Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Cozy Christmas Cautionary Tale

Calvin keeps asking me if I'm going to cry this year if the Christmas tree falls down. Parents of adorable little boys who still cuddle on your lap and ask if they can marry you, one day they will be 8th graders, adept at picking the scabs of your shakiest pitfalls and generally keeping you humble.

(They'll also get stinkier and much more clever. They'll shock you with the clarity through which they see the world, sniffing out injustice through a deluge of memes you won't find funny. They might even email you Youtube videos about North Korea in the middle of the school day. Subject: wow. It's all pretty amazing, honestly, even if it is entirely beside the point of this blog post.)

So, back to the tree.

Last year we switched to a small, table-top tree. Short story long, our house has remarkably little space, which is something that only became clear as our humans kept getting bigger. For years we had crammed the tree in wherever we could find space. We eventually made the tree skinnier. And then we made it shorter.

Part of me believed I had finally arrived at some previously foreign place of spiritual maturity. Look at how good I am at Christmas priorities! Look at how I've grown!

And then it all came crashing down.


The tree was knocked from its perch and I from my internal high horse. My beloved vintage ornaments, sourced over the years from Ebay and thrift stores were shattered. I watched it happen from the kitchen and I busted out crying.

I couldn't stop.

I cried while I swept up the mess. The kiddo who had accidentally knocked it over ran upstairs sobbing. We were a hot mess on a cold night, with enough shame to go around. I was sad for what I'd lost and even for what I thought I deserved. I was sick over who I was revealing myself to be.

More than anything, the whole scene was a reality check for me that I'm still human. The moment we think we have arrived at any place of moral authority, everyday life waits to knock us to the floor and shatter our pride. This should come as no surprise. In fact, it's all the more reason to celebrate the humble arrival of God, who shook the world and brought kings to their knees when he showed up as a baby waiting to be worshiped.

We know Christmas really, truly is not about the tree. Have a big tree. A small tree. A wonky tree. A lavish tree. Don't have a tree at all. Decorate it by theme because it brings you joy. Let the kids clump all of their handmade ornaments right up front because you have a healthier view of control than I do. Do your Christmas thing, party people. Do what brings you a bit of freedom.

After years of going all out in various, sometimes perplexing, often complicated ways, this year I found myself craving breathing room. With a wreath around its neck, so to speak.

I had recently devoured Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith  and thoroughly enjoyed it. (It's a BEAUTIFUL book and it's only $13 on Amazon right now. It's also available in Target stores! No one asked me to say this, I just think you'll love it as much as I did)

The book is a gentle invitation to clear away the clutter, so that's what I did.

Here's my 2018 Christmas home.

Changing out the mugs on my rack is my favorite rhythm for changing with the seasons. This is my personal extravagance, fueled by trips to the thrift store, and I'm not sorry. (Cory recently opened a drawer and went pale. "Did you know this is full of mugs?" Um....yes?)

So, the tree. It's a little larger than last year's adorable live mini tree because I waited too long and Kroger had already sold out. We're back to an artificial tree because I apparently am not hipster enough to sustain live pine two years in a row. We put this bad boy up last Saturday, December 8th. Then we realized we didn't have the right lights, so we decorated it on the 9th. And by "we" I mean I decorated it while most of the family was gone and while Silas and his pal Palyn were busy chipping ice off the curb of our street then hauling it upstairs to the bathtub where they mixed it with blue paint. The incident is still under investigation.

My point in telling you this is: 1) We don't have to let ourselves feel rushed by an invisible timeline for How to be Festive. And 2) You, like I, might hold some rosy ideals about decorating the tree with your family, but maybe your kids aren't actually that into and it's worth it to just get it done youself so that you can skip ahead to the glowy, twinkly, happy vibe it lends.

Cory took that photo a couple of winters ago on his way to the jail. Isn't it beautiful?

Me decorating the tree: 
I'm going to organize the ornaments in rainbow order again, like last year!

Wait, do I remember rainbow order?

Of course you do, Shannan. Everyone remembers ROY-G-BIV.

Pro Tip: Start with yellow at the top because you don't have very many yellow ornaments. 

(Stares at tree with yellow bulbs for far too long, thinking very hard about what color comes next.)


The thrill of hopppppppe!

Magic in the middle.
This is how Christmas always arrives.

I strung some snowflakes through the chandelier for the first time. I've never kept things so simple at Christmas and I'm loving it.

Moo-ey Christmas!
(I hate myself.)

But really, that's it.
I didn't buy anything. It's not perfect. It won't win any design awards.

