7 Real Talk Holiday Reminders For All Of Us

These holiday tips will help you navigate the holidays with intentional and grace. If you're hoping for a stress-free holiday season or a more minimalist Christmas, click through for helpful, sane holiday tips.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

It’s time for thematic sweaters, egg nog, and the joy of finally giving that perfect gift you’ve had tucked away for three months!

It’s also time for holiday card-triggered feelings of inadequacy, credit card debt, and never-ending sugar crashes.

s we head deeper into the holiday season, I wanted remind all of us (myself very much included) of these seven holiday truths.

7 Real Talk Holiday Reminders For All Of Us

Holiday letters + cards are a highlight reel, not a reflection of daily life

If we sent out a holiday letter that reflected daily life at the Von Blumenfeld* house, it would detail

  • How I assembled a passable lunch out of produce that was about to go bad YET AGAIN
  • The thrills of trying to get our dog to poop outside in the winter
  • How I can’t keep a houseplant alive in one specific corner of the living room
  • Who’s using the car on Wednesday did you put that in the shared Google calendar well I didn’t get the notification and I have plans

Intellectually, we all know that those glossy, professional photos and travel-filled holiday letters highlight the best parts of our friends’ year. We’re not laboring under the impression that our friends and their kids always wear color-coordinated sweaters and spend all their time on vacation.

But if our lives don’t include expensive vacations or people with whom to coordinate sweaters, it can feel like a slap in the face. When confronted with a deluge of impressive lives via holiday card, I find it helpful to remind myself of this quote:
Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes footage to someone else’s highlight reel. Click To Tweet

You don’t have to go to every holiday party you’re invited to

When we fill our calendars with things we’re lukewarm about, we’re doing a disservice to the things we’re really excited about. Save your time and energy for the good stuff!

If I go to three holiday parties I’m dreading, I won’t be in a very good mood when I arrive at my friend’s amazing Sparkling Wine And Giant Charcuterie Board party.

I think this is particularly important for introverts. Save your socializing powers for the stuff that matters!

If you feel bad about not missing your friend’s party, invite them out for some one-on-one time in early January. Everybody’s social calendar empties out then and you’ll enjoy your time together a lot more.

You don’t have to eat or make all the holidays foods if you don’t want to

I don’t have a sweet tooth; I have a cheese tooth. For years, I’d politely nibble Christmas cookies out of some weird sense of social and holiday obligation. I’d bake piles of sweet treats because …. that’s what you do in December?

Why? There are no Holiday Police. No one’s going to arrest me for standing next to the cheese plate instead of the cookie plate at the party.

Now, I go to one cookie exchange party and I contribute these. I come home with tons of cookies for my family and I make myself an extra batch of fancy crackers. Win/win!

Also, if you don’t actually like That Old Family Recipe, you don’t have to make it. LUTEFISK I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU. There are tons of ways to connect to your family and heritage without cooking or eating something you don’t really like!

Swap out your art prints for old family holiday photos! Call your grandma as ask her about the holidays when you mom was a kid! Find a cultural celebration that honors your heritage and attend that! Here in the Twin Cities, The American Swedish Institute has lots of cool winter events.

Just because someone gives you a wish list, doesn’t mean you have to buy something from it

If your cousin’s wish list begins with “Donation to political organization you don’t agree with” and ends with “Offensive t-shirt” – you don’t have to buy those.

If your niece wants A Poorly Made Toy Manufactured In China By Child Labor Wrapped In Styrofoam, you don’t have to buy that.

I’m not suggesting you actively ignore the wish lists of the people you love. We shouldn’t use the holidays as an opportunity to push our views on others or give them the gifts we wish they wanted. That’s a dick move.

However! There a tons of gifts that won’t force you to spend money in a way that runs counter to your values. Here are 11 lovely, personal gift ideas that will make pretty much everyone happier.

Also: if your cousin really wants that offensive t-shirt, he can buy it himself.

Holidays can be rough for a lot of people. When in doubt, reach out and be extra kind

It’s never easy to be broke, unemployed, unhappily single, or unhappily childless. It’s always hard to struggle with health or family issues.

It’s even harder to struggle with these things during the holidays. It’s cold, it’s dark, and everywhere we look, we see happy families and people spending tons of money.

If there’s someone in your life who’s going through a rough patch, this is a time when it would be so, so lovely to reach out to them.

Invite them to do something one on one. Schedule a Skype call! Find an activity that’s in their price range or ability set. Do something that gets them out of the everybody-is-half-of-a-couple-or-has-kids space, like making cookies at your house or going snowshoeing.

Also: if someone’s a bit grumpier than usual, don’t take it personally. It’s a tough, busy time of year and most of us could do with a nap.  

Many people would prefer to buy fewer gifts or spend less, but they’re afraid to start that conversation. You can start it!

When I asked my Money & Happy Facebook group what they struggled with during the holidays, there was a collective groan of “Too many gifts! Spending too much money!”

