Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy a Merrier Holiday Season This Year

When I was thinking about how to title this post I came up with a few different titles that all went something like this…

How to NOT decorate this year and still enjoy the holidays or How to make the next two months of your life feel magical and stress-free.

Every year my holiday prep list is slightly different. One year I may be hosting Thanksgiving dinner and have to shop and prepare for that, but not Christmas dinner.

I may have the neighbors over for an Open House, or I may attend a charity event or a cookie exchange with my friends. The events may change, each year, but no matter what, over the holiday season there will always be Christmas music all through my house.

The Christmas tree will be twinkling in the living room, candles all over, cookies baking in the oven and something crafty in progress to decorate the house.

Create Holiday Bliss, Not Holiday Stress

My path to finding holiday bliss instead of holiday stress began with yards and yards of expensive, fresh cedar garland for my foyer staircase banister 7 years ago. I was preparing for a holiday photo shoot for BHG magazine and decked my large foyer staircase with fresh cedar garland. It looked amazing.

Outdoor deck and dock Christmas decorating ideas

After about a week, the garland started to dry out and crumble. The heat of the house was just too much for it. It was truly a mess to look at and a nightmare to clean up. It was such a waste in what it cost and the effort involved to get it up and arranged in a pretty way.

I vowed that year to never ever again bring fresh garlands into the house in such a big way. They need to be outside in the cool air to last the season. 

The fiasco with the garland was my Christmas decorating turning point.

I love the holiday season and all it brings, except of course the stress we bring on ourselves. That we feel we have to do it all…. and on top of this mindset… we think we need to also do it all perfectly.

I realized to create holiday joy that I didn’t have to do what others thought was needed to say holiday or buy tons of trendy new decor that is being promoted by retailers, bloggers and others.

I now intentionally avoid expensive decorations or anything which is time consuming to create. I vowed after that year to only do what was important for me and my family when it came time for the holidays.

A group of brass candlesticks and white candles on mantel decorated for Christmas

Over the last few years I have pared down, more like “refined” what I have done in the way of decorating the house for the holidays, both inside and out.

I still like fresh cedar in the house, but add it in small ways and mix it with faux greenery. In doing so, everything for the holidays from the planning to the actual decorating, shopping, baking and entertaining is much more enjoyable. 


Recently, a friend told me she didn’t want to decorate this year only because she doesn’t like how long it takes her to take it all down, box it up and store it come January.

She said she was feeling guilty that she was letting her family down if she didn’t do it all in grand style, but the thought of doing any of it, exhausted her. 


My reply to her was, If doing it all in grand style falls only on you to do and you don’t want to do it, then it is “time to edit”. Or ask for help from the family members she felt she was going to let down.

When you edit all the things you do for Christmas to only what is important so you can enjoy the holidays while at the same time making sure no one feels you have become the Christmas Grinch may make the season feel even more special.

I went on to explain to her that I have been editing over the last few years to build upon my “More Joy” Christmas philosophy.

What’s My “More Joy” Philosophy?

My philosophy is choosing to do only what makes the holidays feel special to my family and I and not worry about the rest.  

How to Have a Merrier Holiday Season This Year

1. Decide What Really Makes The Holidays Feel Special

After the cedar garland mess, I asked Ed what were the most important things for him that made the holidays feel special? His answers along with mine for the same question are how I began to refine the holidays. Note, I didn’t say simplify.

What I choose to do may not be simple, but it takes away what is not needed and that gives us more time to enjoy what we really love about the holiday season. We can forget about the rest and not feel one ounce of guilt about it.

To enjoy “More Joy” over the holidays, I made a list of what made the holidays special for us. Then I broke it down even more specifically answering:

  • What was it about each thing on the list that was the most important part?

