Going list-less this Christmas

All the holiday to-dos were taking me away from the thing that would mean the most--time with my family.

"List-less this Christmas"
Gracia Lam
"List-less this Christmas"

THE FIRST THING ON MY LIST “to do, buy, and accomplish” before Christmas: Throw away the list.

It is difficult even to type those words. As every mother knows during this time of year (actually, any time of year), the list is what keeps us on track. It reminds us to pick up juice boxes for our child’s class, call for an oil change, make brownies for the bake sale, schedule haircuts. Without my list, how would I remember the details that keep my family happy and my household running?

Last year during the holidays (which for us begin with Halloween), I found myself overwhelmed with lists. I had a list of presents to buy, a grocery list for parties and baking, a list of daily errands to run. I jotted down when to wrap presents, address cards, bake cookies, decorate the house, iron holiday outfits. I knew something had to be done when I made a list of what lists to look at and when.


This wasn’t what the holidays were supposed to be. I looked longingly at our living room lit by the soft glow of the tree. I wanted time to sit in that room, snuggle with my kids, drink eggnog with my husband, and watch a holiday movie. I couldn’t ever seem to get there. It wasn’t on a list.

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We all know childhood is fleeting. But during the holidays, we realize that with each year, our children outgrow some of that sweet wonder with which they view the season. I worried that, while I was busy checking off items, I was missing the moments with them that make this time magical.

One evening last December I stopped by our church to drop off a gift. While there, I had the chance to talk to our parish priest, and I told him how I felt swallowed by the tasks of the season rather than embraced by the meaning of it.

What he said is a lesson that will stay with me. He told me to think like a child during the holidays. Rather than worrying about what needed to be bought, cooked, baked, and wrapped, instead try to see the season through the eyes of my children.

I thought about this for a long time. In all my list-making, I was zooming past the good stuff: singing carols with my kids, watching them draw pictures of snowmen and reindeer, reading holiday stories together, answering questions about Santa (how does he get into our chimney-less house?). My children were getting it right, and I was doing it wrong.


My son and daughter don’t make lists. They know instinctively what is important to them. They’ll sit every night and look at the ornaments on the tree. They notice all of the holiday lights on all of the houses we pass. On Sundays, they walk up to and ask questions about the life-size manger outside our church.

I realize I can’t live completely list-free. There are things I have to remember, and if writing them down helps, that’s OK. But I also realize that not everything has to be remembered, not everything has to be on a list.

If I don’t buy holiday window gel clings, will Christmas be ruined? If I don’t bake six types of cookies, will my family complain? Let’s hope not. And if I don’t send Christmas cards out this year, will friends think I don’t wish them a happy holiday season? I’m pretty sure they won’t. Fewer lists mean more time to create those meaningful moments we cherish this time of year. So list-free this Christmas? I’m crumpling my paper now.

Kim Lawrence lives and writes in Plympton. Send comments to

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