I don’t remember exactly when it started. Sadly, I suspect I may have rolled my eyes a bit the first time someone pulled out a box and started to pour the cardboard pieces on the recently cleared dining room table.

Putting together a puzzle? Really? THIS is how we’re going to spend our Christmas?

Really. Over the past few years, my cousins, siblings, and I have started a new holiday tradition. It’s nothing fancy, it doesn’t involve instructions or ingredients, and because it’s so low-key and “un-photo-worthy,” it’s yet to be documented in any of our scrapbooks. After we eat dinner, exchange presents, and clean up the mess from both events, we sit down at the table and put together a puzzle.

As much as I love Pinterest and bucket lists and craft projects, I’m weary from the holiday hoopla this year. Based on the many posts I’ve read expressing the same sentiment, the same urgency to relax, do less, be present, RELAX – I know I’m not alone.

The irony is almost too much, honestly. We’ve taken something like holiday traditions – those things that we’ve savored over the years, the experiences that have meant so much to us, the small, quiet moments and big, splashy ones that each have personal meaning – and turned them into tasks to check off and brag about in the name of sharing ideas.

And I’m certainly no different! When I did a quick search on Pinterest for “holiday traditions,” I was both thrilled and chagrined to see one of my own posts come up alongside 101 Ways to Pose Your Elf, Fabulous New Ways to Decorate Your Buffet with Pine Cones, How Many Traditions is Too Many?, and The 28 Traditions You Absolutely Must Keep in Order to Have a Decent Holiday Season.

And the truth is though I’ve written about traditions my family has shared for years and new ones I’d like to start, as well as how to resist the siren call of season busyness, I still struggle with balancing all that advice.

Christmas perspective

How can we keep the traditions that are important, allow room for new ideas, and still keep our focus on what truly matters after the cookies have all been eaten and the lights have been taken down?

You already knew this, but the key to all of this is by keeping our traditions simple.

  • Like to bake cookies? Great! No need to break the bank by buying sprinkles for 12 different kinds of treats. Stick to one or two favorite recipes, add in one new one, and only make as many as you can feasibly give away in one afternoon.
  • Want to give back this season? Fantastic. You don’t have to give bits and pieces to every single charity, feeling worn thin and giving-ed out by December 31. Just pick one cause that touches your heart and focus your resources there. Get your kids or your friends involved to serve for a few hours one weekend, and take time afterward to reflect on all you’re thankful for.
  • Believe it’s important to make the holidays meaningful for your family? That’s wonderful. Me, too. But rather than making an exhaustive – and exhausting! – list of holiday must-dos, let’s be intentional about choosing one or two or a handful of ways to celebrate together.

My cousins, siblings, and I spent many years making a trip to see Christmas lights our big holiday tradition. But as we got older and busier and added people to our families, coordinating that outing simply got too difficult. And while we love each other something fierce, we’re a diverse bunch with widely varying interests.

There’s no way we would all agree to make candy or watch the same movie or create homemade gifts from a blog post we found on Pinterest. And honestly? We’re a little bit too competitive for even the tamest board game. But we sure can kick it old school and sit around a table, snacking and catching up, and finding that last edge piece that makes the whole thing stick together.

A puzzle – something I never would have imagined or chosen for a holiday tradition! But it’s the one thing we look forward to each year, even more than Granny’s pound cake or our secret Santa gift exchange. It’s simple, and it’s lovely, and it’s our tradition.