The Halloween buckets still grace the sideboard in my dining room, yet all the online chiiter chatter is about Christmas. There’s a part of me that really objects to that, to be honest, but the reality is– planning early can be super helpful in alleviating stress later on. For that reason, I’m dipping my toe in the topic today.
Around here, like in so many homes, we have November, December, and January birthdays and anniversaries on top of Christmas. This does not make us unique. The fact that we have a child with a birthday ON Christmas Eve adds a few logistic and planning challenges, but I am well aware that we all have our own individual obstacles to overcome.
The following tips are simple, but important. They are things that should absolutely be common sense but, despite having a reputation for being logical and practical, I somehow failed to fully grasp until I was well into my 30s. I have many people in my life who still seem to run in circles and some of that could likely be eased by just incorporating these little strategies. So here goes:
Be wildly organized.
I know this flies in the face of some people’s natures. I know some people are not natural list-makers or budget-followers. I really want to respect individual strengths and challenges but, no matter what your opinion on spreadsheets, I’m still going to encourage you to find an organization method that works for you.
Me? I have a spreadsheet in Google drive that helps me keep track of birthdays and Christmas gifts for the entire extended family. That works for me. I can keep tabs on everything from how much we spent to whether or not we still need to buy a birthday card. I thrive with that sort of resource and, since I spend a lot of time on the computer each day, it’s pretty simple for me to keep it updated.
That may not work for you, however. You might prefer a paper and pencil list. You might have a household notebook in which you like to store such details. Or, perhaps, you’d do best to just designate a closet or a big rubbermaid tub somewhere and just put everything in that spot. That last option sounds like chaos to a personality type like mine but, for some, just keeping things all in one spot is a big organizational achievement. Find what works for YOU and then be consistent.
Feeling like you have some sense of order and a grasp of what you’ve already purchased is honestly the first step. None of us wants to overbuy OR miss someone on the list. Finding a way to organize your gifts and gift list will go a long way toward keeping the budget in check and helping to save your sanity.
Establish helpful traditions.
Here are some examples of holiday traditions that really, really help me:
- Every Thanksgiving, I’m in charge of making the bread and rolls. (My sister makes the pies.)
- Every Christmas Eve, we go to my sister’s house for dinner and family gift-exchange.
- Every Christmas morning, I make scrambled eggs with cheese and cinnamon rolls for a late breakfast.
- Every October, I order our wrapping paper through the kids’ fund raiser.
- Every year, the tree comes down on the Epiphany.
Why do those traditions help so much? Well, for a lot of reasons actually. Knowing what I’m in charge of making allows me to shop for ingredients early and, because I do it every year, I’m confident in both my recipes and timing. I know when to make the dough. I know what temp helps the rise. I know which basket is the perfect size. By now, the whole process moves like a well-oiled machine and that allows me to relax. Ditto for Christmas breakfast.
Going to my sister’s house every year helps me make plans. I know that I can be in full birthday mode at my house on Christmas Eve (for C.) and, when we get to my sis’s, the halls will be decked for Christmas. I know I’ll see my whole family then and, thus, I don’t feel any pressure on Christmas Day to run here, there, and everywhere.
Ordering that over-priced paper is kind of annoying, but it supports the school and ensures that I will have good-quality paper on-hand when I need it. For that reason, it’s a helpful tradition for me to have in place.
Helpful traditions are those that make things go smoothly. They are the things you do year-after-year that help you relax and know things are under-control. In some ways, these might be the “predictable” parts of the celebration, but, rather than feeling boring, they should feel comforting.
Abandon stressful tradtions.
I cannot emphasize this enough– don’t be afraid to let go of traditions that get in the way of enjoying the season. This is probably the hardest of these three lessons to learn, but it can be a real game-changer.
Here are some examples of traditions I’ve abandoned over the past couple of years:
- Every year, I would insist on hosting C’s friend birthday party BEFORE Christmas Eve.
- Every year, we would go the the Christmas Eve Mass.
- Every year, I would bake cupcakes thrice– for C’s friend party, for her actual birthday, and for her family party.
- Every year, I would insist on hosting all birthday parties at my house.
- Every year, we would set up the Christmas tree on the first Saturday in December.
Now, here’s the thing– there’s nothing wrong with any of those traditions. For some people, they might provide structure and be helpful. But, for ME, they were stifling and added stress.
Take, for example, going to Christmas Eve Mass. I always loved going to Christmas Eve Mass as a child, teen, college student, and beyond. It was a cherished tradition I looked forward to every year! Then I had a baby girl born ON Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve Mass is very crowded. Lots and lots of people have that tradition. To get seats, you need to get there early. To sit together as a FAMILY, you need to get there obscenely early. We would leave our house before 2PM to be there for the 4PM Mass. Then we would sit… and sit… and wait… and sit. This is how we spent our daughter’s birthday– cramming in “birthday stuff” in the morning and then sitting and waiting. Honestly? It wasn’t fun for us and it definitely wasn’t fun for her.
Last year, I broached the wild idea of going to Mass on Christmas morning instead. What if we bucked tradition and just went at 10AM the next day? And you know what? IT WAS AMAZING. We had such a joyful, relaxed holiday. Mass wasn’t crowded. People were happy and laidback. Our Christmas Eve baby didn’t spend hours of her birthday just sitting there, quietly waiting.
All those other traditions? They were okay, but it turns out they simply weren’t necessary. There were other times and other ways to do things and, by allowing myself that freedom, I was able to reclaim joy during the holidays.
Don’t cling to traditions that drag you down. If you’re dreading it? It’s probably not worth it. If it makes you edgy and overwhelmed? Try to find a new way to do it. If you only do it because of family or peer pressure? Find the strength to say “no” or adapt it to better fit with your idea of joyful.
So there you go. It may have taken me 35+ years to learn them, but there are my top three tips for making holiday planning easier.
And now it’s back to sneaking a little Halloween chocolate for with my coffee.