A Good Enough Christmas

I guess we all feel differently about the holidays.

Jessawhy said a few weeks ago, “I was so excited. While I was driving, I found the Christmas station. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”

When I heard the Christmas station, I thought, “NO! Christmas station, go away! It’s not time for you to make me feel guilty yet!”

I was talking to a family member, and she said, “I don’t hate Christmas. I just feel hopeless about them.”

That’s exactly how I feel about Christmas.
It’ll probably be a disaster.

You see, I can’t decorate, can’t make crafts, can’t get a Christmas card out before Martin Luther King, Jr Day because I get myself all worked up that nothing is going to look right, which makes me so overwhelmed that I don’t know where to start, so I wait until the last minute, and well, when you wait until the last minute to plan, nothing looks right (how’s that for a run-on!). I end up feeling mean and crabby until January 2nd when the completely self-imposed pressure is off.

Last year, I realized this probably wasn’t normal. I mean, why would the rest of the Christian world continually shift into over-drive year after year to get this holiday done if SOMEONE SOMEWHERE wasn’t getting some pleasure from it.

So, for the holidays this year, I got myself a little therapy and have decided that I need to learn to buck up and enjoy the holidays (because really, there’s no need to feel this way. My life is seriously, so blessed.) .

This year, the CC family is going to have a Good Enough Christmas. Things aren’t going to be perfect they’re going to be good enough. And, we’ll all enjoy it, darn it.

Here’s how we’ve been celebrating our “Good Enough” holiday season:

1. Christmas Card Photo: This is one of our top 2 Christmas photos for the Christmas card. How did we pick the top 2? They’re the only photos that have the kids looking in the same general direction.

Every year, I want a family picture with haircuts, new outfits, a professional photographer, and a killer background (um, I’ve never actually gotten all these things done, just wished I had). This year, after dinner one night, we dressed the kids in Sunday clothes, put on our pajamas, and took photos of just the kids because, well, they’re the cutest of our bunch.


2. Christmas Gingerbread House: This is our grocery store pre-made, completely Good Enough Christmas gingerbread train.

Since we didn’t have any Christmas traditions (after almost 10 years of marriage), I figured we ought to.  A gingerbread house sounded like a great idea, but in my house, a gingerbread train would be much more appropriate.

I would have been so ornery if I had spent time baking the gingerbread, making the icing, and buying the candy because our Christmas train decorating night ended up consisting of me putting together the train while my toddler put candy in his mouth by the fistfuls, my preschooler poured colored sugar in his hand and licked it up over and over again all while my husband watched football.  (This was my finest moment in maintaining a  Good Enough Christmas.  I didn’t yell at anyone.  Rock on, me!)

3. Christmas Tree: While the tradition of picking out a real tree and having that pine smell is lovely, we’re a fake tree family now.

I thought it wouldn’t feel like Christmas, but now, I don’t have to vacuum needles all season long.  And, I don’t worry about our house going up in flames because the tree is completely dried out 3 days after buying it (gotta love a Phoenix Christmas).

Our tree is crooked, the ornaments are all discarded from our moms, and my kids have already broken 9 of them. But, it’s up, and if you squint and turn your head a bit to the left, it looks more than Good Enough.

4. Christmas Crafts: I even tried making a craft!  (Um, it’ll be a Christmas pillow, in case you can’t tell.)

I never make crafts because I don’t think they look good. This year, I’ve decided to make one just for the joy of making something…even if it’s not done until February and it still won’t look quite as good as anything many of my friends could whip up in an hour.
So, my experiment is going well (even the therapy, but that’s a whole other post), and we’ll keep doing these Christmassy things. I’ve just changed my criteria. Instead of shooting for perfect, I’m just trying to enjoy what we’re doing and not worry about the outcome.

Enjoying them makes them Good Enough, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find out that while we’re doing things Good Enough, there are unexpected happy moments. And, it’s in those moments that Christmas feels more than Good Enough. It feels happy.

How do you feel about the holidays?  What are your tricks for a Good Enough Christmas?

EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.


  1. I have an older sister that is a big fan of traditions on principle. She is the sort of person who will persist in doing something no one likes just because we do it every year and that means we *have* to. Since this sister has an especially strong personality she shaped most of my Christmas experiences and expectations.
    So I generally go into Christmas feeling like I’ll have to force myself to do a jillion things I hate because I *have* to- It’s tradition!
    Since I’ve been married I’ve been killing off all the traditions that I don’t like, and using the time to either relax or do something that is genuinely enjoyable.

