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If Holiday Traditions Are Stressing You Out, Ditch Them — Your Kids Probably Won’t Notice

Dec 19, 2019

Do you ever stop to consider which holiday traditions you're actually enjoying and which ones add stress to your life?

For a few years, I've been carefully coordinating an activity advent calendar. I filled it with all the curated holiday fun I could dream up: skating outdoors; making hot chocolate and curling up with a Christmas movie; making cookies and delivering them to neighbours; going snow tubing; going to the farm to chop down our Christmas tree; reading Christmas books together.

And as lovely as those things are (they are!), having them as a must-do item for each day of December added undue stress to my already busy days with young kids.


Feeling the opposite? Like you want to plan more for your family this holiday season? Maybe you would benefit from an acts of kindness calendar


This year, I’ve decided, just because it's a "tradition" for me to do an activity advent with my kids, it doesn't mean I have to do it if it's no longer serving us. And guess what? My kids are not disappointed. They are just as excited (maybe more!) to have a chocolate advent this year. And it is so much easier for me, too.

That said, we'll still be doing many of those lovely things that I usually included in our activity advent. But instead of a self-imposed schedule telling us we have to go snow tubing on a specific December day, we're waking up one beautiful snowy morning and saying, "Today is a great day for snow tubing!" And the great thing about this is it accounts for all the kiddo illnesses, parent fatigue levels and other things that might interfere with doing a very specific thing on a particular Tuesday.

Skipping More and More

We're skipping a few other traditions this year, too. All in service of protecting our family time and focusing on what matters.

Our kids are very close with their cousins, so we usually make a big deal about exchanging gifts with them. This year? No thanks! We're skipping gifts in favour of a fun holiday hangout. We'll all go see Frozen 2 together and make gingerbread houses (and memories!).

One of my other favourite holiday traditions is Christmas morning brunch at my mom's house. But the past couple of years, I was having less fun and feeling more frazzled. And I realized why. After opening all their gifts at home, my kids were getting shuffled over there for a second round of Christmas gift opening and they were getting overwhelmed by the excess. It felt chaotic and stressful. This year, we've asked my mom to choose just one gift to give them at her house, so we can focus on spending time together and having brunch, rather than stressing about another mountain of gifts.

Here are some things I think about before committing to any new or old traditions. If I can answer yes to any of the statements below, then the tradition isn't worth it for me: 

  • I am doing them to portray a certain image (hi, Instragram!) and not because I necessarily love them. (I’ve defintely been guilty of this in the past. My suggestion? Only do something if your intention isn't to post it on social media.)
  • I am doing something that everyone else in my family would rather not do, because I feel like we “should.”
  • I'm tired, burnt out and would rather say no, but guilt is making me say yes.

For moms, this can be the most stressful time of the year. We’re working so hard to make everyone else happy. Many of us are carrying the mental load of remembering to buy and wrap gifts for everyone from neighbours to teachers and bus drivers, managing schedules and remembering that cousin Jason is allergic to pecans and aunt Steph is gluten-free.

Our thoughts are racing: What will I wear to that party when all that fits my postpartum body is stretchy leggings? And how will the baby attend that dinner when she’ll be tired by her usual bedtime of 6 p.m.? And how will I make Christmas magical for my kids when the baby wakes me up at 4 a.m. and I actually haven’t slept through the night in five years? And did you know you’re getting locked in that gym for the entire school Christmas concert?

So, what I've decided for myself and my family is this: It’s OK to say "no."  And it's also OK to ask, "Can someone else make the pie this year?!”

Traditions can be really lovely, but if they're not it's OK to reevaluate and change them.

Article Author Katharine Reid
Katharine Reid

Katharine is a freelance writer and editor who loves libraries and nature. The former editor of a health website, she now spends her days with her three adorable young kiddos. A big believer in the power of unstructured free play, she can usually be found either going on outdoor adventures with her kids, setting up invitations to play and create, snuggling up to read or escaping the chaos to head to a yoga class.

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