Several years ago I was at my daughter's Christmas play feeling like last year's holiday dish towel—faded and wrung out. Ten minutes earlier, in a Scrooge-like moment, I'd blown my mommy top. My kids—8, 5 and 3 at the time—had been fighting nonstop. My husband hadn't bought the cookies for the after-party. And then as we neared our destination, my daughter announced that some of her costume was back at home.
I pulled over and demanded in my Big Voice: "Why doesn't this family have any Christmas spirit, dammit?!"
Shocked silence filled the van until my little one whispered, "Mommy said dammit." I breathed deeply and mumbled my usual "Mommy's sorry." The rest of the ride was quiet except for Andy Williams gleefully crooning "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Right, I thought.
When we arrived at the school, a half-costumed Tish snuck backstage while I scooted her teary siblings into the last row. Soon Tish appeared behind a cardboard "inn." A pint-size Mary and Joseph knocked on her door and she explained with great seriousness (and huge talent, I must say), "I'm sorry. There's no room at my inn."
As Tish delivered her line, a slice of light crept into my heart, and with it a revelation: Holy moly. I am the innkeeper. There is no room at my inn because of all the shopping, decorating, outfit planning, parties and church events! I've forgotten the real meaning of Christmas!
Something about joy? Peace? Gratitude? God? There is only frenzy where there should be calm.
My well-intentioned attempt to make things "perfect" was ruining everything. Because if perfect is what we're aiming for, we'll never hit the mark. There will always be a way to do Christmas—and everything else—bigger and better. So we must decide when enough is enough. And the beautiful thing is, once that declaration is made, it naturally becomes time to rest and enjoy.
After many talks throughout the following year, my husband and I decided that the major obstacles to our family's Christmas peace were over-shopping and over- scheduling. That November we sat down with the kids and asked them to create their Christmas lists accordingly: "Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read." Tish immediately exclaimed, "Four presents? That's not enough!" But, yes, we convinced her, it's plenty. The Wise Men brought Jesus only three gifts—and no one heard him complaining.
We explained that Christmas is about gratitude and that sometimes when we get too busy, it's hard to be grateful. We taught them that every time we say yes to something, we are saying no to something else. This holiday we'd say no to most parties, but yes to being together at home, watching TV specials and sipping hot chocolate in our PJs.
It took a little practice as we repeatedly reminded ourselves that enough is enough. We didn't break the budget. We didn't break our backs accepting every invite. We were kinder and more patient with one another.
We carried that mind-set into the next year and the next—until it officially became the Way We Do Christmas. This shift to letting Christmas create itself has meant that December transformed from our family's busiest month to our roomiest. Most important, this mommy barely uses her Big Voice in December, which, the entire family agrees, is a true Christmas miracle.
Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Carry On, Warrior, and founder of the online community Momastery.com.
Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.