My “More Joy” Must Do Christmas List

  • Christmas without a tree is just not Christmas, but what is it about the tree? It’s the white twinkling lights on it that we love.
  • Christmas music that we fondly remember from our childhoods playing through the house and cars all day long.
  • Candles lit in the late afternoon and early evening while I prepare dinner.
  • Having the time to do nothing except watch Christmas movies, bake cookies to eat and fill up festive metal tins to wrap and give to others.
  • A day filled with Christmas shopping in a bustling city and coming home exhausted to the twinkling tree and a house filled with Christmas music and lit by candles is pure Christmas joy.
  • Attending a Christmas concert. It can be choral music to Holiday Pops.

This year I am refining my joy list even more. I am giving myself permission to do something I have been wanting to do for the last few years. Not placing any ornaments on the tree.

There is something so pretty and magical about a Christmas tree dressed in nothing but twinkling white lights.  Truly twinkling lights, not blinking or flashing, but gently twinkling.

Here are links to the twinkle lights that I use: 1 | 2 | 3

Seeing the twinkle lights brings back nostalgic warm and wonderful memories of laying under the lit tree at night and watching the shadows of the branches dance on the ceiling of the room when I was a  child.

Another big change we made a few years ago was when we realized we haven’t even been home for Christmas the last few years and always needed to ask a neighbor to water the tree for us while we were away.

We love the fresh pine smell of a real tree, but it wasn’t practical anymore for our life. We bought our first artificial Christmas tree. They have come a long way in how real they look and feel. All I had to do to the pre-lit tree was add a few more strands of white twinkle lights to make it just right for us.

2. Make a List and Check it Twice

Candle glowing in front of a Christmas tree with white lights

Try making your own Christmas Joy list. It truly will help you to focus on what decor, food and events are the most important to you.

Make a list of items that make Christmas feel special for you. It doesn’t have to look like my list at all as you and your family have your own special holiday traditions that are important to you.

Making a list is the first way to remove from your holidays what no longer feels special to you or is needed to enjoy the season.

If you have kids, ask them to make a list and add what is on their list to yours. You may have thought they liked a certain thing you always did, but then realize they really don’t care which frees up time for you.

Next go down each item on the list and figure out a way to make each happen.

3. Pass on Holiday Traditions That No Longer Hold Meaning

Stop and think, do I really need this decorative item or need to attend an event to make it feel like Christmas? If the answer is no, then there is no need to use the item or schedule the event on your calendar this year.

For instance, do you mindlessly bring down storage bin after bin filled with Christmas décor and place it all the same way as last year? Ask yourself – why?

If it is tradition and Christmas would not be the same without seeing a time-honored decoration on the mantel, then this is a must for you to do.  It brings joy to the season for you.

But what about other decorations? Do you still like a snowman that has seen better days? Would he look better on a thrift store shelf?

If the snowman is worn because you or your children have played with him every Christmas that he has become so worn with love, then he is a keeper no matter what. It can be hard making decisions like this, but you want to only add things that bring joy, not just because you have them and feel you should use them.

My sister stopped sending Christmas cards a few years ago. Since she sees, emails, texts, and chats on Facebook with everyone she knows through the year, she sends her greetings online. This saves not only time, but money. The cost of cards and postage can go to something more meaningful for her. 

4. Plan Ahead

Once you give yourself permission to refine your holidays, get what you enjoy about the holidays planned out on a calendar.

Plan for a baking marathon one day, mark the day for the local Christmas Bazaar or to shop, buy concert tickets.

You can also schedule a day with a meet up for breakfast before shopping with family or friends. Schedule these important-to-you things now before the holidays really kick in.

Many printable planners can be purchased for a few dollars. You can find a very nice one here: Christmas Planner

Holiday Time Savers

  • Use a planner or a folder to keep all your holiday related lists, concert tickets and other items together.
  • Do as much online shopping as you can. With most retailers offering free shipping, online shopping is a big time saver.
  • Buy cookie making ingredients when you are out shopping for your Thanksgiving meal groceries. This way when you are watching a Hallmark movie and get the urge to bake a batch of cookies while you watch, you have everything you need.
  • Wrap holiday gifts when you are watching Christmas movies or as soon as you bring them home. This will lessen the stress of having to wrap a huge pile of gifts in one sitting, unless this is something that you enjoy doing as part of adding more joy to your holidays.  

