * Give anonymous gifts of money to someone who has been laid off.
#108 * Curl up before an open fire with someone you love.
#183 * Compliment at least three people every day in December. This is a gift that’s always appreciated.
#203 * Give a donation every time you pass a Salvation Army bell-ringer.

#231 * Add a new Christmas CD to your music collection each year.
#283 * Tour a historic home in your area that has been decorated for the holidays.
#409 * Watch the television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
#425 * On New Year’s Day, light three candles and think about the three things that happened the past year for which you are most thankful.

May your holiday season be filled with simplicity and joy, and one last tip. #279 * Remember that the loving holiday spirit in your home depends more on the words you speak than on the gifts you give.

Now tell me your favorite holiday tradition or tip and be entered to win the set of four mugs, perfect for hot chocolate or spiced cider as you sit with
loved ones in front of the fire.

Website | + posts

Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at

53 thoughts on “Could Be Less Really is Better”

  1. Love to bake cookies with the kids–though those days are numbered as I only have one left at home. We always read A Visit from ST Nicholoas on Christmas Eve before bed. Church on Christmas Eve.

    We watched Rudolph tonight.

    • Denise, I hope your kiddos are like mine, and even though they’re grown, I can still get them to bake cookies with me every once in a while. The key is to say they can take half home if they help!

  2. Our new tradition of a couple years ago has worked well. Our daughters are in their 40’s and like us, their families need little new “stuff.” This is the third Christmas we have given them early presents. There is a theater nearby that has wonderful performances being presented. When the program for the year comes out in July, we give them the schedule and let them select a show they want. I has worked out well for us all We get to go out to dinner beforehand to the shows we are attending together. Are grandchildren also get to pick their own show to attend with us. It has worked out wonderfully. As an extra we are supporting the arts.

  3. For years, my Mom and I would start cutting up fruit flavored gumdrops into smaller pieces in early November. We would put a small amount of flour in the bowl and mix them up. Then we covered the bowl with a cloth towel and leave the bowl on the counter for about a month allowing the gumdrops to get stale. Then in mid-December, we would bake gumdrop fruitcakes. The gumdrops replace citron in the fruitcakes. The purpose of allowing the gumdrops to get stale is because if we used them fresh they would melt, when they are stale they moisten up with baking and they are wonderful. My Mom and I stopped making the cakes about five years ago because her Parkinsons Disease took a toll on her. She passed on February 1st of this year. It’s too late to make the cakes this year but next year I may try making them on my own.

    Blessings to you all!
    Cindy W.
    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Cindy, what a wonderful tradition! That’s when traditions are the best–when they’re attached to great memories of someone we love. I’m sorry you lost your mother in February, but what a terrific way to remember her by sharing your special holiday tradition with the rest of us. It’s too late for Christmas, but you could make a New Year’s fruit cake and toast your mother then. Blessings and comfort to you. I know this holiday season will be difficult for you without your mom.

    • Glenda, I love the idea of having a special menu on Christmas. My family has never been able to hit on one we all love. With three boys, and one still a picky eater even though he’s twenty-seven, it isn’t easy.

    • Pam, I’m so glad you liked them. Reading through “The Little Book of Christmas Joys” really reminded me what the holidays are all about. So many years I’ve let the stress get to me, and I admit I was heading that way this year. My oldest son and his two dogs have been living with us since he relocated. He’s closing on a house today, and with my mother-in-law coming for Christmas, the stress was starting to build for me. Doing this blog put it all back in perspective for me. What a blessing!

  4. I am definitely going to have to take your advice with these tips. My husband is having a hard time at work right now and we are stressing to the point of arguments every night. We worry about how we will afford to buy gifts for his family. I only exchange gifts with my mom and her husband, but she understands and said not to worry about it. His family just don’t understand if someone doesn’t have money to buy gifts. Of course he doesn’t even let his family know that we are struggling. We have already decided not to exchange gifts for each other since we just can’t do it. See he is a mechanic and doesn’t get paid except for when he works on cars. So there can be days when he is at the shop for 10 hours and might not make any money if no cars come in. Or very little because the jobs have to be spread out over the other guys too. Then we had a couple of huge expenses come up, one which I had to sell a bunch of stuff just to make and the other he had to borrow money for (now we have to figure out how to pay that person back). I have decided I am not even going to put out any decorations or anything because it will just remind me of how bad things really are.

    • Janine, I cried reading your post. It pulled me right back to when my husband was unemployed and my heart breaks for you. I’m so sorry your husband’s family doesn’t understand. Rather than gifts, think about giving his family a coupon for help with something. If they have kids, you could offer to babysit. For his parents, you might think about giving them a coupon redeemable for some household chore or repair. Most importantly, cut yourself slack for where you are emotionally.

      • Thanks Julie. Things will eventually get better. it’s always slow this time of year, but this year worse than others. The good thing is we still have almost a month to save back money. Hopefully my husband’s boss will give a Christmas bonus this year (last year he only took the guys out to eat). But I do like your ideas too if we are unable to do anything else.

  5. A lot of great ideas. I started a tradition of having a tree trimming party for friends and family. It started with an uncle who had no one and has grown. This year the oldest will be my mom at 95 and the youngest is my new grandbaby at 3 months old!!!

  6. I agree, it is so much nicer wHen the stress is gone! Simple is always better. We try to do small traditions with our kids like watching Christmas movies in pajamas or baking for others. Such wonderful ideas in that little book!

    • Susan, I like that you mentioned PJ’s. I used to always try to make festive sleep pants for my boys when they were younger. Maybe I should pull that tradition back out even though they’re grown. Hmmm. Do you think they’d kill me?