  2. I think it would be interesting to explore why we have the ideas that we do. Why do we feel like Christmas has to be “perfect” in order to be enjoyable? Where does this idea come from? What defines a “good” Christmas? (I see this idea with weddings, and it always mystifies me that we put so much stock in things turning out a specific way in order to be enjoyable). I like Starfoxy’s idea of evaluating what has meaning to us and only doing those things.

    I do like having a nice photo of our kids each year, but it’s more for us than for anyone else. My dad and my sister are excellent photographers, so one of them has taken our photo each year. For me that makes it even more personal, and when I look at the picture I think of them. It’s not professional (thought they have nice cameras), but it looks nice and creates a memory of our photo shoot. We also go through the trouble of mailing a Christmas letter each year, but it’s because my husband is a writer and loves creating something fun to share with others. For us it really is a gift from the heart, and it’s usually our only present for anyone besides our kids. I think it’s important to examine our motivations–are we trying to enjoy ourselves or trying to create an image for others to look at? I think there’s nothing wrong with doing things well, especially if that satisfies your inner creative desires, but when it interferes with your holiday fun, then that’s a problem.

    I don’t do crafts of any kind. While I like the idea of home made gifts, I’m terrible at crafts and have no supplies in my house. So I admire other people’s nice “homemade” Christmases and go off to the store to buy presents for my family.

  3. I’ve got a 20 month old and a 5 month old and so I’m limited in what I can do. I’ve realized that sometimes I just need to lower my expectations and go with the flow of things. My husband and I have been coming up with our own traditions. We’re trying out a new one this year – a Lord of the Rings marathon. It may not be for everyone, but it will make us happy.

  4. Emily,
    Look at you! This is a great post and you look so cute with your boys. (love the bangs, btw)
    I admit to being in love with Christmas. It actually breaks my heart that you and other people don’t love it like I do.
    But, I can see why you wouldn’t if you feel like you have to do certain things a certain way.
    My love of Christmas is a combination of things, not too many of which are expectations.
    The cooler weather (it’s 95 degrees 9 months out of the year)
    The shining tree (even with the ornaments missing from the bottom third thanks to my toddler)
    Egg Nog (known at our house as Christmas Milk) and hot chocolate
    The Polar Express
    Christmas cards (this is the one thing that I really do)
    Christmas music playing in our house virtually non-stop

    The gifts and time with extended family are a plus, but not really the biggest part for me. I just like my own family a little bit more during the holidays. I guess I just feel the cheer.

    So, I guess it’s my attitude. At Christmastime, I get to do things that I can’t do during the rest of the year (like drown in egg nog) instead of having to do things I don’t really want to do.

    But, I’m sure you don’t really want someone like me (yep, got the professional pictures for our cards, but still haven’t picked them up from Costco) commenting on this thread.

    Anyway, I hope we’re still on for our family date to go see the lights at the train park!

  5. Love the post and the pictures, Emily!

    I have not been one so far to stress out about Christmas. That’s probably because I am completely unambitious. No gingerbread houses. No Christmas cards, though my husband will later on write a newsletter he emails out to everyone. My husband and I don’t buy each other presents, or if we do, they are minimal. (He might get a bag of candy, or something like that.) We eat Christmas dinner with family, so I don’t worry about fancy dinners either.

    The one thing I do do is put up a fake tree, and I love it.

  6. I think the idea behind “Perfect” and “Wonderful” should be what is fun and meaningful. I like to wrap presents watching my favorite christmas movies. I love to have Christmas music on as much as I can.
    We make Shortbread cookies, I have learned if I do them before Thanksgiving, it is fun, after not so much. I make gingerbread cookies that my family love, and a very small batch of sugar cookies right before christmas.
    The idea is a tradition should be something that is fun and enjoyable, not stress and misery.

  7. I so relate to the idea that if it’s not going to be perfect, I might as well not do it. That’s the bedrock of my procrastination disorder (you won’t find that in any diagnostic manual, but I’m sure I have it). My disorder has gotten me kicked out of school (surely an F is better than a B, right? An F says you didn’t care, a B says you just weren’t good enough), ruined dreams, and is currently resulting in a house that ought to be shut down by the EPA. But, I’ve gotten better over the years at accepting that good enough is way more fun than not at all (I even made it through graduate school). So, well done! I love your good enough Christmas!

  8. I think if you can enjoy it and feel the spirit of Christmas, then it is perfect.

    BTW, I think gingerbread house making is the same everywhere. ie. Mom(s) and the kids making a house while Dad(s) watch football.

    Speaking of gingerbread house creation, our family tradition was a huge gingerbread decorating event, where everyone participated, (even Dads!) and I am very sorry to see it die. Time changes things, and it’s one I definitely am carrying on in my own family. Started with initiating my boyfriend into the tradition. 🙂 Frosting fight included.