But it feels like us. It feels like candles and sweatpants and salsa at ten pm. It feels like dinner when the sky is already black and piling under blankets while we watch TV. It feels like those dramatic women singing White Christmas on the radio. It feels like sugar in our teeth. It feels like love and hope, the sadness that shows up without regard for the season, it feels like chasing our breath as we walk down the street to church and following it back home.

It's December 13th and it's easy to feel frantic. To do my tiny part in quieting the noise, I'm offering my free 12 Ways of Christmas series again. It's not a Bible or Advent study, but we'll talk about Jesus quite a bit, why he came for us, and what that means for our ordinary lives. It's light on bossiness and heavy on practical ways to live a truer, more meaningful, simplified Christmas season.

Sign up here if you want to choose peace over pressure and hope over hustle. 

And since I never got around to showing you what I did to recognize Fall in our home, I'm going to share a few photos of that, too.

You'll see that I kept that more simple than usual, too. (Thanks, Nester!) And that not much changed from November to December. I took my time. I left plenty of white space. I'm in love.

Pillows: Target

I was horrified with myself for dropping $30 each for two of those black and white pillows but guess what? Our couch is comfortable to relax on again! I'm happy about them every single day. Gold pillow was on clearance.

Wood "gather" artwork from Joyfully Said Signs.
I grabbed it from storage in the basement and looped the letters over two nails that were already sticking out of the wall from some past decorating escapade.

Forget the layers of artwork and tchotchkes stuff. I found this strand of ginkgo leaves I had pressed with Silas back when he was in pre-school. Oh, the flood of memories! Oh, the pinching of my heart! Yada yada, up they went.

(I forgot to snap a photo of the TV cupboard in December. Spoiler alert: One pine cone wreath and a little felted deer found at the thrift store last year for $0.50.)

(Thank you, @goodandlovely! This was the perfect cozy, calm touch heading into cooler months.)

I dragged this inside from the back patio and it doesn't look this beautiful one month later, but I'm not giving up!)

Happy December, friends.



  1. This post!! I've always loved your style of writing Shannan--and this post is no exception. It feels familiar to me like what you've written about is secretly inside each of us and all we need to do to get to it is throw away the pretense, the "supposed"time frames, the perfectly curated images in our mind, and just look at the every day ordinary beauty in each unstaged moment. I love this post--thank you! BTW, your fall and Christmas decorations are lovely, I especially love your coffee mugs.

  2. Gurrrrl.......we live in Indiana......moooey Christmas is a given!!! My daughter tagged me in a FB post that basically said anytime we're in the car and see cows, we HAVE to say, "COW!"

  3. I love this post! I have simplified Christmas over the past few years and enjoy the season so much more now. And I want to move into your house and drink from all the mugs.

  4. I have that same ceramic cow head!

  5. I love this post!!! So calming at this crazy time of year. Feels so homey. Love the mug idea!

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  7. I like it. So simple yet cozy and "home-y". But, for the love, does your clock not work or just need new batteries?! Haha

  8. Dearest Shannan,
    I love your writing. Filled with honesty and spirit. And the best part is knowing that you focus on Christ.

    We are very familiar with Goshen, IN. We camped for a month at the 4H Fairgrounds. We are full time RVers. Our coach/home was built on Middlebury. We love the area, especially the culture and Fidler Pond Park.

    A blessed Christmas to you and your family.

  9. Shannan, thank you for sharing this. In my social circle this holiday season, I have noticed a significant simplification of decor & a lessening of the pressure to do all thing holiday all of the time. I find it interesting that many of us have arrived here together through our individual journeys and have arrived at similar conclusions. Is it our age (not to be named, of course LOL), is our times (too much outside chaos, must keep it away!), is it all of us returning to the true spirit of the simplicity of not the circumstances of Christ's birth but the simplicity of the where he was born (a cave or a stable? either not decorated with more than God's love, right)?
    Again, thank you for sharing your journey. Thank you for the beauty in your writing and for helping us to be humans with faith.

  10. Shannan! I've wrestled so often with Christmas stuff because I want it ALL, especially when it comes to decorating and making things in my home be beautiful and meaningful. Last year I told myself hat I wasn't allowed to do any of it because it was too much for me. At the end of the season, I felt like I had robbed myself of what actually brings me the greatest joy and the greatest expression of what Christmas means to me. So this year - I let myself do some of the stuff and it was simpler and equally beautiful and I found my happy place in knowing that my heart longs to creatively express my joy, even if only for my eyes, my heart. Do what makes you happy - the best advice! Merry Christmas!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing pictures of your home and where you purchased these items! I even purchased a sign from joyfullysaidsigns. This is good stuff!

  12. Are you on twitter? I have a hard time keeping up with blogs, but would love to follow you there.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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