Six Steps to a Guilt-Free Christmas

December 6, 2016 | 25 comments

In our early years as a family, I transformed our house into a winter wonderland every Christmas.

I set up tiny ceramic villages on fake snow. I baked (and burnt) dozens of cookies, mailed an avalanche of Christmas cards, purchased far too many gifts, and decked the halls to the point of exhaustion.

If the weary world rejoiced on Christmas morning, I was too weary to notice.

It went on like that for years, despite my best intention to make Christ the center of our Christmas.

Then, one year, it seemed like everyone I knew was talking about a simplified Christmas. They were cutting back, to keep the focus rightly on Jesus. 

Suddenly, I felt as if I had been doing Christmas all wrong.

I resolved to make big changes. Most of the decorations stayed in boxes that year. I didn’t send a single card, or bake/burn a single cookie. The whole house felt unusually quiet—too quiet. When Christmas morning arrived, I wasn’t weary. But I felt like I had missed something. And I was right. In my well-intentioned effort to celebrate the “Reason for the Season,” I had excised important pieces of our family’s celebration.

And once again, I felt as if I did Christmas all wrong.

I needed to find balance, and the next year I did. We began to celebrate Christmas in a way that spotlighted the Star of the story, but didn’t cut out the fun parts we all enjoyed.

You might be reading this today thinking that you’re doing Christmas all wrong.

You’re wondering if you’ve over-done it—or under-done it.

Maybe you are the woman who is a decorator at heart. You love to deck the halls, Pinterest-style—but your friends roll their eyes and call you “over-the-top.” You’re left second-guessing your Christmas.

Or, maybe you’re the woman who forgot to bring the juice to the third-grade Christmas party and had to wrap all the family presents in leftover gift bags from the baby shower. Your Christmas lights are always tangled up, and so are your insides.

Come Christmas morning, we can all feel a little bit weary—like we missed it. We believe falsely that “we’ve done it all wrong.”

Friend, lean in close, and listen. Let this Christmas be a new kind of Christmas. Let’s be done with the high expectations and self-accusations. Let’s make a declaration: To live a Guilt-Free, PreApproved Christmas.

Truth is, you have nothing to prove to anyone, because you are already approved in Christ. You are PreApproved! And since this is His birthday, we are free to live out that truth.

Six Steps Toward a Guilt-Free, PreApproved Christmas

 1 – Set one “guiding principle” for your Christmas season. Write it down in one sentence.

Your guiding principle might be as straightforward as this: “I want to celebrate Christ’s birth in ways that honor Him and bring delight to my loved ones.” Or, maybe you suffered great loss this year. Your guiding principle might read like an honest confession: “I just need Jesus to help me survive this holiday without the one I love at our table.” Set your guiding principle, and then let your principle guide you with all of your Christmas decisions. 

2 – Banish the “shoulds.” You now have a guiding principle. That eliminates the pressure of “I should probably bake cookies.” Or, “I should buy one more gift.” All the parts of your Christmas—your Bible reading, your gift lists, your greeting cards, your Griswold-esque decorating techniques—can be viewed through the prism of your guiding principle. If sending out Christmas cards to everyone you know fits under your guiding principle—and doesn’t stress you out—by all means, start stamping envelopes. But if you hear yourself say “I should,” that’s a red flag.

3 – Do what you do with great love. God made you as you are for a reason. We need you. We need your creative gift-wrapping ideas, your ridiculously fun games at the office party, your trumpet in the church’s brass choir, your candle in the sanctuary, your famous fruit cake, and your quiet prayers that no one else hears. Your kids love your Elf on the Shelf shenanigans, and the neighbor lady wouldn’t get that “blessing basket” if it weren’t for you. Listen to the desires of your heart, and hear how they’re guiding you into a celebration that reflects your passions while honoring our Savior.

4 – Banish comparison. Your girlfriends’ Christmas is going to look different from yours. Celebrate the fact that she’s PreApproved, too. That means she might bring a bag of Doritos to the fancy Christmas party. Be cool with it. Or it might mean that her Pinterest-perfect house isn’t an attempt to intimidate you, but an honest effort to celebrate Him.

5 – Banish guilt. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So many women feel guilty for doing too much, or too little. Ask yourself: Am I feeling conviction, or condemnation? There’s a difference. If we carry guilt into our Christmas, we’re forgetting that Christ came to release us from it.

6 –  Remember the Reason. This is Jesus’ party. And Christmas is Jesus, saying His unflinching yes over you—for PreApproved you! No matter how you decorate the mantel, He is always the Life of the party. And He has come to give life to all the people at the party.

Look now. See how the Life of the party holds out this gift: Himself.

And the gift tag? It has your name on it.

 “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” ~ Isaiah 49:16

If you liked this post, you’ll love Jennifer’s book, Love Idol.

This post features Dayspring’s Letterpress Blocks. (affiliate links)


Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there!

Our featured writer this week is Joanne Viola. She shares a simple but moving conversation she had with her granddaughter as they colored Christmas ornaments, reminding each of us that “God is with us in our messes.”  Find Joanne here.

