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5 Simple Steps to Stress-Free Holidays

I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic.  And no, it wasn’t just because I was coughing away due to this lovely cold I have now gotten from my dear family members. (Pass around the hugs and kisses all you want, but keep the germs to yourself!  This is another reason we are all getting flu shots this year).  It wasn’t a fever, however, that caused me to break out in a sweat – it was tidbits of an ongoing conversation my kids have been having lately that are now floating around in my head: what's on their Christmas lists.  My initial reaction had been one of happiness and relief; their lists were short, simple and not at all filled (yet) with the gimmies and holiday wants (or the Wii)!  But last night in my dreamland state, reality hit me like a wake-up call: oh no! the holidays are only 10 weeks away!

Are you like me, thinking that you are too busy to think about Christmas or Hanukkah right now?  We haven’t even hit Halloween yet!  I just ordered their costumes – we haven’t even taken our annual trip to the Pumpkin Patch yet.  The days are just beginning to be fall-like.  The leaves on the trees in our town are just starting to turn bright yellow and vibrant red – most though are still summer green.  True, we did have a cold patch a week or so ago, when it got cloudy and drizzly.  We wore sweaters and coats and drank hot chocolate by the fire.  But now it is back up to nearly 80 degrees again.  We’re still trying to embrace Autumn – hard to even imagine that Winter is lurking around the corner!

My daughter (ever the planner – just like her mother I suppose) got so excited about Christmas last week that I finally sat down and went over the calendar with her, trying to gently manage her expectations.  “Sweetie, first, we have Halloween,” I told her.  “Then a whole month goes by and we have Thanksgiving.  Then another whole month goes by and THEN we have Christmas.”  She wasn’t falling for my tricks.  “But Halloween is THIS month, right Mama?”  Well yes, that’s true.  “Then Thanksgiving the next month, right Mama?”  Yes, that’s right.  “But right after Thanksgiving we get to start getting ready for Christmas, right Mama?  We have to decorate the house and get it all ready, and Daddy needs to put up the lights, and we go pick out a Christmas tree, and make lots of Christmas cookies, and Great Grandma’s Peppermint Pie, and tell Santa what we want for Christmas, and….” her little voice went on and on – and my blood pressure went up and up.  Who was kidding whom?  The little ones always know the truth — Christmas was closer than I thought!

Every year I say I am going to do certain things (or not do certain things) so that I may have a stress-free holiday season.  Every year that plan never works out.  But I am convinced there is a way to (if not eliminate stress, at least reduce it) make the holidays that much more enjoyable for all of us.  In talking with a friend I came up with an action plan that left me feeling rather inspired.  Let’s call it:  Zen Mama Wannabe’s 5 Simple Steps to a Stress-Free Holiday Season.  It is pretty easy to do – even my friend was impressed – and we both agreed it could be our saving grace this year.

1.  What are all the things you do to get ready for the holidays? 
Write them down – make a list – I did!  It helps you see things from a
much clearer perspective when you know exactly what you need/have to do.

2.  Do you enjoy doing all those things?  Anything not necessary that you want to eliminate?
This is one easy way to reduce your stress, right off the top.

3.  What on your list causes you the most stress? 

For me it is Holiday cards.  I am so relieved when they are signed, sealed, stamped and on their way to the post office!  Up until that point, they create a huge amount of stress for me.  But, they are not something I would even consider giving up.  It is a way of staying in touch with some of our friends and family that are scattered all across the country.  I love getting their cards and hearing what they have been up to, seeing how their children have grown, etc.  It may be more important to me than to them – but it is a non-negotiable item on my list.  I may grumble through the process but I’m doing them! 

4.  What can you get done before December even rolls around? 
(I think this is the key!)

My goal this year is to have our cards out the door before December 1st.  If I didn’t have to even think about them in December it would help me tremendously. That means I need to work backwards and figure out specific dates of when I need to have my cards designed by and ordered by so that I receive them in time to get them mailed out by December 1st   Keep in mind this year the last 4 days of November are Thanksgiving weekend – so I want to have them ready to mail BEFORE then.  Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa stamps from the US Post Office go on sale October 23rd — I will make sure I buy those in advance, so when my cards do arrive, I can work on quickly getting them signed and out the door. 

Another goal of mine is to have all our Christmas shopping done by December 1st.  I hate running around at the last minute and feeling rather grumpy about the whole thing (which does not help when one is trying to spread tidings of good cheer). There are so many other things going on, especially with the kids’ schedules, that the last thing I like to be doing is frantically shopping here and there, picking up this or getting that.  We end up spending MORE money than we wanted, because at some point you just need to solve the problem (and get SOMETHING).   This year especially that has to go.

5.  What are your traditions that you want to make sure you do?
What do you want to make sure you DO schedule in?  What is important to your and your family?  What makes the holidays feel special to you?

