I walked a fine line this year with Christmas. And I walked it well. 

A big part of my intention with the life change I’m going through is to reduce my participation in consumerism and to increase my satisfaction and gratitude for what is already here. I also am the parent of two children aged 7 and 5, and Christmas is still a most magical time for them. So the mission this year was to thread the needle of creating the conditions for magical moments from the perspective of my kids while executing this mission within my minimalist values. 

Here’s how that looked. 

What we did not do: 

  • Burn fuel and time traveling away from our home
  • Host guests
  • Go out for parades, events, and light shows
  • Wait in long lines to visit Santa
  • Elbow our way through crowded shopping centers
  • Deal with the project of getting a family photo taken, printing up cards, licking many stamps and updating everyone’s home addresses on the mailing label file. 
  • Purchase any decorations or wrapping paper

What we did do: 

  • Used the handful of Christmas items that we shipped down with our move to decorate the house: a small reusable tree made of recycled material, four stockings, and a pine-scented candle. 
  • Practiced and played holiday tunes on our keyboard.
  • Played family board games, including the game of Clue that Kristyn purchased with her own money when she was in third grade, which yes, made the trek with us to Costa Rica. 
  • In years passed, we used a giant roll of craft paper as our wrapping paper, which worked great because we could draw designs on the paper as an additional activity. Without the craft paper this year, we used any materials in the house we could find–mostly the extra reusable tote bags we hadn’t been using regularly and a few odd pillowcases. 
  • On Christmas Eve night, we set out our final two homemade cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer. 
  • To fill Kristyn and my stockings, instead of buying a bunch of useless junk or stressing about finding legitimately useful gifts (that we somehow haven’t needed to obtain until Christmas), I just put two cans of our favorite adult beverages in each stocking. When we pulled out the cans, the kids, who know I like beer, reacted as if I’d just won the lottery. “I knew you’d get beer! How happy are you, Dad?!”  
  • The kids each received a few gifts from us (socks, underwear, water bottles, books, and fresh art supplies) and one gift from Santa (a pair of Crocs (which were on the wish list) and a friction-powered toy truck). 
  • The Crocs were worn all day, the trucks whir was heard throughout the house, and many artistic creations were produced. 
  • Instead of buying cinnamon roll dough in a can, I made this Cinnamon Coffee Cake recipe from scratch on Christmas morning. The activity acted as a perfect speedbump to slow down the frantic pace of gift opening, which was especially fitting since there were only a few gifts under the tree. 
  • One of the gifts the kids received was the book Children Who Dance In The Rain, a beautiful tale about privilege, gratitude, and learning the joy of giving and of simply living. It felt so good for the kids to be reading a book about people who have so few possessions. I could see the gears of understanding and compassion turn in my eldest’s head as we read the book a second time. 
  • FaceTimed with the grandparents and sent messages out to our loved ones. 
  • Went for not one but two family swims. 
  • Ate leftovers from our Christmas Eve Fancy Toast feast for happy hour and made a simple pesto pasta for dinner in about 20 minutes. 
  • We ended the night with a family snuggle in bed and each took a turn reading a book for the family–even the five year old! 

I’m proud of how our family celebrated the holiday season this year. When the kids walked up to the tree on Christmas morning, it was just as magical for them as any other Christmas. Their eyes were big. Demeanors were giddy. They didn’t ask to watch any screens. And clean-up was a breeze! 

There was a moment as the sun was setting on Christmas day, when my family had gone out for a walk around the neighborhood and I was home alone, staring out to the gentle glow of the Costa Rican sunset, that I realized how much I enjoyed my day. I wasn’t stressed. I didn’t have twenty jobs to do. No one needed anything from me. I was at peace. 

I had given myself the ultimate Christmas present, and all I’d had to do was try to do as little as possible and weave in just a pinch of magic. 


How do you keep the holidays minimal and magical? I’d love to hear about it in the Comments!