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Monday, December 15, 2008

Hassle-free Holidays

Personal Weather Report - Unseasonable highs with clear skies.

Writing Activity - New story going very well. Currently at 22,000/60,000 words.

The line at the post office snaked out the door into the lobby as I waited my turn to mail some packages this afternoon. I had no idea when I entered that today was the busiest mailing day of the year. Why? My packages held blog drawing prizes, not Christmas presents. Having completed the majority of our holiday preparations the day after Thanksgiving, other activities filled my mind.

At this point, I fear you may have a desire to chuck fruitcake at me. Before you take aim, let me tell you I spent years snowed under each December, stressed because I had more to-do's than time. And I didn't like the feeling.

In an effort to de-stress, my family enacted a three step plan that's allowed us to have (relatively) hassle-free holidays, a plan I'm going to share with you.

Step One: Examine Your Expectations

One January several years ago, I asked my husband and daughter to sit down with me and take an honest look at the Christmas just past. I apologized to Gwynly and the Fashion Queen for having been a little grouchy during the month of December (OK, more than a little) and told them I wanted the following Christmas to be different.

We took a few minutes to jot down the aspects of Christmas most important to us and then compared notes. Unlike Luther Krank in the movie Skipping Christmas, my goal wasn't to toss all our traditions. No Gwynches here. I wanted to determine those activities that would reduce my stress level, therefore making our celebration more meaningful and more fun for all. Upon comparing notes, I found that Gwynly and the Fashion Queen had far fewer expectations than I did.

Step Two: Eliminate the Excess

Once we'd determined what mattered most to each of us, we determined a number of things we could eliminate from our family's holiday To-do lists.

Before I tell you what we decided to forgo, please bear in mind that going through this process will produce different results for each family. What we chose remove from our holiday agenda may be some of the very things that mean the most to your family. I share them merely as an example to encourage your own exploration.

Baking. I don't like to cook, so this chore was easy for me to cross off my list. Instead of taking plates of homemade cookies and fudge to our neighbors at Christmas, we make no-bake turkey cookies to distribute at Thanksgiving, a tradition we all enjoy.

Christmas cards and newsletters. I love to write, but adding the task of producing an annual holiday letter to my already full schedule took the fun out of the process. Instead of sending our Latest Gywnformation newsletter during December, we mail it in the fall. Since Gwynly is a teacher, that's when our year really begins. I love hearing from friends and family at Christmas, but they don't seem to mind that our news arrives at a different time. In fact, some think we've got a good idea.

Decorating. The Fashion Queen loves Christmas and begins playing carols and watching holiday movies the first week in November. Having the tree up at the earliest possible moment ranked at the top of her list, so we now head out early on the day after Thanksgiving to our nearby cut-your-own tree lot and choose the perfect tree.

We take the tree home and have it decorated by nightfall. That day or the next, we put out the hand-carved wooden Christmas decorations we bought when we lived in Germany. These tasks complete, she's happy.

Since the outdoor lights didn't make any of our lists of important traditions, we've stopped hanging them, saving both time and energy.

Entertaining. Rather than adding a number of social get-togethers to our already full December schedule, we choose to invite people over at other times when we're able to enjoy their visits in a more relaxed atmosphere. We also limit the number of parties, plays and concerts we attend during the holidays.

Gift-Giving. We chose to put our focus on the gifts we give one another and reduce the number of folks on our shopping list. What I do instead is send presents to people throughout the year. If I see something that makes me think of someone, I'll buy the item and drop it in the mail right then rather than saving it for Christmas.

We stopped doing our shopping during the busy month of December and set a goal to have ours done by Thanksgiving. I'm a bargain hunter and buy throughout the year, so this works for us.

We chose to stop wrapping our presents—with paper. We use drawstring bags instead. We went to the after-Christmas sale at a fabric store and bought several yards. We each selected a couple of different holiday prints for our bags, thereby making tags unnecessary.

We spent an afternoon making the bags the first year we used them. We've saved that much time—or more—every year since. As soon as the decorating is done, we pop the gifts in the bags and put them under the tree. Not only do the bags look pretty, but they do a far better job of disguising what's inside than the paper wrapping we used before. And clean up on Christmas morning is snap.

Step Three: Enjoy the Experience

As a result of taking an honest look at which holiday traditions matter most to us, focusing on those, and eliminating the excess, my family is able to enjoy our Christmas more fully. And, in case you're wondering, I'm far less grouchy during December these days.

My hope is that you and your loved ones have a joyful celebration this year, one in which you concentrate on what's most important to you.

• • •

Do you find the holiday season to be a stressful time of year, or do you begin the month of December feeling pressure-free and prepared? What would you change about how you celebrate if given the chance? What traditions are most important to you?


Anne Barton said...

Wow, Keli -- this makes so much sense. You managed to reduce stress and ensure Christmas is special for everybody in your family. LOL at the lack of Gwynches. And those fabric gift bags are a fantastic idea--maybe you should start a business . . . but I guess that would add a little stress back into the holiday. ;)

A few of years ago, my neighbor and I decided to make gingerbread houses with our kids. We did everything from scratch, starting with the blueprints. (I'm a math teacher and she's an engineer, so you'd think this would be child's play. Ah . . . no.) When it came time to attach walls to foundations and roofs to walls, there was frosting everywhere and a multitude of structural defects. The kids wisely sought out other entertainment while we cursed our way through construction. :)

When my daughter asked to make a gingerbread house this year, I tried to talk her out of it, but she begged, so we got a $10 kit. It was easy, the house turned out cute, and she was happy.

Thanks for sharing your tips. I'm going to keep them in mind as I muddle through December. :)


C.J. Redwine said...

What a great article, Keli! I love it. I've tossed the idea of Christmas cards out this year because it always adds so much stress. Instead, I'm doing a New Year's letter (at least, that's the plan).

I also re-worked my mom's plate full of various homemade cookies for the neighbors tradition. I love baking! But, I don't have that kind of time. Instead, I make loaves of pumpkin bread and give those instead.

I'd like to post a link to this article on my blog. I really think many of my readers would find it helpful. Do you mind? :)