We are so excited to introduce you to our December IF:Table host, Emily Ley. Emily has a heart for simplicity and making time for what matters most and, this month, she is sharing her best simplified holiday tips with us. Emily reminds us that hospitality starts within our very own homes and really is as uncomplicated as sharing the love of Jesus with our family, friends, and neighbors. We hope you enjoy Emily’s suggestions for simplifying your holiday season and making more room for celebrating Christ this Christmas. But be sure to save a little bit of time to try out Emily’s recipe for her Mom’s Lasagna – it may just become one of your new family favorites! Merry Christmas!
Have you ever noticed the way you feel about the holidays has changed since you were a kid? How, instead of skipping a beat from the wonder of the season, your heart races when you think about your to-do lists?
And at the end of the year, have you noticed your calendar is so crammed that you don’t have time or energy to do the little things that matter or to intentionally create a Christ-centered holiday? Like writing Christmas cards, hosting a Christmas movie marathon for your kids and their friends, setting up a special advent calendar, lingering with your spouse under the mistletoe, and having your girlfriends over for cookies and catching up?
That breaks my heart, because the little things, especially when we give and receive love, are the good stuff of life. And during this season, there are so many special opportunities to connect with one another, especially with our children over the Greatest Story there is to tell. They add up like puzzle pieces to form our best memories—because these are the moments that shape marriages, mold children, and forge friendships.
So why do we allow our lives to get so complicated that we don’t have time for them? When did we let hospitality become so much . . . work?
Somewhere along the way, I think we started to believe everything had to be perfect all the time, that our lives and our homes had to mimic a social media highlight reel 24/7. But that’s not true. Honestly, I think we’re all yearning for a bit of simplicity—to slow down, take the pressure off ourselves, and implement tactical ways to pare down our lives.
In my book A Simplified Life, I talk about how you can bring simplicity to the way you show love to your people. And I’ll tell you a secret: when your guests cross your threshold for the holidays, they won’t remember intricate place settings or hand-stitched bunting over the fireplace. But you know what? They’ll never forget how warm and loved you made them feel.
This is why hospitality matters.
Hospitality can be a daunting, loaded word. But really, hospitality is just the way we show the love of Jesus in the most basic, non-elaborate, meaningful ways.
In our busy lives, I promise that hospitality is achievable, even around the holidays. And I’ve found three easy ways to make space for it:
- Decide to keep your celebrating simple. None of this has to be so complicated. I really believe carving margin in your schedule is the best way to make Christ the focus of your home. Make empty space on your calendars for special family memories that are slow and sweet – a special advent reading every day with your children, a special book club with friends, or even a special holiday gathering for your church community. Making margin in your life gives your heart and brain space to process your experiences better too – and to truly savor the richness of these days. When we decide to go for simple, we give our brains room for patience, our schedules room for showing gratitude, and our hearts room to care not just for ourselves but for others—in big and small ways. You don’t need a pile of money, any special skills, or fancy decorations. All you need is a willingness to love and honor others, the way Jesus did when He washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17).
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s fun to try new games or recipes at the holidays, but if Elf on the Shelf-ing or adding seven courses to your holiday feast makes you break into a sweat, guess what? You don’t have to do it! Some of my most treasured holiday memories are celebrating traditions that have been in my family for years, like eating our favorite foods (we love my mom’s lasagna, which she adapted from her mom) or watching favorite Christmas movies. Think about what is special to your family and don’t feel compelled to add anything else. When you stick with what you know, you create space to open your home to others. Invite people who may not have close friends. See a girl sitting in the back row at church, unsure who to talk to? Invite her in. Know of a man whose children and grandchildren may not be able to come and visit this holiday season? Give him a seat at your table. Jesus knew no strangers and I believe these opportunities aren’t just ways to show Jesus’ hospitality, but to show his true, unguarded, unabashed love for people.
- Ask everyone to help. As I’ve gotten older, the idea of entertaining has taken a turn for the better. The holidays at my house are no longer a one-woman show. Instead of coming over to be entertained, our friends and family come over ready to create a fun experience together. Everyone brings something delicious to share. The kids play together or make Christmas crafts (who doesn’t love decorating paper snowflakes?). And as the host, I set out (pre-cut!) snacks and (disposable!) serveware. And don’t forget: keeping a tub of cookie dough is the fridge means you’re always ready for an impromptu party or midnight snack. Deciding to keep entertaining simple and asking others to contribute to the fun removes so much pressure and complication from what should be a really enjoyable time. And my favorite part of hosting friends? Everyone is welcome. Everyone has a place in our home – and it becomes a wonderful, low-key opportunity to enjoy fellowship with others and share the Great News that Jesus came to bring.
This time of year is supposed to be fun. And the fun happens when you focus on what really matters—loving your people—and remember the rest of it is just stuff. Seriously. When you give yourself the grace to show simple, non-elaborate hospitality, you give yourself room to be still and experience the wonder of the season . . . just like you did when you were a kid. I always find myself marveling over the spirit of the holidays (not the gifts, or the tasks, or the parties) late on Christmas Eve. Our home is quiet and candlelit. All the family has gathered around after the children have gone to bed. The anticipation of what’s to come is thick and exciting. That feeling of contentment and togetherness, shared with loved ones, is my favorite part of Christmas. My hope and prayer this year is that I can keep that moment and feeling forefront in our minds as we celebrate our Savior and all this season means.
Emily Ley is the creator of the Simplified Planner® – an agenda for what matters most. Raised in Pensacola, Florida, Emily graduated from the University of West Florida, then went on to become the Executive Director of the city ballet. From there, she worked in nonprofit management and public relations before launching her brand in 2008. Following the success found at its online home — EmilyLey.com, Emily Ley quickly grew to be carried in over 750 retail outlets around the world. In late 2016, however, Emily’s team decided to get back to what they loved most: creating community around their online shop – decreasing their retail partners from 750 to 5. Emily is the author of Grace, Not perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Chasing Joy and A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living. Follow along with her life as an author, business woman, wife, and mama to three littles on Instagram.