The Myth of a Simple Christmas

“I want to have a simple Christmas,” you say, while rushing your children from school to the practice for the church nativity play, then home for dinner just in time for homework and bed.

“Let’s slow down for Christmas this year,” you say, while dashing off happy Christmas cards in between checking emails, finishing that report for work, doing the dishes, helping your daughter with her essay, worrying about the recent medical diagnosis.

“I really just think we should keep things quiet,” you say, while your kids run screaming around the house, knocking over the neatly stacked laundry you just (finally) folded, streaking muddy footprints across the dusty kitchen floor, or (worse) shutting themselves sullenly in their bedrooms.

“Can we focus on the real meaning of this season?” you say, while family members prattle off their ever-growing Christmas wish lists or argue over how and where to celebrate, your neighbors compete for the best light show, and (let’s be real) you surreptitiously add items to your Amazon cart while worrying about paying your bills.

Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one saying I want a simple Christmas amid a daily life that isn’t simple at all. Perhaps I’m alone in claiming I want small and quiet when those things have never been part of my routine. And maybe it’s just me keeping things real here when I say I actually love all the bustle and noise, the lights and the gifts piling up, the songs and the crazy and the clutter.

I suspect I’m not alone, though, in finding my efforts to keep Christmas simple derailed daily and immediately. I’m guessing many of us lug around an extra burden of guilt this month over our seeming failures in this area.

In the spirit of keeping it real, let’s return to that very first Christmas. I’m guessing Mary—young, scared, far from home, giving birth in a place meant for animals, feeling the weight of her responsibility as the Son of God was placed into her arms—hardly felt her circumstances were simple. I’m sure that Joseph—a man whose act of obedience meant accepting a reputation forever slandered, who had been asked to raise someone else’s son (the Son of God, no less), who watched his new bride labor in the poorest of circumstances and had to think about what to do next—did not call this night simple.

Peasant shepherds having their lives upended by a legion of angels appearing in the sky and singing to them? Not simple. Magi watching the stars, realizing the importance of this new thing, and planning the journey of a lifetime? Nope, not simple. A hurried flight to Egypt, Joseph and Mary leaving everything behind, not knowing when they would return? Hardly simple. A wicked ruler, jealous for his throne, murdering innocent babies? Not simple in any way.

Our world has not been simple since that day in the garden when Eve took a bite. We have labored ceaselessly in turmoil, shame, and conflict. Christ came in the middle of all that, because of all that, and his coming wasn’t simple at all.

Some of us love a chaotic, crazy Christmas—or must at least embrace it as unavoidable. Some of us long for a simple Christmas while struggling with family conflict, physical illness and pain, financial hardship, rejection, loneliness, and grief. For most of us, our circumstances will never be simple.

What can be simple is our praise.

Flip through the Christmas accounts in the Bible and take note of all the praise. Elizabeth praised God, as did Zechariah. Mary praised God, and Joseph (eventually) did too. The angels praised God, followed by the shepherds and the magi. An old woman and an old man, waiting to see God’s promises fulfilled, praised God. All of them did so in the most non-simple of circumstances.

Makes me think the path to a simple Christmas isn’t through conditions but through our response to them. It’s seeing God’s love in the middle of chaos, watching his hope draw near in our suffering. It’s choosing to hold God close and say yes to Him, even when it is hard. Noisy. Messy. Expensive. Painful. Lonely.

After all, that is what He did for us. He left simple far behind and came into our complicated, loud, murderous world. Nothing about the plan was ever simple except the end goal: to save us. He came to hold us close, even when it was hard. Noisy. Messy. Expensive. Painful. Lonely.

Let’s give ourselves permission to embrace the chaos, to accept the complicated, to sit in the hard this Christmas. Let’s let go of the myth of simple while letting our response be simply to praise.

“My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” Luke 2:46-48

7 thoughts on “The Myth of a Simple Christmas

  1. I’m so glad you’re my neighbor at FMF this week! With an empty nest, our Christmas really are pretty simple. I quit sending out cards and newsletters a decade ago. We decorate when we have time. And if we don’t have time, oh, well. I love your advice to focus on praise. Praise is simple and can happen at any time and anywhere.

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  2. “Makes me think the path to a simple Christmas isn’t through conditions but through our response to them.” There is much to be said for this. We seem to almost always have a family crisis of some kind between November and January, forcing me to engage with the holidays in a different sort of mindset. I can relate to a lot of this!

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  3. I did that “we need to slow down” while NOT slowing down routine for a lot of years! This year I’m in a new home in a different state and don’t know anyone and although it’s lonely and strange, I’m perfectly fine with finally having the simple and clutter free season. As you so beautiful said, it’s about our response, and I’m learning to respond with hope and faith. Visiting from FMF#18

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  4. I like seeing Christmas lights
    on the neighbour’s window-tree,
    and play carols through the night, but that’s enough for me.
    My wife gets one gift that’s handmade,
    the dogs get Christmas treats,
    and I truly would not trade
    this simple time for feats
    of shopping and of decoration,
    entertaining and small talk,
    of thousand-watt illumination
    down the front-door walk,
    and the blues on New Year’s Day
    of packing all the bling away.

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  5. To keep things simple in the midst of fast and furious can seem futile, but I love your reminder that He is present in the fast and furious and He is the peace that can simply keep us in Him, still and knowing He is God and we are not! Glory be!

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  6. This was a beautifully written article. Thank you for putting into words what my heart has longed to do! And we did. It has been a wonder-filled season of focusing on Jesus and simply being with family. I am passing your words on to others!

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