Work At Adding More Joy… Slowly

Outdoor light fixture on house with a red bow and greenery.

I didn’t make changes to how I decorated or we celebrated the holidays all at once, but over a few years. I refine the list every year making sure to do only what will bring joy to the season and not do what we think is expected and truly doesn’t matter.  

How to make a table top Christmas tree or centerpiece using boxes

Remember… Life is too short to be the caretaker of the wrong details.

The holidays are even a shorter time period in your life. Make the most of them by editing your more joy list and then check it twice to make sure that everything you do produces joy.

I promise your holidays will be merrier and brighter and when the new year rolls around, you will have less to put away and have more happy, positive energy to start the new year.

Give yourself permission this year to do the holidays exactly how you want… in your own style. 


Christmas Ideas Gallery

Need some Christmas decorating inspiration? Here you will find hundreds of my ideas for budget friendly Christmas decorating, family favorite cookie recipes, creative gift wrapping ideas, festive table settings and more.

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  1. Wow. What do I have to say on this? A lot! I’ll just relate that now at 70, I’ve been trying to make Christmas easier for probably ten years. The tree alone used to take, before retirement, three weekends, the lights taking the longest. One year I watched from the living room window neighbors walking to a Christmas party down the street as I manfully kept working on the tree lights—my time was limited and valuable, and that sucked. Since then we’ve tried an artificial tree, the style of which was all wrong. We’ve bought the mini tree tops that are sold in front of our grocery store with red plastic holder. Those actually worked out; all lit and decorated and placed on the fold-down of a family desk, it was high enough and magical-glittery enough to be beautiful. The presents obviously were piled on the floor beneath the fold-down; it was the same effect as having a full size tree. This year, though, because decorating is all-consuming and overwhelming, my husband has said No Tree. Time and energy is instantly freed up. But what about the sparkle and the magic? I’m going to try lights around the insides of the windows, with garland, maybe a wreath, and hope it lends itself to Christmas magic, and doesn’t become a new black hole of effort!
    I have more to say! Also in the past ten years I’ve accepted help in clean-up from the children and their friends—by the month of March it had become clear to all that I was not on top of the situation. I was very grateful, but a lot of disorganization occurred, departure from my system, multiple years. So now the attic is in quite a state, despite the color coded boxes up there for Valentines/spring/Easter/Halloween/fall/Christmas. The children hold every single Christmas artifact as sacred and exempt from the goodwill box; I thus have boxes of “last used 2005,” etc taking up space physically and mentally, until they have houses of their own and can take the precious stuff they want. Oh Glory Day, our son’s offer on a nearby home, which we can see from our kitchen window, was accepted just the other day, so who’s having Christmas this year? Ha! What a joy that will be! The huge bottleneck of tradition is finally showing some movement! My future just may hold less work and more enjoying—with our son and his new wife, and our daughter and her husband and their brand new baby. Diane, yeah, you hit a NERVE. Onward to Beauty! — ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Louise – It sounds like you really enjoy decorating for the holidays and have quite an organizational system set up for all of your decor items. I love your idea of marking the boxes – Last Used and the date. Brilliant!!! Enjoy having your son so close by now and moving the hosting duties to his home. It is a gift in itself. Enjoy the holidays with your kids and your brand new grandchild. Congratulations! XO

  2. Autumn decorations stay up until the day AFTER Thanksgiving, that day, Friday, is packing it away; Saturday/Sunday is decorating for Christmas. I’m having a holiday open house on the 4th so I’ll be enjoying Christmas for the rest of the month. Works beautifully!!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Eileen – It sounds like you have found the perfect strategy to really enjoy the holidays and have a festive open house too. :-). Planning and scheduling is the key. Enjoy every minute of the season this year.