I make about 7 or 8 different batches of Christmas cookies and it is one of the highlights of the season for me.  Someone suggest cutting it down to just 3 or 4 as a way of making it more manageable – but that would be like only inviting half your dear friends to a special dinner party.  Which ones would I cut?  I’d miss them too much.  Nope – they are all staying; although it is a lot of work, I love doing it.  Most of my recipes were ones I used to make with my mother; now my kids are the ones helping me – it has become a tradition of sorts….like always putting the star on top of the tree as the very last thing, decorating the house with holiday tunes playing in the background, having hot cocoa together on the first day of winter (a new one my son is insisting on this year), going to church on Christmas Eve, using our various Advent calendars to countdown the days (this is one ALL kids seem to love) and reading a different Christmas story every night in December – ending up with the classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve.

10 weeks can sound as though it is far off – no worries, plenty of time – but we all know just in general how quickly the days (and months) go.  If I don’t start tending to this NOW, I have a feeling I will be sitting at Thanksgiving dinner and suddenly realize Christmas is a month away and I haven’t done a thing!  Talk about an anxiety attack!  I’m hoping these 5 simple steps (especially #4) will ease my stress and make this a holiday season full of laughter and joy and special moments with my family.  This year more than ever I don’t want it to be about the stuff – I want it to be about family, and love, and good memories we can all look back and cherish.  That is the true essence of the holiday season – that is what I am hoping to capture (if I don’t allow all the stress and distractions to get in the way)!

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4 Responses to “5 Simple Steps to Stress-Free Holidays”

  1. callieandbatido Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I love your list ZMWB. I have been thinking about the exact same things. Wouldn’t it be heaven to have our shopping done by Dec. 1st?! Is it only a dream or a reality? I’m with you, and I am going to try to make it a reality. I WANT the nights of sipping hot chocolate while Christmas music is playing in the back ground. I have HAD nobel expecationso of the perfect Christmas, only to find myself stressed and overwhelmed with my huge “to do” list.

    Getting back to what is important and making a list is a great idea. And in this economy, I think most of us can agree that the magic is in the experience, not the gift. I know for my family, getting the shopping, or in your case ZMWB, the cards, done early is huge. For it IS really about family, magic and faith. The rest is just the icing on the Christmas cake.

  2. LarkLady Says:
    October 14th, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    My initial reaction was, It’s 80 degrees outside; we have fires burning in the hills; and you want me to think about CHRISTMAS?!?! But the craft stores have already put away Halloween things for the most part, and Christmas is out in full — because craft stores know how long it takes to get ready for Christmas!

    Next I applauded your son’s insistence on hot cocoa together on the first day (or evening) of winter… I like celebrating the winter solstice, which for me is the secular winter holiday. I can celebrate Winter to my heart’s content and not feel even mildly guilty that I’m compromising the religious holiday of Christmas.

    We too use Advent calendars of varying types to help us prepare for Christmas, as well as a couple of saints’ days as benchmarks for our preparations. St. Nicholas Day is December 6th, and that’s when we start decorating the house in earnest. St. Lucy’s Day is a week later, on the 13th, and I bake Lucy Bread for that — so while I’m at it, I bake the Christmas breads and freeze them. My husband has a tradition of baking German Christmas cookies, and they need to be made well in advance so they have time to ripen. Like you, I have some other cookies and special treats that are more than worth the time and energy involved.

    My parents stopped sending Christmas cards and started sending out a Thanksgiving letter years ago, and I try to have mine done by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. I don’t always make it — but I feel a whole lot less stressed when I do!

    Like you (and now your daughter), I make lists… lots and LOTS of lists! Without them, too many things fall through the cracks and I’m left feeling completely out of control. On the other hand, last year I found I was able to scratch some things off the list and simply live with the fact that the Christ Child will still come into our hearts and lives if item #16 on my list just doesn’t happen this year.

    Time to go start on that list!

  3. Sheri Says:
    October 15th, 2008 at 11:33 am

    I hate having to think about it this early, but I need to in order to enjoy the season. I’ve done pretty well at eliminating the things that just are not important to me. We’ve set some traditions that our family wants to continue and the rest is kind of, do if it we feel like it.

    One thing I need to start taking care of right now is pictures. Last year I had my cards all ready to be mailed and I was frantically trying to get a picture of my boys. All I got was stressed out, no picture,lol. So this year I’ll start earlier on that.

    Great list!

  4. HaRiz Says:
    January 5th, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Tiffany,I am SOOOOO glad I got to meet you sweetie! You truly light up a room! Your smile and sweet humor and lgehatur is contagious! Im grateful for the short time we got to hang out and have time to talk and laugh. I too dont have any photos of you and I. I do have some of you on my blog tho’.I might be hosting a workshop here at my house in May. I would love for you to come! More details later. XOXO, Jenn

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