If you’re dreading the overwhelming tasks ahead of you this holiday season, have no fear. You can have the kind of Christmas you want without raising your blood pressure, lighting your fuse, or turning into the modern mom version of the Grinch. You need a game plan to map out the holiday step by step because planning early is the key to a less stressful Christmas.
It’s funny, but Christmas often catches us off guard: like we’re not sure when the season will arrive (hint: it’s Dec 25 every year). And each year we tell ourselves that next year we’ll get an earlier start. We’ll plan ahead so that the holidays won’t be the same old frantic blur of shopping, wrapping, cleaning, and cooking. Next year it will be different!
Well, here it is: it’s next year.
The good news is that it’s early enough to do that planning you always tell yourself you’ll do and get a jump on the holidays so that YOU are in control and can enjoy the season without worry.
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Christmas Is One of the Most Stressful Times of the Year
You would think with the beauty of this holiday that it would be a time of reflection, a time to sit in front of a crackling fire and drink hot cocoa and snuggle beneath a thick, fluffy throw – but that’s usually the scene on a Christmas card rather than reality.
Reality is we’re the ones behind the scene dragging in the firewood, lighting the fire, shopping for the cocoa ingredients, unpacking the Christmas throws from the attic, airing them out, giving them a wash…well, you get the picture.
We’re already busy and life becomes even more hectic as the holidays approach . It doesn’t take much for ho ho ho to quickly become bah humbug!
With all of the activities that center around the Christmas holiday, you need a plan to get everything done as well as tips for a stress free holiday. You may still be working at your day job, dealing with childcare issues now that the kids are on holiday break and fretting about getting the house cleaned for visitors.
Planning for Christmas is almost like planning for battle: you’ve got many different elements that all must come together in one cohesive plan.
So now that the season is almost upon us (can you believe how fast the year went by?) it’s time to create your battle plan. Create a list with two columns: one column for the non-negotiables and the other for things that would be nice if you have time.
Get Your Christmas Shopping Done Early
Every year, it seems the circle of people we know and buy gifts for increases. But you don’t have to rush around in the crowds and spend hours choosing individual gifts for each person on your list.
Buy the same item for multiple people, especially if they’re not in the same social circle. You can give the same gift to your elementary child’s teacher as you do your high school teen’s teacher.
You can buy the same gifts for people in your place of employment as you do your spouse’s. Some great gifts to buy in larger quantities include gourmet food boxes. The ones containing cheeses, meats and crackers make excellent ‘thinking of you’ Christmas gifts as do the food boxes with coffees and jellies.
You can buy decorative tins (no wrapping needed) and fill them with an assortment of hard candies. Just make sure you don’t put peppermint in the mix because it flavors other candies.
You can also purchase new Christmas ornaments commemorating the year as gifts. Bookstore certificates are always a hit. Those who are readers will be thrilled and folks who aren’t big readers can usually find something else since these stores tend to carry a variety of items these days. Even better is that you don’t have to fight the crowds to purchase these since you can order them from home.
Gifts that compliment hobbies or collections are always good gifts. Just be sure the collector isn’t trying to pare down and minimize their possessions.
For gifts that need to be mailed, never go to the post office during a lunch break or right before closing. This is when everyone else is there too. Go early in the morning or a couple of hours after lunch break. Better yet, don’t go to the post office at all. Have it come to you instead.
Right from the comfort of your own home, you can buy shipping material (you can even get some supplies free), print out the postage and arrange a pickup from your home and the pickup is done at no charge to you. If you shop online and ship online, not only do you save time and beat the shipping crowd stress, but you gain time you can use in other ways to celebrate Christmas or for a little downtime that you’ll need during the season.
The number one tip to remember when it comes to gift buying is not to wait until the last minute. Begin right now. Shopping early not only takes the stress off by giving you more time, it helps financially because you’re not forking over large sums of money (or putting it on your credit card) all at once and paying for last minute expensive shipping.
Make a list of everyone you need to buy a gift for. Beside each name, jot down an idea of something you know they like or might like. Starting today, begin to pick some of those items up.