  3. This is all so true, for years I struggled with family, cooking, shopping, wrapping and everything we have to do before the big day and then some. But over the last few years I have scaled it down and now its a fine art and so enjoyable, this year I finally gave in and handed the reigns over to my daughter, she is now doing Christmas dinner for us all and I look forward to it so much.
    I hope your hip is now healing beautifully, take care.xx

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Janette – It sounds like you have found just the right elements to include in your holiday season to make it the best. Is will feel extra nice handing the reins for Christmas dinner to your daughter. :-). My hip recovery is going well. Thank you. XO

  4. I hope you are feeling better. I loved the post! Quick question. WHERE do you find the TRUE “twinkle lights”? I used to be able to find them and now they are all “chase”, “flash,” “Jump”, “blink”, etc. The independent TRUE “twinkle” is So hard to find! PS. Trees w/JUST the white lights are beautiful!
    I found a way to handle the guilt of not putting up the ornaments, many family and or sentimental. They are beautiful and interesting placed on trays, in baskets and in wooden bowls, also safer from a fall to the floor!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi S. Marie – I am feeling better with each passing day. :-). Great idea to display your favorite ornaments in baskets and bowls. True twinkle lights are hard to find. Here are a few links to the twinkle lights that I have bought over the last few years. I love them and use quite a lot of strands on my tree.

  5. Caye Cooper says:

    Hi Diane: Such good words of wisdom about what Christmas can really mean.
    Hope you are feeling a little better each day, and that your healing will be good and strong. Many blessings to you! You are in my prayers.

  6. Hi Diane
    Thank you for this post. I will implement some of your suggestions. I hope you are healing well from your hip replacement. 😊

  7. I loved this post, it resonated with me….this year it’s just my adult son and I, Most of the Christmas presents are being sent out of state, not so much for under the tree, so no tree, I’m going to enjoy the spirit of Christmas, just a few decorative touches of the season, I will make cookies, which I do enjoy baking, a few holiday parties to attend, but mostly this time, relax, and enjoy what I do have, rather than try to make my home an explosion of Christmas……

  8. Barbara Pilcher says:

    Your line, ” Life is too short to be the caretaker of details,” is a great reminder to me! It’s refreshing to get advice about how to make the holidays what they really should be — fun, relaxing, and meaningful.

    The best advice I’ve given myself is to start planning early and pace myself. And by early, I mean December 26, because that’s when I look for decor and gift wrap I can use the following year. That’s when I decide my color scheme for next year, which helps when it’s time to pack things away come January. I also look for holiday-themed coffee cups at second-hand stores during the year.

    Hope you are comfy and healing well.

  9. What a lovely, thought-provoking post. I’m enjoying the comments too. We were going to list our house to sell during the summer and I heavily sorted through all the holiday bins. I gave lots of decorative items to family and donated the rest. I too kept just those that have the most meaning and bring us the most joy. I like all the holiday vignettes you included. Thank you for the timing of this post.

  10. This is super poignant, Diane! Thank you for your helpful tips and ideas!!

  11. O'Brien Donna says:

    This just made my day! I am my own inner critic and this will help me silence that voice! BTW: my rugs are half painted and I thank myself for discovering your help!!!

  12. Jeanne James says:

    Diane, I always love your ideas! Your blog is the one that I make a point to read because it is relatable. And I love your DIY ideas and have tried many. Thank you and I hope you have a merry Christmas with your family and your new granddaughter!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thank you for taking the time to leave me such a nice comment. I appreciate it. I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas also. I am looking forward to getting to spend Christmas with my granddaughter. She will be the focus for the whole family. I hope I can get a lot of time with her as she will be in demand. :-)

  13. Diane.
    Looks like you touched a nerve with your readers!
    Just yesterday I took out all of our Christmas “stuff” and boxed up about half to donate. I did this a couple years ago, also, so I’m down to about a quarter of what I had originally. I lost my mom when I was 28 and inherited all the family stuff. Then I had my own family and acquired a lot more stuff. But now the kids are long grown and it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing any grandchildren. So I, too, have had to admit that I am not the caretaker of the stuff that came with a life that isn’t any more. But it took a long time to sort through all the self-induced pressure I felt. I love it that so many others have commented here about this struggle to find joy and balance and I am so heartened to know we are all in this together, aren’t? Blessings to you all!