To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. xo Jennifer

by | December 6, 2016 | 25 comments


  1. Susan

    Jennifer, thank you for this wonderful post. It’s exactly what I need to hear today! I’m always so happy when I see your name in my inbox! Susan

    • dukeslee

      Hey there, Susan! So glad this post blessed you! xo

  2. karen

    I love #3 in particular. I lead a small group of women and just sent out an email freeing them to BRING gifts to share if that was what they love, but there was NO obligation. Those of us NOT bringing would receive any gifts with NO guilt! 🙂

    • dukeslee

      I love that Karen – how you gave others’ permission to do what we’re suggesting here — to keep the focus on true joy, and let go of the guilt.

  3. Michele Morin

    I’m thankful that the celebration of Christmas can look different in every home and still be JUST RIGHT for that family. No need for guilt, or for comparison — just joy!

    • dukeslee

      Agreed! Thanks for being here, Michele. May your Christmas be joy-filled and guilt-free.

  4. Tiffany

    I’m in the midst of simplifying Christmas. I won’t do nothing, I just want to do the right somethings – the somethings that I truly love and that make Christmas sweet, not crazy! Love the confirmation to shut out guilt and embrace the heart of all that makes Christmas beautiful.

    • dukeslee

      I like that. “I just want to do the right somethings.” Me, too!

  5. Mary

    You described exactly what I am trying to do. I lived through many years of craziness and am working toward intentionally slowing down to focus on what is important-Jesus. Thank you for this beautiful reminder today.

    • dukeslee

      May “what matters most” rise to the top, and may we both have peace in letting go of the rest.

  6. Anita

    These are awesome, Jennifer! I love the first step :). Something to discuss with my husband over supper tonight!

    • dukeslee

      So glad these steps were helpful to you, Anita! xo

  7. Meghan Weyerbacher

    What a great list, Jennifer! I did this same back and forth scenario too. This is the first year I have found the balance…keeping it simple but keeping traditions, having fun but finding focus. Amen to all of this and loooove the graphic!

    • dukeslee

      So glad you found a good balance! I actually put out more decorations than usual this year, but only because the girls wanted to put up my old ceramic “Dickens Village.” I haven’t put it out for years, but they so enjoyed it — and their joy was contagious.

  8. Susan

    I am so giddy-happy to see Joanne Viola as your featured writer today – love that New England lady!! And, Jennifer I adore the list and suggestions and ideas. Excellent – we have to find our own personal balance and in that balance comes peace from the Peacemaker Himself. Perfect post. xo

    • dukeslee

      I love Joanne, too. She’s such a blessing.

      Thanks for your kind words, Susan, and for the share on Twitter. 🙂

  9. Rebecca

    I love the permission given to find the way to celebrate Christmas that works for you. No single list of task type do’s and don’ts will work for everyone. I love finding something so full of grace!

    • dukeslee

      As I mentioned, I’ve lived on the two extremes — overdoing and under-doing. I think I’ve found a good balance. I also learned that I am a big fan of online shopping!

  10. JViola79

    Good Morning Jennifer,
    What a surprise to come here this morning and and find you featured my post, as I’m the one who links a day late 🙂 Thank you so much for blessing me in this way! It was such a special time with Jocelyn – a day I will not soon forget.
    I have been so blessed in reading Kris Camealy’s Come Lord Jesus Advent devotional this year. It is bringing an intentional focus on that which is most important – simply Jesus.
    May you and yours have a most blessed Christmas! xo

    • dukeslee

      it was a pleasure to feature you. 🙂

      I, too, have been reading “Come Lord Jesus.” So good!

  11. Julie Loos

    Thank you for this! I woke up this morning with a long Christmas to-do list. I was grumbling to myself about baking cookies so I can bless the mailman and newspaper guy. I really don’t like baking and with a toddler it frustrates me how handsy he is. Maybe this season means buying something instead for them.
    I like giving myself permission in order to focus on what truly matters!
    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    • dukeslee

      Buying a little something sounds like a TERRIFIC plan, Julie! May you let go of what matters least, and hold on to what matters most.

  12. Laura Hicks

    What a great list! Thanks for sharing it Jennifer. I’m so grateful we’re pre-approved. Blessings to you!

  13. Joy Lenton

    Wow, how freeing this is – I think I need every one of your six steps! Although a “normal” Christmas has been beyond me for years due to being housebound with severe chronic illness, I still run myself ragged with online shopping, fret over just how many gifts I can wrap or cards I can write with painful, arthritis hands and forget to do it all with love, freedom, deliberation and prayerful intent. It’s all too easy to get trapped by consumerism and comparison, and lose our way in what promises to be a joyful season. I’m going to take this to heart and aim to implement further changes for the better in the year ahead. Thank you, Jennifer! You’ve given us tremendous encouragement and inspiration here. 🙂 x

  14. Nancy Ruegg

    “A guiding principle for Christmas? What a freeing, peace-making, joy-inducing idea!” I thought as I began to reading your post. But an idea for a statement didn’t readily occur to me until I got to #3 on your list. There it was: “Listen to the desires of your heart, and hear how they’re guiding you into a celebration that reflects your passions while honoring your Savior.” I know God will shape my desires and guide my celebration if I just ask. I’m writing your/my guiding principle on Christmasy card stock, to keep here in my office nook. Thank you, Jennifer!



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