Some family members are notoriously hard to buy for and instead of scratching your head, ask them to give you a suggestions list. This idea works well with teenagers. However, if you can’t get them to give you a list, here are some tips for buying gifts for difficult people.
Have a shopping deadline in mind. One way to beat the stress is to have a goal to be finished with all of the prep work for Christmas meals and shopping by Thanksgiving. It can be done if you start now.
And of course, you may be able to pare the gift list down. It’s possible that some people you feel like you “just have” to exchange gifts with would perfectly happy to forego the exchange completely. Just be sure to state your intentions ahead of time so that feelings aren’t hurt and expectations are clear.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Plan Your Christmas Menus
Nothing can make us more frenzied than trying to rush around cooking against the clock. The frenzy factor goes up tremendously if we forget something because we didn’t plan until the last minute. However, you can avoid the frenzy factor altogether.
Figure out ahead of time when all of the parties, church gatherings, special meals and work related celebrations are going to be held. Take a large calendar – the desktop ones work well for this – and in the large blocks, write down the events by their due dates and the foods you’ll need for each event (or do this in your digital planner).
Then once you have everything written down, you’ll know at a glance where you need to be, when and what items you’re bringing. Purchase all needed food items at the beginning of the month so that you can have them on hand. The best time to buy ham or turkey for Christmas meals is at the same time you pick up your Thanksgiving meat.
Unfortunately, some hosts only give a two week notice that an event is going to take place, but you can still work within that timeline. Two weeks before the event, purchase all of the foods you’ll need.
If you have to bring a home baked item, bake it now and freeze it. In airtight freezer containers, foods can keep safely (and taste delicious) for months prior to use. The trick with baking goods is that you can take one day out of a weekend and bake enough goods to last the entire Christmas season.
You can bake a batch of cookies or candies all at once for every party. You can use store bought items to save the time it takes to bake, but if you do this, make sure you remove them from their original packaging and freeze them so they’ll keep, too. The night before the event, simply thaw out the amount of treats you’ll need, slip them into a large, decorative Christmas bag and you’re on your way. No one has to know but honestly, as long as it tastes good who really cares?
Most foods for any party – whether for work, personal, or church – can be prepared well ahead of time and frozen until needed. Stress comes our way when we put off preparing the dish or treat and then scramble the night before the event (or worse the day of) to get everything ready.
For church events and other potluck dinners there’s not always access to refrigerator space or to ovens. My solution to this is my Pyrex portable casserole dish and carrier. It comes with a hot/cold pack that helps keep your food at the right temperature whatever the circumstances. I’ve used mine for years and love it.
When preparing food for any event, including your own Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal, you’ll want to start first with a guest list so that you can determine the amount of food you’ll need.
Decide who will be joining you and whether they’re adults or children (younger kids eat less). Categorize your holiday meal according to the course – the main meats and side items and of course, the desserts.
The best rule of thumb to remember when buying meat for guests is to figure a half a pound of meat for each adult and a quarter of a pound for each child. Make as many side dishes as you can one to two days in advance of the Christmas Eve meal.
The reason most people get overloaded with cooking for the holidays is because they try to make the entire meal either the night before or the same day and then they’re too worn out to enjoy the company or the festivities. So plan ahead and on the day of the event, don’t be shy about handing out aprons and asking for help in the kitchen from family members!
Christmas Decorations Can Be Spread Out Over Time
Tradition, for most people, involves putting up the Christmas tree and all of the indoor and outdoor decorations either right after or within a week of Thanksgiving – but there’s a better way for those who feel overwhelmed. The best way to decorate inside or outside your home for the holidays is to do it a piece at a time, a room at a time, a yard display at a time.
Don’t start in your kitchen, dining or living room. These rooms tend to have more decorations and are more work to begin with. Start in another room instead.
If you change bed linens and quilts to match your holidays, do it about 30 days out. That will give you several weeks to enjoy them and it’s an quick way to add holiday flare while you’re involved in the more intricate decorating.
