Do you have a love/hate relationship with the entire holiday season? Like many moms, by Christmas Eve, I’ve been exhausted, stressed out and looking forward to it being OVER! Thankfully, I’ve discovered that less really can be more.

Let’s simplify Christmas!

3 Traditions for a Simplified Christmas

[Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links–if you purchase books using our links, we thank you for supporting Protect Young Minds!]

Christmas Essentialism!

Recently I read the New York Times bestseller Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. The author flies all over the world consulting with CEO’s to help them increase their effectiveness by…wait for it…doing less!

McKeown’s mantra goes something like this: Figure out what really makes a difference, what one thing you can do that will be your biggest contribution, and start saying NO to everything else. This discipline will help you make a mile of progress on one project instead of a millimeter of progress on 10 (or 100!) projects.

I think this makes perfect sense when it comes to Christmas. What will your kids remember about the holidays in 10 years? In 20 years? If you focus on creating just a few meaningful traditions,your kids will have awesome memories to build upon for a lifetime.

Pick ONE: Family Fun Traditions

Here are a few ideas from families I know. Remember, no one needs to do all of these. Focus on coming up with ONE idea that is manageable and brings joy to your unique family.

  • Gingerbread Houses: In our family, we continued my husband’s tradition of building edible, somewhat elaborate gingerbread houses with our kids. We often invited friends and neighbors to join us for a party!
  • Hotel Escape: Some families love going to a hotel a few days before or after Christmas to spend time playing board games, swimming in the pool and relaxing together with no distractions (and no extra cooking or cleaning!).
  • Indoor Tent Staycation: If a hotel isn’t in the budget this year, why not set up a “Magi Tent” sometime during the holidays? Read your kids the story and let them sleep overnight in the tent. Maybe even do a treasure hunt with maps (and a star!) to help them find Bethlehem. One mom does a Wise Men on the Shelf idea for the 12 Days of Christmas. Each day the kids find the wise men hidden with a Bible verse to read as a family and a small gift for the kids.
  • Musical Comedy Hour: Another family enjoys a silly Christmas music night where everyone participates with their musical instrument of choice.

It doesn’t really matter what you do if your kids have fun and you spend quality family time together.


Claudine’s kids (and exchange student, Mitul, from Bangladesh) at Build a Bear

Pick ONE: Family Service Traditions

Just a few suggestions for serving others during the holidays. Again, focus on ONE idea. Remember, the original story of Christmas is quite simple.

  • Baking: Our family makes special Yuletide Danish Pastry wreaths to bring around to friends who need cheering up. (See the recipe below!)
  • Secret Santa: Another family adopted a recently divorced mom and did “12 Days of Secret Santa”  and let her kids put the small gifts on their doorstep and play “Ding-dong doorbell ditch”!
  • Build a Bear: Claudine of Protect Young Minds took her kids to a Build a Bear store every year and let them make bears for donating to foster children.
  • Church service: Does your church put on a special performance or organize caroling events? Does it host toy drives for the community or feed the homeless?
  • One mom combines fun and service into “12 Days of Christmas Activities” (instead of 12 days of gifts). She makes up rhyming clues for each day’s activities that start with “On the first (second, third etc.) day of Christmas” and her kids have fun figuring out what they’ll be doing that day. Activities include decorating gingerbread houses, driving around to see the Christmas lights, watching a special movie, delivering treats to neighbors, or caroling at a senior care center. (Note: if you’re already overwhelmed, skip the 12 Days idea! I tried this a few years, but  it was a little too stressful for me!)

Including a service tradition is a great way to teach kids that giving is as good, or better, than receiving!

Note: JustServe is a website created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to connect community volunteers with local service opportunities. Anyone can sign up and find out what’s happening in your town. You can find more videos about JustServe on YouTube and see how many towns are adopting and using this great resource.

Try a New Book Tradition

[Note: The books listed below use affiliate links.]

Every year I like to give my kids a good book to read. It can be centered on the holidays or it doesn’t have to be. I read to my kids every night for years and years! We read the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of Little House books, Tolkein’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, besides dozens and dozens of picture books. One of our favorite Christmas books was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–so funny!

GPBPCoverImage_noCastShade_LOWRESHas your family benefited from the bestselling read-aloud book Good Pictures Bad Pictures? Then consider giving it as a gift to other families you care about! With your help, more parents will be able empower their kids to reject pornography.

“It’s like the perfect answer to an anxiety-filled question: ‘How do I talk to my children about this without just making them more curious?!'” Amazon Reviewer, Daria

Here are 10 beloved read-aloud book recommendations from my family to yours:

[Note: The following are all affiliate links. If you purchase books using our links, we thank you for supporting Protect Young Minds!]

  1. What Do You Do With An Idea? By Kobi Yamada
  2. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
  3. All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan
  4. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
  5. The Moon Jumpers by Janice May Udry
  6. Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
  7. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
  8. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  9. Dandelion by Don Freeman
  10. The Napping House by Audrey Wood

There! Pick three essential holiday traditions–Fun, Service and a Book–and start saying NO to excess! You’ll be happier, less stressed, and your kids will be, too!

Jenson Family Yuletide Danish Pastry

Our family’s traditional Christmas morning breakfast! We also give these as gifts! Each recipe makes 4 large pastries. (Btw, it’s not as complicated as it looks!)



  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cup milk, warmed
  • 2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 cups flour

Cream filling

  • 1 cp. milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp flour

Almond Filling

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup oats
  • 2 tsp almond extract

 Streusel Topping

  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter

 Almond Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp almond extract


Place first set of ingredients in large mixing bowl. Mix only till well blended. Cover and let rise till double. In the meantime, make Cream Filling, Almond Filling, Streusel Topping, and Almond Icing.

  • Cream Filling: Heat milk in saucepan. Mix egg yolk into dry ingredients. Add a little warm milk and stir. Then mix with heated milk and stir and cook till thick. Cover with plastic wrap and cool.
  • Almond Filling:  Mix all ingredients with fork till well blended.
  • Streusel Topping: Using a pastry knife, cut in flour and sugar with butter until pebbly.
  • Almond Icing:  Mix all ingredients with fork until smooth.


After dough has doubled in size, punch down. Divide dough into four equal parts. On lightly floured board, roll out each part into a rectangle (about 10″ by 14″). Spread ¼ Cream Filling on each; then sprinkle ¼ Almond Filling on each. Roll up jelly-roll fashion starting at the long side. You’ll end up with a 14″ “snake.” Pinch the seams to close them and turn so that the seams are on the bottom. Cut about 10 slashes through top with sharp knife. Place each roll on greased cookie sheet; then shape into wreath shape (pinch ends together) or candy cane shape. Sprinkle with Streusel Topping. Let rise in a warm place till double in bulk. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Drizzle with Almond Icing and sprinkle with slivered or sliced almonds. Garnish with Maraschino cherries that have been cut in half and drained. (Make sure you put them on before the icing hardens and dries or they won’t stick.)

By the way, this pastry is best served warmed up–a few seconds in the microwave does the trick!

Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.