Holiday Traditions For The Tired Spirit: Focus on the Small Stuff


I have to give my parents credit. When I think of all the holiday traditions that they managed to ingrain in us, I sit here, mouth agape. What monumental effort it must have taken to diligently go through the motions each year.

My Childhood

I grew up on a farm. Fall festivals these days replicate how we lived day to day. Each year, we picked apples and grapes in the orchard. We made apple cider, apple pie, apple butter and apple bread. Remember that scene from Forest Gump where Bubba tells Forest about all the ways to make shrimp? We did that with apples.

My mom made beautiful hand-sewn costumes for Halloween, carved award-winning pumpkins and made killer pie. In our house, after Thanksgiving, left over turkey went into homemade ravioli. The hand-carved ravioli rolling pin came off the wall just that one time a year.

And all of that is before we even got to December.

Fading Traditions

Now that I am a parent, there are days the thought of making chocolate chip cookies barely seems feasible. I can scarcely imagine tackling five kinds of traditional, intricate, homemade Italian cookies for a cookie exchange. Or handmade, proportional, to-scale (of our actual cabin) ginger bread with all the fixings.

It is no wonder that these days they prefer to see our “squad” (as my younger brother refers to us) in small doses. The energy they invested was probably never recouped.

I am only six years into this “instilling holiday traditions” into my kids, and I am tired. I want to do crafts and bake with my kids, but that usually requires clearing off a flat space long enough to do it! It’s overwhelming.

But even if I feel that I really don’t want to plan, organize and execute all the activities, I know in my heart I still need to make an effort in order to develop the same warm and fond memories of the holidays for my kids that I have from my childhood.

Cutting Corners

It’s hard to say no to the 3 to 5 cookie exchanges a year. Never mind the fact that I don’t need to be eating all those cookies, the time and energy to make them is brutal. I have learned to cut corners where I can and pick and choose which activities are the most bang for the buck—which traditions the kids will really enjoy now, and which ones to save until they are older.

I also have taken the wise words of my crafty and skilled aunt to heart. She stressed to me that it is okay to get help “Buy it,” she said. “Better living through King Soopers.”

And I couldn’t agree more. I don’t need to make everything from scratch, I can buy pie crust or even cookie dough for the kids at this age. It’s the decorating that they care about, anyway. Maybe when they are 12 or 13, I will teach them the ropes of breads and doughs and royal icing. But for today, those efforts would be lost on them, anyway. 

Picking and Choosing

I have to decide what is more important: getting them out to go sledding and decorating the tree or searching ten stores for matching Christmas pajamas.

Instead of driving myself nuts trying to check every box, we focus on the little things like how gross the slimy insides of pumpkins feel on our hands and how good it tastes to lick the frosting off the mixing beaters. In the end, it is about the time we spend together. I don’t want them remembering a stressed out Mommy who was worried about how Pinterest-worthy someone else might think the effort was.

For now, they don’t question where the cookies for Santa come from and I think I am good with that.

What about you? Do you kill yourself to get in all of the holiday traditions? Or do you focus your efforts?

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Rachel is a native Coloradoan, though originally from the Western Slope. She followed her husband Chris to his hometown of Colorado Springs after having met in engineering school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Together they have four beautiful children, Tommy (2011), Tazzy (2014), Zach (2015) and Zinny (2018). Having a young and active family keeps Rachel on her toes trying to find ways to keep the ship sailing while still meeting all the demands of motherhood. Though Rachel loves her most important role as Mommy most, she also works full time outside the home as a Water Resources Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. This role helps keep her life centered, bouncing from detailed and complex discussions relating to Colorado Water Law with her husband ( a mechanical engineer) to daycare and preschool drop off and pick up schedules, while being constantly interrupted by the equally complex musings of her 4 year.