One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas


Our good friends Jerry and Beth McDonald announced in early November that they were going to simplify Christmas this year, and spend the money they saved to take the family on a ski trip to Colorado. Just like Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis in the movie “Christmas with the Kranks,” Jerry and Beth explained that they were skipping the Christmas tree, skipping Christmas cards — and even skipping presents.

“It will be an experiment worth noting,” Jerry wrote, and we wondered if they would be able to resist the pull of the mall. On December 26th, I couldn’t stand the suspense any more. “How was the minimalist Christmas?” I asked in an e-mail.  “Did you resist the temptation to buy gifts? How did your kids respond? Do tell!”

Here’s an excerpt from Jerry’s response:

“The minimalist Christmas was successful.  We did stay within the rules.  The boys did not shop at all.  Beth and I, by pre-agreement, searched for and distributed tokens of love and appreciation, as long as the tokens would fit in their stockings.  Socks, gloves, mechanical pencils, blank CDs (so they will no longer steal them for their stolen music, from my stash)….  minimalist headphones, gum, and some money — since money fits quite well in a stocking.  The amount stayed within minimalist guidelines.

“I received a paperback book of Sudoku – all puzzles in the book at the “fiendish” level to help me fight Alzheimer’s.  I did go out on a limb and get Beth an electronic indoor/outdoor thermometer where a weather detection transmitter sits outdoors but the reader/display station is indoors – as hers broke just days before Christmas (solving my normal blank list dilemma).  It fit the minimalist guidelines as I had a 20% off coupon from Ace hardware.  Beth, like her mother before her, likes to check on the temperature throughout the day.

“But those are just things.  The real success was in time.  Gone, and gained.

Gone.  Gone was the strain of shopping. Time leading up to the day of Christmas was blessed. It was delightful to whiz on by crowded malls to some other, more important destination.

Gone was the wrapping table in the basement, with shards of paper and ribbons no longer long enough, lying on the floor.

Gone was the afternoon of stringing the lights on the tree – and the two days to put it all away.  Yes, we decorated the house with one or two small tins of ornaments.  Beth also found a nice sized branch of evergreen, a soft needled pine, which we hung on the wall where a picture normally goes, and hung a few ornaments there too.

Gone was the giant black plastic bag full of torn wrapping paper whose whole purpose in life was to cover a box for 2 weeks – now into the trash forever.

Gone was the piles of gifts stacked on the floor and around our seats that tend to stay there for a day or two until they individually get taken to wherever they are to exist at the after holiday.

“And Gone was that deadened time about an hour after gifts are opened, that time where you reflect a sad thought…. it’s over, after all of these weeks.

Gained.  Time around the fire with minimalist gifts – slow time with not as much to accomplish.  A mechanical pencil brought out of the sock can still be surprising upon its reveal.

Gained – Peace on Earth – no one had to get up every 4 minutes and go to the tree to make a selection of the next round of packages to haul out.  Everyone remained planted.

Gained, a nice large mid-morning biscuits and sausage breakfast.  Ham in the oven for later in the afternoon.

Gained, a nice drawn-out dinner in the afternoon, made mostly of things out of a cookbook as we had time to cook that day.

Gained – lots of weight, comfortably and at a slow pace.

Gained – still to come in a couple of days, a family ski trip to Colorado, something that would not be in the offering had each of them received a flat screen monitor, latest game box and other electronic devices.

“Finally, Gained, an appreciation for us all getting older now and knowing that time spent together, although cheaper, is much nicer now at this age.”

I like the sounds of this ‘Minimalist Christmas,’ especially the idea of time and togetherness gained – and stress, spending and overconsumption gone.

Thanks, Jerry, for sharing the McDonald family’s experiment — and for inspiring us to explore and rethink our priorities at Christmastime.


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

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