Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

And the most stressful.

And the most beautiful.

And the most exhausting.

I experience all the feelings at Christmas time. There are so just many traditions to maintain. Santa Claus. Elf on the Shelf. Christmas baking. Live nativities. Light displays. Christmas cards. Advent calendars. Christmas caroling.

There are so many beautiful traditions, it’s exhausting.

By mid-December, the Advent calendar chocolates have somehow all been eaten, Holly the Elf is hibernating on her shelf, the presents still haven’t been wrapped (or bought), and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m in over my head. The truth? If you have to ask if you’re doing too much, you most likely are.

When my oldest was still a toddler (and therefore had no sense of traditions maintained from year to year), my husband and I decided to simplify Christmas. We also wanted to make it a bit more Christ-oriented. Now don’t get me wrong, we still have Holly the Elf, but she doesn’t leave her shelf (when she’s not in the toy bin). We still have our chocolate Advent calendar (because chocolate, duh). We still do the light shows, and decorate our house Thanksgiving weekend, and bake lots of cookies. Christmas is still the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s been made even more wonderful by the fact that I’m not overwhelmed by the sheer number of social commitments to attend, tasks to complete, and presents to buy and wrap.

Our kids only get three presents from Santa Claus. That’s right, three gifts.

That’s twelve between the four of us (because Mama and Daddy like presents too). It’s enough gifts under the tree (including the gifts for extended family) to make for a picturesque Christmas morning, but our floor doesn’t look like a wrapping paper factory exploded in our living room when we’ve finished opening our presents. Our kids believe that Santa brings three gifts for everyone, just like Jesus received three gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—from the Magi on that first Christmas. If the Son of God only received three gifts on His birthday, it only seems appropriate that our children receive the same number of presents from St. Nicholas on Christmas (as a side note, if you’re looking to simplify birthdays, the three-gift rule can apply there, too). Each of our kids receives a stocking filled with small gifts from us, but the presents under the tree all come from Santa—all three of them.

And do you know what the best part is? It’s not the limited amount of wrapping (I hate wrapping). It’s not the money that we save on toys that will inevitably end up in the trash, stashed in a closet, or in the Goodwill box. It’s not the easy cleanup Christmas morning. It’s not even the extra time I have because I’m not spending hours wrapping gifts.

The best part is seeing our kids’ faces in the morning when they first come into the living room.

It’s the light in their eyes when they see the tree (and what’s under it). It’s the joy in their voices when they open their gifts and excitedly tell us what Santa brought them. And it’s the fact that after the gifts are opened, we still have an entire day dedicated to celebrating Christmas as a family—beginning with cinnamon buns in the morning and ending with Christmas cookies and birthday cake for Jesus for dessert (because obviously food is a big deal in our family).

When we made the decision to create a simple, Biblical Christmas for our family, we didn’t realize just how impactful it would be. We are happier, less stressed, and more engaged—with each other and with the true reason for the season, as they say.

So if you’re feeling a little (or very) overwhelmed this holiday season, consider making this a Christmas unlike any other. Create a simple, Biblical Christmas that your family will remember forever. And if it doesn’t work out? Just tell your kids that global pandemics stress Santa out, too.

PS – Did you hear? The Star of Bethlehem will light up the Christmas sky this year for the first time in 800 years! Here’s how to see it.

Shannon Whitmore

Shannon Whitmore currently lives in northwestern Virginia with her husband, Andrew, and their two children, John and Felicity. When she is not caring for her children, Shannon enjoys writing for her blog, Love in the Little Things, reading fiction, and freelance writing on topics such as marriage, family life, faith, and health. She has experience serving in the areas of youth ministry, religious education, sacramental preparation, and marriage enrichment.