The Elf is Optional

The paper snowflakes started it, but it was decorating cookies that put me over the edge.

The Christmas season last year was a lesson in priorities for me. It was the last day of November; I had a one-week old baby and two toddlers who I longed to make Christmas extra special for, especially in the wake of a new addition to our family who was consuming a good percentage of the attention that just seven days earlier was delegated to these two. So, I did what good moms do: found the cutest homemade advent calendar template I could and got to work creating 25 countdown days of Christmas activities just for my sweet, older two kids to enjoy.

I pulled out a small box of craft supplies along with the poster board and snowflake stickers, and then I brought my three-year old to the table to help me. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there was no simple task for her that wouldn’t end with me scratching glue off the kitchen table. That, and my type-A personality started to get twitchy when she wanted to stick the numbers on the poster without regard to their numerical order or straight alignment.

“Harper, honey, I’ll do the gluing. How about you just put the stickers on the poster board?”

“But moooooooommmmm! I want the glue!” (PSA: they will always want the job with glue).

“Well, then you put the glue on the back of the numbers and then mommy will stick it to the paper.”

“No! I want to do it BY MYSELF.”

Well, this mother-daughter bonding moment is going great.

When Harper lost interest after three minutes of me stifling her artistic vision, I finished our Advent masterpiece alone, just in time to nurse the waking newborn. With my sense of pride soaring, I hung the winter-themed beauty and took an obligatory picture for Instagram, because surely everyone would be impressed at how I was not only juggling three children but handling the Christmas festivities for these children like the mom-boss I was.

Spoiler: that Instagram picture was the pinnacle of our Advent calendar’s life.

The creative activities for December 3rd included making paper snowflakes together. When my husband and I found ourselves alone at a table, each with a pair of scissors and a pile of white scraps of paper, unable to interest either toddler in any sort of snowflake-related art, a not-so-profound thought crossed my mind: I am doing this wrong.

The thought was confirmed three days later when we attempted to decorate sugar cookies together, but I’d rather not revisit that memory. It involved a death grip on a butter knife and a whole lot more of those “BY MYSELF!” moments.  

The holiday pressure usually begins for mamas in mid-September, about the time Hobby Lobby puts out their first aisle of Christmas décor. Have you noticed that? These smart marketers start early and slow, one aisle at a time, just enough to put December on your mind at the very same time you are sending your kids back to school, as if to say “Hey, I know you’re packing lunches every single day of the week but it’s never too early to start thinking about those Elf on Shelf plans!” It’s such a trap, because between Pinterest and Costco, we start to feel like everyone is far more on top of celebrating the season than we are.

Friends, it doesn’t have to be this way.  

The beauty of this time of the year comes from savoring it, not from hustling through it. You are allowed to look at the sad state of affairs on your kitchen table as you make paper snowflakes alone and say, “You know what, I don’t have to do this. My kids are watching Daniel Tiger and I’m going to sit with them right now instead.” That’s what savoring is: stopping to notice what matters the most to the people in our lives who matter the most. And that’s what the Holidays are for.

For the mamas out there who look at December on the calendar and think “Yes. Advent elves and calendars and cookie decorating are my jam,” I say “Yes, sister. Jam on.” No judgment is coming from me. I think we should all collectively recognize that those who celebrate big are not celebrating with pompous postures at us, they are just celebrating, and doing so in ways that feel authentic and, dare we believe, even fun for them.

But this year, I am declaring a no pressure Christmas in my house. I’m determined to notice what the people I love are loving, and I am committed to making fun memories for the sake of the memory, without thought to take a picture of it for social media. I’m all for singing loud and having candy canes for lunch and being a family that chooses joy because no matter the circumstances, joy is always ours to choose.

I’m going to be intentional with the things that I can do well. And I am giving myself permission to throw out the rest. Because how our young family remembers the holidays this year is mostly up to us. The choice between stressing and savoring, between an elf that makes a mess and a mama that has no interest in cleaning it by day two, is mine, and it is often only a hard choice because of the pressure I let in. Getting the holidays right has nothing to do with perfect Advent activities and everything to do with our hearts, and of course, the genuine delight on our little one’s faces when they make a snow angel. So that’s what we are chasing after: delight.

And for the sake of honesty, I feel the need to say this out loud: we will not be decorating cookies this year. I’m totally cheering for you as you do and I’d even welcome some at my doorstep, but this mama says no thank you, for now. I’m good at other things.  

Savor > Hustle. Always. Happy Holidays!