  14. Oh my word, this post was EXACTLY what I needed to read today! I have been trying to talk myself into scaling back a bit, and I think what you’ve shared today has given me permission to do just that. My favorite line: “Life is too short to be the caretaker of the wrong details.” Brilliant!
    Thank you for writing from the heart!

  15. Super post Diane! I used to dread Christmas every year because it signified more WORK for me, and as someone who believes the celebration should be about the birth of Jesus, I have “simplified” my decorating. I still put up the tree, with lots of lights but much fewer ornaments and of course the Nativity set but don’t worry about doing much else. I prefer to shop for gifts and bake goodies for the family and friends. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have done in your home.

  16. Cheryl Atkinson says:

    Hi Diane! I am fairly new to your blog and i just want to say how much this one really hit home. In the last 2 years i have gone thru many changes in my life. I lost my mom, my favorite Aunt has moved into assisted living and my son has gone to prison. Very sad times. I decided to sell my house a year ago and move from Texas to Florida to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. My daughter is not a a’tradition” kind of person but i’m hoping to keep some of my family traditions going with my grandchildren. It is time to get rid of some of my decorations that i just will never use again. and only keep the ones that bring me joy. Christmas is about JOY! Thank you for this blog.

    P.S. Are you so excited to go listen to beautiful music by Mannheim Steamroller.? That would be so nice.

  17. I have a very small LR so I started putting my “Christmas “ tree, a 5’ grapevine tree, on my front porch in front of my LR double windows. I can see it through the widows. My “tree skirt” is a rusty red #3 washtub. I decorate in the woodland theme. I love it!

  18. Thank you for that wonderful post. I hope I’ll be able to destress the holidays! Pinterest, the blogging world and Hobby Lobby are stressing me out! ?

  19. Sharon Hines says:

    Diane, this post is so lovely. I happen to feel exactly the same way.
    I gave myself permission to have a tree with just lights a couple of years ago after wanting to for years. It was so freeing.
    You summed it up so well when you said, “Life is too short to be the caretaker of the wrong details.” Amen, sister.

  20. I appreciate that you specified refinement versus simplification and also the freedom to create more joy. I love an ornament encrusted tree. Unlike what I see in many blogs, I don’t buy new decor each year (I understand why that is a thing in the blogging world). I have collected one or two new pieces each year and as I pull them out I enjoy the memories of the places and people in my life when I purchased them. I feel joy when I put out my nativity each year. My mind imagines the Christmas story and I really feel blessed with that simple little chore. On the other hand, I found out my family didn’t appreciate the full blown Christmas menu and all they really wanted were ham and homemade mac and cheese. Wow! I really refined that menu with a lot of joy! Thank you for the encouragement in this post.

  21. A wonderful post. You’ve got me thinking how to do better this year. Thank you!

  22. I have three grown children and their spouses. Between them, I have 10 grandchildren and another expected in April. I don’t have a big house, and I am widowed. My children love to be together and don’t care about much else. So I’m thinking it all through again this year. About three years ago, I ordered one of those super skinny trees. The next year I ordered another one and put them on the porch on either side of the door. So, I’ll do a little more outside and streamline everything in the house. We will have “Train Wreck” for dinner when everyone gets here. We’ll keep the hot spiced apple juice going , popcorn, cookies, play games, and have our traditional Christmas breakfast (regardless of when we declare Christmas day to be). We open presents, take videos and take a family picture outside.
    I have struggled all my grown-up life with my desire to make everything wonderful – by my standards. It is my children who, as grown-ups have pried my fingers, one by one, off “wonderful.” I haven’t given up “fancy,’ but I have one daughter-in-law who is my ally.
    OH, and when I saw the story on your blog of where you live, I finally figured out the area where you live on the lake (I think). And I have had several friends who live in that area. My children went to school in Chapin, and my oldest graduated from Chapin High School. And a year later we moved. :-)

  23. Cassie Adolphson says:

    Your comment “Life is too short to be the caretake of the wrong details” really resonated with me. I do less and less decorating each year and appreciate more and more time with family and friends. For me it is not what’s under the tree or on the table , it is about the people you spend time with. Thank you for your great stories, you are truly inspiring.