  9. Starfoxy, I suspect my younger siblings feel the same way about me. Good for you to be smart enough to kill off the non-fun traditions!

    FoxyJ, a nice picture and a clever letter? You’re one of the people I envy. I love your quote: “I think there’s nothing wrong with doing things well, especially if that satisfies your inner creative desires, but when it interferes with your holiday fun, then that’s a problem.” So true!

    Nancy R., can we come to your house for the holiday? A LOTR marathon sounds SO fun! I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to not be scarred of the orcs in them.

    Jessawhy, you are my role model for the holidays. Polar Express? Egg Nog? Getting out last year’s Christmas cards on time with a 2 month old baby? Amazing!

    Bekah, gingerbread castles…love it!

    Caroline, sounds like you have Christmas all figured out! I think I’m unambitious, too, but then, I go and feel guilty about being unambitious, which really, makes no sense.

  10. Tanya, you sound as wise as my therapist!

    Markie, I totally have procrastination disorder (my Exponent posts are never posted before 5 pm on my assigned day!), too. Your statement about B’s and F’s feels so true to me.

    Zenaida, I think you’re right about the usual gingerbread decorating, but I love that your family had that tradition. And, a frosting fight? You guys are fun! (That would have made me start yelling 🙂 )

  11. It’s all about the music, baby. I have a great collection, from medieval chants to mo-town. If my house smells like pine (a good candle can do that as well as a tree) and I can spend the evening listening to the Cambridge Singers, it’s a good-enough-day, a good-enough Christmas.

    I’ve been trying to follow the liturgical calendar a little more closely this year, spending some time each day thinking about Mary and about Advent — about preparing to welcome the breath of new life in my own soul. I really am a Christmas-holic — ask any of my siblings. It’s sensory (lights, sounds, sweets) and its spiritual. However, I avoid malls at almost all cost — I grit my teeth and do all my Christmas shopping on line one one Saturday morning.

  12. Emily, I love this post. I’m definitely in the camp with Jessawhy and Deborah. I love Christmas, particularly the music. I try to hold off until November to play it just to keep my wife from wanting to strangle me, but in truth, I sneak and play it here and there in April and July too. (By the way, I’m so jealous to hear you–Emily and Jessawhy–are planning to go see the lights at the train park. Is that the one in Scottsdale? My wife and I used to take our boys to see that every year. I miss Arizona!)

    Emily, I love your pictures and your plans for a “good enough” Christmas. This isn’t at all specific to Christmas, but the idea of getting it “good enough” reminds me of something my wife and I always say to each other. She read a book she really liked called “Sink Reflections” in which the author emphasized that “housework done incorrectly still blesses your family.” Anyway, now my wife and I always say variations on this to each other when we’re trying to make the point that we’re trying for a “good enough” solution because a perfect one isn’t likely to happen. So your Christmas done less than perfectly still blesses your family (I would guess).

    I tend to be a perfectionist, so seeking for good enough solutions and not necessarily perfect ones is something I always struggle with. But your post reminds me to be grateful that there are some things where I’ve never been much of a perfectionist. Christmas is one of these. My wife and I have had an artificial tree ever since we were married, for example. (Well, technically, not “an” artificial tree–we’ve had quite a few because we and our boys have been pretty hard on them.) And the idea of crafts for Christmas has never even entered my mind. Does this make me a total slacker, or just a guy? 🙂

    Anyway, sorry to ramble off topic. I hope your Good Enough Christmas is a great one!

  13. I had a law school professor, an older very eccentric but wise fellow, who insisted that ‘anything worth doing was worth doing poorly.” After all, if it is worth doing, he argued, what difference does it make how well you do it?

    One can’t be fabulous at everything.

  14. Deborah, you’re smart to do all the shopping in one day. I tried that, too, but whenever I go to a store (any store), I feel like I need to buy more. I think they’re stuck subliminal messages in the Christmas music.

    Ziff, I think your point is an important one–good enough is important in so many aspects of our lives. Perfection is rare. And, we’re planning a railroad park trip for Tuesday. Think you could make the drive over to join us? 🙂

    Jim, love your professor’s quote. I’ll need to use that–it feels like it would take a lot of pressure off.

  15. I was really stressing about Christmas this year because I hadn’t even thought about it until I finished finals a few days ago. Thank you for this post. After I read it, I decided that I am also going to have “A Good Enough Christmas.” Instead of putting up the big tree, I put up the small two footer, and I’m calling it “good enough” for this year.

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