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5 Sane Ways to Prep for the Holidays

I’m a big fan of underdoing it for the holidays, and I’ve learned from doing Christmas in all sorts of places in all sorts of ways—what matters most is really how your home feels.

That’s the thickest thread in our tapestry of memories, and if I feel frantic and stressed during the season, then my home will feel frantic and stressed, too. But if I’m willing to flex and go with the flow, then the holidays are inevitably more relaxed. Which is what I’m aiming for in the first place.

Immersing ourselves in Advent and Christmas as they come means a little bit of prep work now, before they begin.

Here are my easy essentials.

1. Order Advent candles and devotional.

I love the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Called Advent, its purpose is to focus us on the meaning of the upcoming Christmas season (which is technically twelve days, from December 25 to January 6).

More on Advent here.

Screenshot 2016-11-10 20.35.50

We love this beeswax DIY candle-making kit. It’s super easy to roll the sheets of beeswax, and the kids have a ball.

Kyle usually drills holes into a firewood log for the candles (free!), but there’s plenty of simple DIY wreath ideas out there (I have an entire pinboard on the matter).

We read a short devotional or Advent story every evening after we light the candle. There are tons out there—but after not finding one simple-yet-reflective enough, I’ve written my own.

2. Order holiday cards.

Getting snail mail cards is one of my personal holiday highlights, so I like to reciprocate when we can. They’re low stress if I get them ordered early enough.

paper culture

Favorite services:

3. Plan a cookie swap.

We nail down a date early in the season (like, October) with local friends to do a cookie swap in December, which means we take home a variety of treats while only having to make one kind ourselves.

raspberry thumbprint cookies

Last year, we pledged to all do gluten-free, dairy-free recipes, helpful for every family member involved.

Favorite GF recipes:

4. Make the gift list.

We don’t do a lot of gifts for Christmas—our kids get three gifts each, plus one shared family gift. But I still have to plan in advance to avoid last-minute shopping frenzy.

I love giving ethically-made gifts, and we do what we can to support those brands. But gift-giving can also be more than an ethically-made sweater: gifts like spending time together, acts of service, and contributing to a bigger family goal (like a vacation or house renovation) can mean as much as a store-bought present, without adding clutter.

5. Prep the countdown calendar.

For years we’ve hung a crazy-simple, homemade Advent calendar made from an empty picture frame, ribbon, clothespins, and cards made from scrapbook paper. From December 1-24, we flip over a card to find the day’s activity.

It’s not a traditional Advent calendar because it’s separate from the official Church calendar—it’s a simple Christmas countdown calendar.

The trick? I only add stuff we’d do anyway—no extra activities. Sometimes it feels like cheating, since kids hardly count “addressing Christmas cards” an event. Oh well—I add it anyway.


A few of our calendar activities:

We might be cheating by putting all those holiday movies on the calendar, but we’d want to watch those anyway—adding them just makes it official. We pop popcorn and snuggle under blankets, and then it officially becomes a Thing.

Once I cross off prepping for these five tasks, I feel like I can actually relax and enjoy the days as they come. I’ll still have things to do, but they won’t feel like a big deal.

Christmas Home 2012-9

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Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Jaime

    Thank you for listing examples for advent books! I want to do that this year but wasn’t sure where to start looking.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You’re welcome! There’s honestly lots of good ones out there, but these are some of my favorite.

  2. Anna

    Advent is one of my favorite times. I have to say that I have enjoyed celebrating it outside the US, where we really have time to absorb the true meaning without all the craziness. (Of course, there’s still a part of me that misses the craziness and all the fun that goes with it.) We’ve read Bartholomew’s Passage, and the rest of the series by Ytreeide. He also has an Easter book written in a similar fashion.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’ve heard the Easter one is good, too! We’re doing Bartholomew’s Passage for the first time this year.

      And yes, I very much miss doing Advent and Christmas overseas. So much less hyped-up on the things that just don’t matter…. Enjoy!

  3. Meghan

    I’m curious how you structure time for doing the Advent activities. Do you do the activity the same day that idea gets picked from the calendar? Thank you so much for your website and blog!

  4. Hillary

    Thanks for the GF recipes! Always love to have someone try them out first, lol.

  5. June

    Advent calendars have always overwhelmed me. With four kids under 7, I never felt like I could pull it off, but you listing “watch elf, watch its a wonderful life, watch…etc” really helped me see it as doable. I’m not sure if we’ll start this year but thanks for making it simple!

  6. Lizzie Goldsmith

    “Jotham’s Journey” is actually the first book in Ytreeide’s series; I’d start there, then go on to “Bartholomew’s Passage.” They cover some overlapping events from different perspectives, but we read them in order and enjoyed them that way. Here’s the link to “Jotham’s Journey”: Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent

  7. Julianne

    Hi! I was wondering to about the advent calendar. Do you do the activity for that day on that day? So when you have buy a Christmas tree, do you actually do that on that day?

  8. Sarah D.

    Tsh! A guest crafter representing a large chain fabric store made an almost exact replica of your no frills advent calendar as a demonstration on one of our local TV stations. Of course the idea was that you could easily obtain the supplies at the store–she offered a coupon code. I’m sorry to say that she didn’t mention the Art of Simple. I thought I’d let you know. At least the calendar looked great.

  9. Emily

    I love this whole post. Thank you! Do you happen to know if the advent candle set is available all year long? We live abroad and can’t get deliveries here. I would love to purchase it, but wondering if I should order it now for next year? :/ Thanks again!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Great question! I honestly don’t know… maybe check after this holiday season and see if it’s still available? I completely understand about not getting overseas delivers; I remember those days well. 😉

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