  7. I loved making cookies every years. Tons of them. Now having no family around I put up a small tree and sit back watching Christmas movies and read.

  8. we bake Christmas cookies together for each family to take home and then light luminaries each Christmas Eve to celebrate our Blessed Savior’s Birth

    • Teresa, what a wonderful tradition. So far I’ve got quite a few new ideas to try out. I’d love to add new recipes as well. What’s your favorite Christmas cookie recipe?

  9. I started making tamales for our Christmas Eve dinner anr gift exchange at my parents years ago after we became accustomed to having them after living in El Paso for years. I also make tons of cookies for our family get together. We play Chinese Christmas for the adults because it’s just too expensive to buy a gift for everyone. We all get all the kids a gift and most of us get my parents a gift too. We eat tamales and all kinds of finger foods, cookies and deserts that everyone has brought to our celebration. Christmas Eve together enjoying food, gifts, laughs and stories is my favorite day of the year.

  10. We go out and look for a real tree first. Our traditional Christmas is hot chocolate and Bailey Irish cream on Christmas eve while listening to Christmas music. We open one present Christmas eve. I buy one ornament every year for each one of my children and their spouses and grandchildren.

    • Charlene, I love the hot chocolate and Christmas music. I think the lights and Christmas music are my two favorite things about the holidays. I miss being able to have a real tree. My husband and oldest son are very allergic. When my kids were little my hubby and oldest were sick every Christmas. We were in the doctor’s office the on Christmas Eve day Alex’s first three years until we figured out it was the tree.

    • Caryl, I used to do a lot of counted cross-stitch as well. But now, even with my reading glasses, I can’t see well enough to do it. Dang, getting old stinks! I miss the needlework.

  11. Julie, I wholeheartedly agree with the title of this post. Some of my best memories don’t revolve around an expensive gift; gifts of the heart make the best memories! When I was little, my stocking was filled with an apple, banana, orange, some “hard-tack” candy and peanuts or walnuts in their shells and they were a highlight of Santa’s visit. Today’s stockings are often filled with very expensive gifts and I wonder how many will be remembered 50 years from now? When my husband and I first married, our gifts to each other were minimal because our farm income was sparse. One of my most prized possessions is a beautiful porcelain bowl, covered with pink roses, that my husband purchased at our local grocery/farm store/gas station. Probably cost a few dollars but, as the commercial says, PRICELESS! And for many years, many of our gifts were handcrafted. As long as God allows me memories I will have priceless treasures and unspeakable pleasures!
    Thanks for a great post!

    • Connie, sounds like you and your hubby have a great perspective on life. Farm life tends to do that for you, though, doesn’t it? My grandparents were farmers and as you said, times are often lean. But some of my best memories revolve around their farm and spending time with extended family. Post a picture of the porcelain bowl if you get a chance. I’d love to see it!

  12. I have to thank Laura at my favorite shop Rustic Ranch in Valley View, Texas for today’s post. I was shopping there on Saturday and found the mugs in her shop. I told her they were going to be a giveaway for my blog. I then added, “All I have to do is think of what to write about.” I said that was the hardest part of blogging for me, coming up with the idea. She said I should write about Western Christmas traditions and when I asked which one, she said I’d have to do the research myself. One thing led to another, as is usually the case with me, and you see the result here today. So, thanks Laura for both the great deal on the mugs and the idea! Talk about a full service shop!

  13. By cooking simple but tasty appetizers which everyone loves and enjoys. I give them to friends who appreciate this greatly.

  14. I put together a very special array of simple but useful gifts for women who were there for me for the past few years during my life threatening illnesses.

  15. Less is really healthier, better and makes me recall how I grew up with basics. I was given PJ’s, housecoat and slippers and this was for my birthday. I was happy. Today there is too much. I love to be generous and thoughtful but I realize that when I do go out of my way I must be aware of what suits each individual.

  16. Less really is better because it’s become so commercialized. We get pulled into the stress. One tradition before my children had their own families was to have the 7 kids pick a star off the mall’s Wish tree for gifts that under privaliged kids wanted. Then they would buy that gift, wrap it and we’d bring it back. That felt so good doing this and it taught them that it was better to give then receive. Until their birthdays came around lol. Thank you for your post.
    Carol Luciano

    • We did that too, Carol. We always tried to pick out children near our own kids’ age. We talked about the situation these other children were in and how thankful we were for what we had.

  17. Every year on Christmas morning we get up early and go to our daughter’s. We watch our precious grandchildren’s faces light up when they see what Santa has left them. What joy!

  18. Julie, my friend, I’m stealing some of these ideas. What a wonderful and timely blog. Blessings of the season!

  19. No favorite holiday traditions here, though we like putting up our artificial tree after Thanksgiving and taking down the tree after Easter. Christmas Eve service at church and then a quiet Christmas Day at home.

  20. Julie, those are some excellent suggestions. I agree with you–less is better. Our world has become so materialistic, it’s really sad. When our kids were young, we would let them open a couple of presents on Christmas Eve–one was a always a new pair of pajamas. LOL They’d put those on and we’d go drive around and look at the lights for a while, come back and drink hot chocolate before bed, and talk about all those beautiful lights. Those were some great memories. I still send Christmas cards every year, no matter what. It’s the only time many of the people I send a card to ever hear from us, or we hear from them. Just a way of keeping in touch.

    • Cheryl, I love the memories of putting the kids in pj’s and driving around looking at lights, too. We would also bundle them up when they were toddlers, put them in the stroller and walk around the neighborhood to look at lights.

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