I don’t think anyone enters the holiday season thinking “I’d like to spend more money, please!” But most people are afraid to broach the topic of scaling back or spending less. They’re afraid they’ll look cheap or bah humbuggy.

I bet the vast majority of people you exchange gifts with would be open to/thrilled by the idea of doing things differently.

In a perfect world, you’d have this conversation in September. But it might not be too late!

Most people don’t want to give up gift-giving all together. Here are a few other options:

  • Family member Secret Santa (so you give ONE gift to ONE relative, not fifteen $20 gifts to fifteen people)
  • Setting a price limit
  • Choosing a theme (Consumables! Something to read! Something made by a local company!)
  • Giving a gift to the whole family (Board games! DVDs!)
  • Setting an age limit (no more holiday gifts after the age of ____)
  • Handmade gifts only

Your first attempt at slowing the gift avalanche might not work. Don’t give up! Try again next year with a new angle.

Ultimately, the holidays are exactly what we make them. The person who makes your holiday season awesome is you. How great is that?!

But I want to hear from you! How do you navigate the holidays in a way that works for you? Share your best holiday tips in the comments so we can learn from you!

* No, neither of us changed our last names, but this is the portmanteau we put on our return address labels 🙂

P.S. 23 life-improving gifts you should just buy for your damn self

Photo by Mira on Unsplash


Darcy Coulter

We have a group of 6 friends that all agree not to buy each other any gifts for the holidays. Instead, we all pick a nice restaurant and have a great meal once our schedules calm down in January. When the bill comes, we each just throw in a credit card and split it evenly. It works great because we all get what we actually want (time together) and even if we pick a really nice place and drop $100+ each, it’s still probably about the same price as buying 5 thoughtful gifts, if not less.

Laura Rezko

I’m glad you have that reminder about the holiday food. My household usually fills a very large candy bowl with various treats. The candy is great- but it’s not my favourite holiday treat, and it’s just a little too much on top of everything else. The last few years I’ve felt obligated to eat it, but I think I’ve got everyone convinced to not go with it this year. A small part of me is like, “Nooooo”, because I lovvvvvvve our holiday traditions- but I’ll be fine!

Sarah Von Bargen

Yes! I know I find myself mindlessly snacking on those red and gold wrapped mini candy bars, but I don’t even really like milk chocolate!


Hi Sarah, an unrelated request/idea for a future post: how to determine if having kids is right for you/not right for you. You always have great interviews and also personal insights, and I’d love to hear how other women navigate this big life decision.

Sarah Von Bargen

Oooof. That’s a big question, right? I’ll see if I can find anyone! FWIW, my approach is: If you’re not 100% sure you want to do it, why put yourself through the stress and expense of doing something you’re not 100% sure you want? There are soooo many ways to include children in your life without having one yourself! Be a great aunt or uncle! Mentor! Marry someone who has partial custody!

This article is good food for thought.

Carolyn Whitaker

Thanks to your post, I have just given myself permission to not bake anything this season unless I really, really want to. I’m a teacher and my husband is a music director for a large organization, so we will receive probably more candy/baked goods/gifts than we can actually consume for the holidays anyway. Less time in the kitchen means more time reading/playing with my kids/napping/petting my cat/staring at the wall, and that sounds awesome to me!


Thank you for the reminder. Also, our needs change from year to year so just because you pass on something that’s not working for you this year doesn’t mean you can’t do it next year. Normally I’m all about putting out all the decorations and baking a buttload of Grandma’s cookies, but this year I’m just burnt-the-fudge-out. The only days in December there isn’t *something* on my schedule are Christmas Day and New Years Eve so I’ve put out minimal decorations, am skipping the cookies, and saying no to any non-work related parties. It’s supposed to be a HOLIDAY. Next year I might want to do-it-up, but I’d like this Christmas to be a restful one.


Oi! Did I miss the cookie link?!
Also, lutefisk. Gah. Just…what? I remember walking into my Grandma’s at about seven years old and just being SHOCKED by the smell in her house. And then…the eating…and then…the sitting in front of the bowl while it got cold…trying to reconcile the horrors in front of me with my wonderfully loving cookies and cream and roses sweet Grandma.


After being a longtime lurker of a reader, I can’t believe my first comment is about something so small – I LOVE ALL OF YOUR STUFF FOREVER AND EVER AWOMEN – but here we are–

I also have a “von” last name, also did not change my name upon marriage, and ALSO put a “von + the Hubs’ last name” portmanteau on our return address labels/etc. So I am DELIGHTED AS ALL GET OUT that you did the same.

Like, I don’t necessarily NEED validation for my apparently-still-controversial decision to keep my (von AWESOME) last name, but it’s really, really nice to see it out and about in the world all the same. So thank you.

Sarah Von Bargen

Ohhh! I love it! Whenever I meet a fellow ‘Von’ we discuss:
1. Do you capitalize the V or not?
2. Do you spell your last name as two words?
3. Are people constantly mis-filing your paperwork, thinking Von is your middle name, or mashing your two-word last name into one word?

Half of my bills and official documents are misspelled!


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