Change the little decorations, the flowers, the floor rugs, etc. Replace any everyday candles with holiday colored and holiday scented ones. Within a day or two, decorate the bathrooms.
Hang holiday towels and rugs, change over any nightlights and hang holiday themed shower curtains. Remove and store any regular counter and wall decorations and replace them with your holiday ones. Replace bath rugs with holiday ones.
Once the bathrooms are done, take a break and then start on the kitchen. In the kitchen, put out any holiday cookie containers, change over any oven mitts or towel sets and if you switch curtains, do that as well. Put out the holiday stove burner covers and wash any holiday place settings – including tablecloths, runners and place mats.
The next day in the dining room, make room for your holiday decorations. Take off any everyday chair pads and backs and replace them with the ones you have in holiday reds or greens. Cover the table with the holiday runner or tablecloth.
Take a day off and then do the living room. Set up the tree, hang the decorations and wrap the base with the skirt or decorative cloth you use. Hang the stockings on the fireplace (or if you don’t have a fireplace you can use a cute stocking stand instead).
The next day, set out any ornamental villages. Put the decorative pillows on the sofa. Change over the ordinary lampshades for a red, green or gold one. Set the Christmas decorations on end tables. Some people display a bowl of pine cones or a bit of greenery such as silk holly leaves and berries. Never use real berries where small children can reach them.
When you’re ready to get started on the outside, do the roof lights and decorations first. That’s usually the biggest job and this way, you’ll get it out of the way first. The next day, string any bushes or trees with your choice of Christmas lights. If you use more than one yard display, work on one or two displays a day until you get them all set up.
Lastly, hang a wreath on or by the door and you’re all done! Since it’s not Christmas yet, this should leave you plenty of time to relax and just enjoy the season and the decorations you’ve created to instill a sense of seasonal warmth to your home.
Feeling fashionable for parties and celebrations
Chances are that you’ll find yourself at more social events than usual during this time of year. That always brings up the question, “What do I wear?”
The good news is that you don’t need a separate wardrobe in order to look nice. You’ve probably already got the basics in your wardrobe. If you’re looking to add a few new pieces, look for items that are versatile and classic. A velvet skirt or blazer in black or another deep color can be accented by tops you already own as can a nice pair of black pants. You could invest in a shimmery tank top or tunic that’s also appropriate for summer gatherings when paired with other items.
Pick out what outfit you’ll wear (right down to the accessories), make sure the outfit has either been picked up from the dry cleaner or you drop it off as soon as you know about the party. And it never hurts to take a photo of your outfit so that you don’t forget details when you’re in a hurry.
Remember the Meaning of Christmas and Enjoy Your Planning Efforts!
It’s so easy to want that gorgeous, spectacular Christmas because we chase perfection. It’s human to want to put your best foot forward but believe it or not, it’s not always rewarding and it doesn’t always give you a sense of fulfillment.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in all the planning and all of the activities that we forget the entire meaning of Christmas. The season is not about getting the perfect gift or wrapping it to look like a work of art. It’s not about having a meal so delicious it’ll go down in family history.
Instead, Christmas is a time to observe religious and family traditions and to enjoy them with the people who mean the most to us.
Everyone is so busy working during the year that the holidays are often the only time we have to reconnect with friends and loved ones. We get to relax and laugh and reminisce. We get to celebrate life together and hand down traditions from one generation to the next.
It’s important for children to see the dynamics of a family unit – the way we laugh together, love together, the way we cherish those special holidays. Remember that your children won’t be as impressed with the beautiful wreath as they will if you take time to sit down and play a holiday game with them.
The meaning of Christmas is the way we give to one another, the way we take the time to appreciate all that we have in life and focus on the good in one another. Christmas is about reaching out to our circle and beyond.
It’s about slowing down, taking a deep breath and holding fast to each and every special moment that comes our way. It’s about letting the good within us spill over into the lives of others.
Celebrate this Christmas season by slowing down and taking time to enjoy it. Planning ahead is going to ease you into the holidays so that they’re stress-free and more enjoyable than ever before!
So, is your battle plan ready?