Gratitude-Filled Holidays?
by Tricia Goyer

ne of my favorite holiday carols goes a little something like this: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light.” Yet this is easier said than done. Around my house, there are often kids grumbling over who got the more significant piece of pumpkin pie around the Thanksgiving table. Either that or making a list, checking it twice, and then adding to it daily.

Then, when you add unrealistic expectations to the mix, parents get in on the grumbling too. I’ve grumbled when the cookie decorating yields more sprinkles and frosting on the floor than on the cookies. I’ve complained about kids stealing my clear wrapping tape or about buying a stack of Christmas cards, only to have them still sitting on my desk on December 24.

A few years ago, I knew things had to change. Our large family—which at the time included me, my husband John, my ninety-year-old grandmother who lives with us, and eight of our kids still at home—decided to go a year without grumbling. Okay, John and I decided it was a good idea, and we encouraged our kids to work with us to change our attitudes, change our hearts, and turn grumbling into gratitude.

We discovered many things, including being realistic about our expectations. John and I also realized we shouldn’t expect our kids to become grumble-free if we tried to model our family time after magazine spreads. We should also never expect anyone to be happy and grateful if we’re shuttling our kids from one activity to another without time to unwind or rest.

Family saying grace at the table
“…as we focus on these small changes, we can grow grateful hearts full of light, reflecting God’s gift of Jesus through the holidays and the rest of the year.”
Every family can encourage grumble-free attitudes, but gratitude grows more easily when we change our focus and slow our pace. It’s also essential to welcome our kids’ input and point to God’s faithfulness in all our lives. Here are some ideas to do just that:


Pray for the right motives. I always have to start with myself first when it comes to “helping” my kids with their poor attitudes. Why do I get so cranky? It’s because I have the wrong motives. Decorating Christmas cookies is no longer about the fun when it’s more about the cute photos that I can capture for Instagram. More than that, purchasing gifts becomes another thing on my to-do list instead of a way to care for and connect with someone we love.

While cookie decorating and gift buying still happen, we can pray for—and work toward—having the right motives and leading our children to do the same. As you gather together to decorate cookies, choose someone you can give them to. Pray and thank God for that person before you start. Talk about how you appreciate that person as you decorate and ignore the mess for an hour.


Gently help kids manage their busyness and stress. Attitudes tend to go south when kids are hungry, overwhelmed, or stressed. And because I’m also hungry, overwhelmed, or stressed, I’m often not gentle in dealing with them!

We can help kids by being aware of things that might make them anxious, such as visiting with family they don’t often see, a busy schedule, or late-night programs and gatherings. Talk about these things ahead of time and think of solutions. For example, let kids know they don’t have to hug anyone they feel uncomfortable with at holiday events. Also, consider limiting holiday gatherings or leaving these events early. Pack healthy snacks and take them with you, and let kids know that they can come to you anytime they need a break from the festivities. Finally, remember that you get to decide what to say yes to. Everyone has merrier holidays when they’re not constantly on the go.


Let kids take part in the planning, too. We can do so many things over the holidays; ask kids to vote on what holiday activities they want to do the most. Then do them. Last year my children picked these: 1) make and decorate Christmas sugar cookies, 2) drive around to see Christmas lights, and 3) make gingerbread houses. We chose three dates to do those things, and we said no to almost everything else. My kids had fun, and they were grateful that I made time to do the things most important to them.


Ask family members to share why they are thankful. For example, amid our grumble-free year, my grandmother fell and fractured her back. She fell on Thanksgiving and came home from the hospital just days before Christmas. Of course, having her home after such a trial made us all thankful, but my grandmother’s response to the hardship truly changed our hearts.

Even when she couldn’t get out of bed or even sit up, Grandma Dolores lifted her voice and praised God. Seeing her example of a grateful heart helped us realize that we often grumble about things that don’t matter when we should be praising God.

When my children asked Grandma why she was so thankful, she talked about growing up in the Great Depression and living in a boxcar as a child. She shared about how God has always taken care of her through the years.

Hearing those stories helped my children understand that happiness is not based on the size of a piece of pie or whether they received the most fantastic toy.

“We grumble about things that don’t matter, but Grandma is praising God even when she can’t get out of bed,” one daughter told me.

When gathering with family members over the holidays, encourage kids to ask about God’s faithfulness through their lives. Hearing all that God has done for others can help kids—and all of us—have a better perspective about the things we tend to grumble about.

Cultivating a grateful attitude is not for the fainthearted. Lips that are quick to praise instead of grumble do not appear overnight. Yet, as we focus on these small changes, we can grow grateful hearts full of light, reflecting God’s gift of Jesus through the holidays and the rest of the year.

Tricia Goyer Headshot

ricia Goyer, along with being a USA Today bestselling author, has published eighty books, written more than five hundred articles for national publications, and is on the blogging team at and other homeschooling and Christian websites. She is a two-time Carol Award winner, a Christy and ECPA Award finalist, and regularly receives starred reviews in Romantic Times and Publishers Weekly. Tricia is a wife to John, a mom to ten kids and a nana to a growing number of grandkids. Connect with her at:

Want More Articles Like This? This article was taken from our 2021 Holiday Edition. Click here to view the rest of the issue.