  24. I love this. I’ve felt the same way the past several years. I wonder if it is a function of getting older and more content. Have a wonderful holiday season.

  25. Sandi from Wisconsin says:

    Good ideas. I too, am paring down my decorating. Still love to decorate the house, but will do with a little less. I have never loaded down my Christmas tree with ornaments like you sometimes see on blogs and in magazines. You can’t even see the green of the tree because it is absolutely covered with ornaments!

    I still love to send and receive Christmas cards, so that tradition I will be keeping.

    I love to do little vignettes throughout the house and use greens from outside.
    Thank you for sharing good ideas how to make Christmas beautiful and stress-free.

  26. Cathy Clark says:

    Thanks Diane! I needed this!!!
    Merry Christmas however we do it!

  27. You must have known I needed this post today; I DID and I thank you! Adam and I have been “empty nesters” for several years. (I don’t care for that term but I’ve yet to find a worthwhile synonym) The past few years, I’ve grown so weary of dragging out all of the Christmas decorations and putting them up in the same place year after year. I’ve donated many of them, but have always felt like I needed to buy something new to replace the one I’d weeded out. Last year I asked Adam if we could tweak (refine) our Christmas decorating and activities we participate in out of obligation rather than enjoyment. He looked at me, expressionless and said, “No”. I remembered our first few Christmases with new babies and no money when I decorated with yards of artificial evergreen garland I bought in bundles from our local Woolco discount store and candles sitting atop white doilies crocheted by my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law. I thought our little house looked beautiful. I approached Adam in September and asked him if he ever thought about those simple Christmases when we were new parents, broke and too young to care? He said, “No”. A week or so later, we were having breakfast and he said he had thought about those early Christmases and our makeshift Christmas decor and it occurred to him how happy we were with our “Merry Christmas House”. He said he wanted to be surprised this year and would I do whatever I had in mind. I hugged him until he begged me to stop. :) The old Woolco garland is long gone, but I have some ideas, you’ve inspired me even more and feel like Adam and you have given me permission to have a simple Christmas full of joy, dearest Diane.

  28. Great suggestions. I think we all try to be Christmas superwoman and we end up being exhausted and grumpy. I’ve pared my decorating, my gift-giving and my cookie making way down, leaving more time to actually enjoy the season and to visit not only with children and grandchildren, but also with not-often-seen extended family members (7 female first cousins, all close in age and all retired) for dinner at a nice restaurant – no gifts exchanged, just good food cooked and served by professionals, a cocktail or two, and catching up on our daily lives. It’s always a highlight of the season.

  29. I love this advice!! Thank you

  30. Since becoming a grandma, I’ve changed the way I decorate for the holidays. I’m choosing decorations that I truly love & want to bring out every year so my grand daughter can have those memories of “I remember Grandma’s house always had color Xmas lights or that one snowman” etc. I didn’t have a grandmas house to visit, so I’m really making an effort to make our space kid friendly & hopefully a little magical at Xmas. I also appreciate that she gets to experience a different kind of Xmas at the other grandparents house. There they decorate in grand style with a huge tree with a little train underneath like something out of a Hallmark movie. So beautiful.

  31. Many years ago I refined our Christmas decor !! One day when I watched the mania in the stores of people filling their carts with decorations. I begin to think of how that money could have helped the hungry, the homeless, the widowed, etc. and it broke my heart. Christmas is not about the celebrations, the decorations, the caroling, etc. — it’s all about the birth of our Savior which is the greatest gift of all. I could no longer spend $$ on more and more decor. That’s not to say that I don’t decorate each year but I not longer feel the need for something new all of the time. I refined what I have and keep everything simple. We try to focus on our Savior and our family. A Blessed Christmas to you.

  32. I love this post. It reflects your heart.