Updated: Feb 22
The Holidays are a joyous time. But the build-up to it is so much bigger than any other time of year, that it can also be a tremendous source of stress and overwhelm. From decorating to baking, gift-buying to party planning, to getting ahead of things at work in order to take time off to celebrate in the first place.
For some people, this time of year does not seem to faze them. We watch them in awe as they navigate easily through the turbulent holiday waters – I want what they’re having please! But the larger majority, tend to collapse on the sofa with a glass of eggnog, silently giving thanks that another year is tucked away in Santa’s gift bag.
This year, put “savour the moments” on your Christmas to-do list, because that’s what it’s really all about. No matter the size of the family, or the gathering, there is a way to simplify and slow down.
Let’s begin by setting up for success. Earlier, rather than later, block out some time to sit down and design a plan. Make this a fun step. Do it when you know you won’t be disturbed. Pour a cup of tea, or a glass of wine and pull out your day planner. If you’re anything like me, this step helps to build excitement and anticipation for the holidays. My attitude changes from “I have to” to “I want to”.
Start by making a list of all that needs to be done and the deadlines that come with that. Determine how much time you will need with each activity e.g., decorating the house, baking cookies, writing and sending Christmas cards, and then schedule it all into your planner. To set the pace, make sure to spread it over the weeks ahead. By laying it all out in your planner, you will clearly see if you are overcommitted with either activities or invites. If you find yourself double-booked, or perhaps back-to-back, begin to prioritize where and with who you spend your time, and then don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. People understand this is a busy time of year and not everyone will be able to attend every function. Regardless, this is a good exercise to discover who you really want to be with over the holidays. If you (or they) have a lot of obligatory commitments when it comes to holiday gatherings (I appreciate you can’t get out of all of them), then perhaps arrange a more intimate get-together or a play date a few weeks after the holidays when things quite down.
If you are the one hosting, this would be a good time to email or send out the invites, so others can arrange their holiday planning around it. If you’re ordering food such as an organic turkey or various baked goods; or perhaps fresh greenery from the florist, do so now. Also, schedule and make any appointments you need well ahead – mani-pedi, haircuts, facials etc.
Plan the family meal and consider cooking what you know and love instead of the traditional menu. If making grandma’s stuffing from scratch is too long and arduous, delegate it or skip it. This is about family getting together and sharing the experience, so consider other options, one that may include ordering out (shudder to think!). Perhaps you can make dinner, and buy dessert. I find this one hard for people to compromise on. And if this is a big part of your holiday gathering and there is no negotiating, then make sure you give yourself time in the kitchen. Best to streamline or delegate some of the other things on your to-do list.
Take inventory of your decorations and check to make sure all lights are still in working condition. Dare I suggest taking it easy with the decorating? I know this may be a crime to the umpteenth degree for some, but does every ornament you own have to go on the tree? Perhaps you can circulate your vast collection so each year you decorate with a different primary colour or theme. Or give the ones that don’t hold any sentimentality to the thrift store. Think of all you won’t have to store for the next eleven months. You don’t HAVE to bedeck the entire tree or every flat surface and windowsill. You can do whatever your little heart desires! Ask yourself: "why am I decorating?". Is it for your children, or grandchildren? Or is it because you’ve always just done it. Décor is not front and center, it is simply the backdrop to the experience.
Don’t forget your holiday card list. I may sound old fashioned here, but an email just doesn’t cut it. It is the best time of year to really connect with out-of-town relatives or friends and write a few words from the heart. There are many charities that rely on holiday cards as a fundraiser, and this is a simple way to let someone you care about know you’re thinking of them. Not everyone has a full home and hearth over the holidays, and this can be a very difficult time for people.
Anticipate the needs to come. If your house turns to grand central station over the holidays, make sure your cupboards and pantry are well stocked. Hot chocolate with marshmallows for the little ones after a snowball fight in the yard, a hot totty for the adults and all the ingredients to make a charcuterie platter ready in ten minutes. Don’t forget the holiday playlist!
If you bake, choose your recipes, and make a list of all you’ll need from the grocery store so everything is on hand for when you start. Same goes for wrapping paper - make sure you have all the supplies at the ready. When it comes to activities like decorating, baking, and wrapping, try to make these a family event. Keeping in mind their schedules, block off a day, an afternoon or evening where you can all work together. If you’re single, make it a reason to get together with a friend(s) – you help them, they help you. You may think that you can get it done faster by working alone, but that defeats why we’re doing it in the first place. It’s about making fond memories to think back on.
With each step, add some fun. Play holiday music while decorating the house or baking cookies. Make a batch of peppermint popcorn to munch on when watching the annual holiday movie. Stroll through the neighbourhood to enjoy the lights instead of sitting in your car. And don’t forget the hot cocoa!
When it comes to gifts, be mindful of overspending. There is nothing more stressful than starting the new year in debt as one by one he bills come in. Consider a budget and then prioritize your spending. Below are just a few things to consider for holiday gift giving:
Decide on a gift exchange with a monetary limit if your family or friend group is quite large.
It is so tempting to ‘reach out and click’ only to get your package delivered to your front door two days later. But remember the neighbourhood mom-and-pops, small business owners and artisans. Shopping local builds community relationships. It is definitely worth it.
Make your own gift: handmade items, baked goods or providing a service - we all have something to offer. For more ideas, check out the Yule blog.
Donate money to a cause close to someone’s heart in lieu of gifts. When it comes to causes, the list is endless e.g., animals, children, diversity, poverty, veterans etc.
Being prepared puts the “have tos” into perspective. If you’re the one who cooks the entire Christmas meal, share the love, and make it a potluck. Gather at lunchtime instead of supper so things don’t get too late for your guests. Grandpa won’t be yawning at the dinner table and people won’t be driving home in the freezing cold of night. Let the kids open a gift the night before so they’re not pulling you out of bed at 4:00 a.m. with restless anticipation. Consider how much is just expected because “it has always been this way”. Maybe it’s time to change course. Mix it up a little. Create a new tradition.
Last but not least, as my friend Sarah always says: "don’t forget to put yourself on the list". What things help keep your cup filled? Quiet time to meditate or journal? Reading a steamy romance or cozy mystery? Baileys in your coffee before the rest of the household wakes up? Take care of yourself. Continue your exercise regime, get enough sleep, and drink plenty of water.
Whether you have a large extended family, or celebrate alone with your fur friends, be present and enjoy these small simple pleasures of life. “No” may be a complete sentence, but so is “breathe”.