On Holiday Traditions, Christmas Lists & Boundries

Ah the holidays, a time of love, laughter, family and…stress?!

As a kid under 10, I had huge parties and tons of toys both for Christmas and Three Kings Day (Jan 6) but Santa was kind of just a story.

I lived at the beach growing up and traveled a lot so snow is not a thing I care about particularly and I understood other people celebrate different things. My personal favorite holiday was (still is) Day of the Dead. I have also visited friends during Diwali or other days they celebrate, for example, just to learn about who they are. This is fascinating to me and I really appreciate their willingness to share that with me.

For decades though we have done no traditional tree or gifts at all for holidays in my wider family. Very thoughtful gifts for no reason still a go.

I don’t celebrate my birthday with parties since I was 16 and if I do, the “gifts” are almost always food, an experience or travel. I opt instead for small group or 1-1 deep conversations with close friends and my husband. I love few things more than the connection this brings.

Sweet Married Life & Boundries

By 20, it became apparent my then boyfriend would become my life partner, so I tried to adapt to my husband’s family celebratory ways and started following their Christmas (and other) traditions.

I married into a family (except my husband it seems) that loooves holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween and 4th of July, birthdays and gift giving overall. And they love Santa. As in loooooove Santa and all the stuff that comes with it – pictures with him at the mall and explaining this to kids in terms of magic and naughty/nice list, Santa ornaments and lights everywhere and all that jazz.

Beyond a very festively decorated house, for Christmas we had gift lists and we each got something for other members of the family from them. And there was family, card playing and lots of food. I noticed though there was not much deep conversations at all, which is essentially what happens in my family so that was an interesting switch.

Since their family pressed that this holiday was incredibly important to them, we went there as many year as we could for almost 10 years instead of to my family – for them, as long as we visited they did not care when.

I honestly quite enjoyed it first few years but quickly realized it was hard to get all my family together at other times and with limited PTO I started seeing less and less of them (different country so not so easy to just go see them for a weekend).

This hit me fully when my dad passed 9 years ago and I realizd how little time I had spent on holidays with him the previous decade. This was fully my choice but I learned to be more thoughtful about how I spend my time now and set and respect my boundaries vs trying to please others.

Additionally, the need to put stuff on that list for me and buying more and more stuff after many nieces and nephews were added to the family, was becoming very stressful and not consistent with the values I wanted for myself and my family. Husband was in full agreement with me.

Having Kids & Going Rogue

Then we had kids.

This made us rethink what was most important to us now and what “our” family traditions were going to be.

And so one year, we put on the list some donation like gifts vs more stuff for us which affectionately earned me (but not my husband?! Lol) the nickname Grinch. I had done the unthinkable! Hey, I thought they would appreciate it as to me it better captures the spirit of the holiday but guess not lol.

We stated doing holidays at our house with our immediate family only or traveling though we still spoiled our kids and husband’s family kept asking for list as they said they loved giving. We complied but we did not feel we needed to buy stuff for others nor did we expect to get anything (we had this conversation with them, they got it).

We still got the occasional comment from his family (and friends to my surprise!) about how we are ruining our kids youth by “killing the magic” with no Santa pictures or that we chose to explain Santa with the actual story of how we have this tradition instead of telling them this is real. I don’t have a problem at all on how other people handle it, so we were really shocked with such strong unsolicited reactions about my family’s view. Oh well.

Finding Our Perfect Balance

Today, (kids 6 and 8) we celebrate Christmas and other holidays on our own at home, we travel and or we have my side of the family over (more similar minded).

As for the list? Major credit to my husbands’ family, after a transition period now they are very respectful and understand we are just different. We still share a list as a compromise as they like to give but they absolutely started getting us experiences vs stuff more and more. Thank you family!

This year our list consists of 4 items for each of us plus a general ask for horseback riding classes gift cards as an option for experiences.

We asked our kids to be very purposeful about what goes there and they don’t have a $ limit per se (until they asked for a horse yikes!) but rather what they really really wanted that was age appropriate (example we said no way to iPhone for 8 year old).

The total max spend this year for all our combined lists will be $800 bucks of which $300 is for a Nintendo Switch which we are funding with the money we made selling stuff in our minimalism journey, and a couple hundred are theater tickets for the family for the year.

I realize this is still a lot of money but we used to spend almost double and keep in mind we buy them nothing really during the year (they pay stuff with allowances which takes them forever).

In addition we ask our kids to work with us on our 2018 travel and bucket experiences list as part of our family gift and we learn about making choices with limited money. We have fun plans ahead!

Today I am finally happy with the balance of celebrating and splurging and my boundaries.

And kids seem pretty happy about it, too! At least they have not yet told me I have ruined their childhood and our nightly “I am grateful for” exercise is still yielding positive results. I will keep you posted though. Just in case I will keep putting some money on their future therapy fund (true story they do have one lol). 😋

Tell me – what are your holiday boundaries? How do you decide on presents? Do you stick to a number or budget? What is your favorite and least favorite part of holidays? Has it changed through the years?



2 thoughts on “On Holiday Traditions, Christmas Lists & Boundries”

  1. we usually spend about $500 a year. Which I have been fine with if saved up properly (most of the time that is not the case). But we’ve set a lean budget this year of $100/pp. So $200 total. And we will be good. More emphasis on food, cookies, and free viewing of the lights.


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