As we approach the Christmas and New Year season, I have been asking myself this question: What is the best gift we can give our children and ourselves?

Can I be honest? This is the time of the year when the “must-do’s” raise their heads to attack me. We must decorate, must make fall cookies (OK – so we missed that one already!), must make our gingerbread house village, must get Christmas PJ’s, and we must get “perfect” gifts for teachers, family and friends, and attend all events. To top it all, I must make special memories for my children and students, and help others in need as well. Does this feel familiar? How’s your heart rate doing as you read this? Would you like to go on vacation right about now?

After about eight years with children, we were so exhausted with the season from after Thanksgiving to Christmas that we decided that we just had to simplify. We were determined to truly enjoy the journey. What does this look like for a family of six? First we set a limit to the number of gifts each child receives from us (if you have “giving grandparents,” adjust for that factor!). Just start somewhere and reduce it each year! Next, we established the “Secret Sibling” gifting tradition. Each child draws a sibling’s name and they are responsible for secretly encouraging, praying and, finally, gifting that sibling. This may not work for others, but it really helped us to reduce the 12 gifts that we had to “assist” our four children to purchase or make.

You know, it is actually quite challenging to NOT give your child everything they want – in reality, not just in theory. It takes effort to learn to be satisfied with simple. Can I be frank about what I discovered? We are the ones that have set the standards for the expectations, or, we have inadvertently allowed it to be set for us. Then we worry about attitudes of entitlement. It is so hard to say NO to myself for “good” things for others. A wise friend likes to say that “good is often the enemy of best.” How poignantly true… In our concern to do all the “good” things, we miss out on the “best” things.

So what is “best”?

Perhaps “best” is being able to have the time to sit and snuggle with loved ones. Perhaps “best” is letting the children decide which favorite holiday tradition to do as a family, and omitting the others. Perhaps “best” could be forgoing gifts in exchange for adopting a needy family’s wish list. For my piano teacher friends, perhaps “best” is taking a break from contest deadlines and teaching our students holiday lead sheet assignments. Perhaps “best” is taking the time to be fully “present” in the moment.

When I survey the hustle and bustle of the season (and some of it IS fun!), I am reminded that the original setting for the season was a simple one. Think about it… What can get much simpler than a stable? The “reason for the season” was born in simplicity. And where there’s simplicity, there’s a good chance there’s contentment. Simplicity and contentment – such rare and precious gifts.