The holidays can be stressful.

Your to-do list has suddenly quadrupled. You may be spending more money than you intended. Perhaps you are entertaining house guests, hosting a party, or traveling. For most of us, life is simply busier and more expensive during the holiday season.

And for some, the holidays are a reminder of lost or absent loved ones, feelings of loneliness, or financial difficulties and stress.

We may have dreams of a Norman Rockwell Christmas, but the reality is probably closer to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — at least at some point during the holidays.

There’s a lot of pressure to make the Christmas season perfect and to cram it with events, shopping, and parties. But I find that some of the simplest pleasures can make the season bright and fill me with the joy and wonder of Christmas.

I invite you to share in the simple pleasures of the season with these 25 ideas:

1. Begin with gratitude. Before you begin handing out the gifts and tearing in to them, take a moment to reflect on all of your blessings since last Christmas. Write them down. Look at all of the good you have in your life and be grateful.

2. Set a budget. If you know exactly how much you are going to spend this Christmas, then shopping becomes much easier. Don’t feel pressured by the media, the advertisements, or other people to spend more than you intend.

3. Release expectations. Allow this Christmas season to be what it is without expectations or hopes for perfection. We are often disappointed when things don’t go “as planned” during the holidays, so plan loosely and remain open to change. Embrace the reality of life as being part of the season.

4. Keep it simple. Part of releasing expectations is simplifying your Christmas season. If you over-schedule yourself with activities, shopping, and travel, you will be stressed and will miss out on the peace and beauty of the season.

5. Spend time in nature. Wherever you live, in a cold or warm climate, spend time outside absorbing the natural beauty of this time of year. The smells, the sounds, the climate of December are all part of the joyful anticipation of Christmas.

6. Listen to beautiful music. Everyone has their favorite holiday music, and it creates background mood for the holidays. Consider music that is peaceful and soothing to bring calm during this hectic time of year. I love the music of Stanton Lanier during the holidays or any of the Wyndom Hill music.

7. Create and sustain traditions. Traditions during the holidays make us feel connected to one another and to something larger than ourselves. They offer a sense of certainty and comfort. We have a tradition of letting the children open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s always pajamas to wear that night.

8. Entertain without perfection. Sometimes we avoid inviting friends over during the holidays unless everything is perfect — the right meal, the house completely decorated and cleaned, a gift purchased. Let that go and enjoy spontaneous get-togethers to share a meal or simply some time together. Don’t miss connections waiting for perfection.

9. Light candles. The glow of candlelight creates magic and warmth. Light them at dinner, during a bath, on the mantle. I’ve put an assortment of candles in the fireplace when it’s too warm to light a fire.

10. Buy gifts mindfully. Don’t purchase a gift just for the sake of having something to give. Buy something that is truly a gift for the recipient, something that lifts them up and makes them happy. Here are some ideas for mindful giving.

11. Bring nature inside. As you decorate for the season, bring some of the beauty from the outside into your home. Cut branches and holly berries to put on your mantle or in an arrangement. Decorate pine cones to put on your tree. Spray leaves with gold paint to use on your table or as place cards. Here are more ideas.

12. Go caroling. Print off some Christmas carols from the Internet. Brew up some hot chocolate or mulled cider. Get some candles or lanterns. Call a few friends to join you, and walk around your neighborhood and sing. It’s really fun — and more fun if you spike the cider!

13. Wrap creatively. Instead of buying more wrapping paper, get creative. Collect all of the paper you have from last year and use it first. Use recyclable brown paper bags and tie them with bright ribbon or raffia string. Use burlap or fabric pieces to wrap up round or small gifts. Here are some more ideas.

14. A baking party. Set aside a morning with family or a couple of friends, and enjoy the pleasures of baking together. Bake a batch of Christmas cookies, pumpkin bread bread, or your own favorite holiday treat.

15. Feed the birds. Get a bird feeder as a family gift before Christmas and set it up near a window. It is such a simple and beautiful pleasure to watch the variety of birds looking for a good meal!

16. A family project to serve. Plan something together as a family to help or offer hope to others during the holidays. Adopt a family, serve in a soup kitchen or food bank, visit shut-ins. This reminds us of our many blessings and provides a sense of meaning and context for the season.

17. Create simple, healthy meals. From Thanksgiving until the New Year, we are faced with an array of delicious, but often fattening and unhealthy food choices. Whenever possible, create simple and healthy meals to keep your eating choices balanced.

18. Support the arts. In this economy, the arts are suffering with lower attendance. Many performing companies, ballet companies, and other arts organizations are closing their doors. The holidays are a great time to support the arts while feeding your soul. Attend The Nutcracker, go to a holiday symphony performance, or watch a local theater production. These are great family occasions.

19. Send a letter or gift to a soldier. Imagine being in Iraq or Afghanistan this Christmas, away from loved ones and the comforts of home. Remember those fighting for our freedom and send a note of thanks or a needed gift.

20. Rediscover meaning and purpose. As things begin to slow down in the days before Christmas and the week after, take some time to reexamine your own life to determine what is truly meaningful and important to you. Define and uncover your passion and purpose to begin the New Year with a fresh perspective.

21. Write a love letter. One of the most meaningful gifts you can give is a hand-written letter expressing your love and gratitude to your spouse/beloved, your parents, your children, or a treasured friend. Take time and thoughtful care in expressing your feelings, writing on beautiful paper, and wrapping your gift. It will never be forgotten.

22. Reach out to someone lonely. If you know someone alone or lonely this holiday season, connect with them. Invite them over for a meal or include them in a family occasion. The holidays can be very sad for many people, and you can bring a ray of light into their lives.

23. Take a drive or a walk. Get in the car and take a drive just to look at the holiday lights and decorations. Or simple walk around your neighborhood. Carry a mug of hot chocolate and a box of homemade cookies with you and make it an occasion.

24. No last minute shopping. If you find yourself without a gift for someone at the last minute, don’t rush out and buy something so you won’t be empty-handed. Instead, create your own “gift card” for someone offering something special they would enjoy — a dinner out, a coupon for chores, a back rub, a movie together.

25. Make Christmas Day last. Instead of ripping into gifts and rushing through the morning, open gifts one-at-a-time. Enjoy each person’s pleasure of giving and receiving. Light candles, put on music, and intersperse gift opening with breakfast, laughter, and connection.

What will make this the best Christmas season ever for you? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments.