My Path to a Minimalist Christmas


I’ve stopped hating Christmas.

One of the first articles I ever wrote was titled “Just Say No to Christmas.”

In it, I remembered how I had just wanted to cry while reading a ‘humorous’ article about Christmas and mothers. About Christmas with children. About cards, decorating, presents, and parties. About surprise requests for presents, from the children’s daycare, from the karate class, from the office yankee swap. About guilt from ‘friends’ who arrived at your door with presents for your children.  

“Surprise!” they’d grin.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have.” I’d stammer, hoping that they would not realize that I was dead serious as I stood there red-faced and empty-handed…

Back then, my Christmas started in September. I had brothers, parents, step-parents, and an enormous number of in-laws. It made my head hurt. Plus I wanted to make sure that my own three children woke up to abundant presents under the tree. I bought presents for my husband to give to his relatives because I thought it was my job. I even bought presents for my husband to give to me. Because. Because Christmas had to be perfect for everyone.  

And all the time I just hated Christmas.

“Just don’t buy each kid 10 presents.” my husband would shrug.

He never worried. Not until the week before. Not even then. He didn’t store generic, wrapped ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ presents in the liquor cabinet, just in case of a ‘surprise.’ He thought the whole Christmas thing was my guilt, and my problem, and I just needed to re-adjust my expectations.

Then, the year after I wrote my article “Just Say No to Christmas” my mother-in-law came to my rescue.

“I’m going to give the money I would have spent on my grandchildren to Globe Santa,” she said. (She had about 24 grandchildren, so this may not have been entirely altruistic on her part.)

“Yes! Just say no,” I whispered to myself.

After all, I didn’t even like getting presents. The year I decided to ‘just say no,’ my step-mother (who I suspected hated me) bought me a sweater that itched. My mother, who should have known better, bought me a pink sweat suit. PINK! Didn’t she know I hated pink?! Was she still trying to make me be more girlie? And, of course, my children, who had very small bedrooms, got a thousand toys. I stepped on them in the dark.


The next year, I called everyone and suggested a truce. ”Presents should only be exchanged between consenting adults,” I proclaimed. “I won’t buy presents for you, if you don’t buy presents for me. We can give to Globe Santa instead…” I pleaded.

I would like to brag that I conquered Christmas that very year.

But, of course I didn’t. I didn’t say no to the office yankee swap. I didn’t say no to my husband’s relatives. I didn’t say no to presents for the karate class. Or the daycare. Or my children. While I cut out my parents, in-laws, and step-parents, I still wanted to create that magical holiday. I still needed all those stocking stuffers and numerous wrapped presents under the tree. Maybe my husband was right. Maybe it was a personal problem.

But I don’t hate Christmas anymore.

Unfortunately, my real secret is that I have aged out. I’m 66. My children are no longer children. They don’t need stockings or presents. They have children of their own.

And I’ve spent the last 25 years gradually creating my own tradition for a minimalist Christmas.

This triumph was slow and gradual. I’ve never done Christmas cards. I never asked my children what they wanted for Christmas. I never stood in long lines to get the ‘present of the year.’ I always let my husband be in charge of the tree and decorations. (My secret was that I did not care. If there was no tree, so much the better.) So, I had a head start. And these days, my children are fine when I give them “Mom-bucks” rather than presents. My grandchildren are still young enough to like Legos and bouncy balls.

Then last year, one of my Christmas guests suggested a ‘White Elephant Yankee Swap.’ Everyone who wanted to participate must bring a wrapped present from their attic (or closet, or the trunk of their car…) Yes! It’s theater without the price of a ticket. Because the truth is that although some of my guests can afford to buy expensive presents, many struggle just to pay their bills. And some of us really, really want to stay far away from the stores.

I no longer hate Christmas. Between now and December 25th, all I plan to do is write checks, buy Legos, and wrap a couple of things from the attic. I’ll spend time with my children and grandchildren. And plan a magnificent feast.

I get that some people love Christmas. They love to put up decorations. They love to buy and wrap presents. God love ’em.

But I’m just very grateful that I’ve reached a point in my life when I feel confident enough to just do me. And that I no longer hate and dread Christmas.

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Carol-Ane Woodard
Carol-Ane Woodard was born in Rehoboth, which is in Massachusetts, but really should be a part of Rhode Island. She grew up taking the Trailways bus into Providence and shopping at the Warwick Mall. She currently lives in Foxboro, Massachusetts with her husband of of 38 years, Paul Woodard, but she misses coffee cabinets, red clam chowder, and hot wieners, and she still considers Providence to be her home city. Carol-Ane graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1973 with a degree in sociology. She minored in business at U Mass Dartmouth and took a job for the FDIC as a bank examiner. She worked there for 30 years and retired 10 years ago. Other than her 3 children and 5 grandchildren, her hobbies include reading, reading, and more reading, interrupted only by hikes in the woods, Freecell, and knitting. Although her Linkedin profile lists her as a stay-at-home grandmother, Carol-Ane actually has a rather nervous disposition and is frightened by small children. Nevertheless, she persists.