A few years ago I felt totally overwhelmed by all the holiday activities I had scheduled. Between parties for my job and my husband’s job, concerts and activities for both the kids’ extracurricular activities, church activities, and multiple family celebrations we were completely booked up. And then there were the cookie swaps, the community Christmas events we wanted to attend, shopping and wrapping, cards to make, a tree to select and decorate, crafts to complete, Christmas books to read and movies to watch, and all while doing our usual both-parents-working-full-time, both-kids-in-school-with-big-projects-due tango. I never got enough sleep, never had any clean clothes, ate nothing healthy and yelled at my kids constantly to”Hurry – we’re late!” Then I read an article in a magazine in my doctor’s waiting room (because of course I was due for a routine doctor’s visit in the midst of all this as well) and the author suggested asking each family members to name the three activities that are most important to them during the holiday season. You compile the lists, and those are the activities you participate in. No one feels that their favorite thing is left out, Christmas isn’t “ruined” for anyone, and you don’t find yourself committed to activities every day for thirty days straight.
I was VERY surprised to find out that my kids didn’t really care if we made ornaments every year. They didn’t care if we didn’t bake and decorate cookies. And everyone except me thought taking pictures and using them to make our own Christmas cards was a big waste of time, and not really any fun. I admit, the photo sessions usually ended with me yelling at my children to “Stand close together and look like you’re happy, damn it!”, but isn’t that how everyone’s Christmas card pictures get taken? They preferred curling up in their pajamas to watch Christmas movies to dressing up to go see “A Christmas Carol” performed. Michael loved going to his company’s Christmas party. I dreaded going to mine. Once we were honest with ourselves and each other about what we wanted to spend our time on everything else fell into place.
Then we started paring down the family gathering stress. Did we absolutely HAVE to see every members of every family on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Did every gathering HAVE to be a full sit-down meal with all the trimmings? Did every person HAVE TO exchange a gift with every other person? You see where I’m going with this. Celebrate early, celebrate late, celebrate smaller and more casually. Plan this NOW and put it into efffect for this year. Trust me, each year gets a little easier. And don’t be afraid to add traditions, as long as they’re easy ones. Maybe the evening you decorate the Christmas tree should always involve ordering out pizza. Or the day after the big company Christmas party is blocked for “pajamas all day and Christmas DVDs”. Address Christmas cards while having a glass of wine and listening to Christmas carols. And if you bake and decorate cookies please send me some, because there’s gonna be no cookie decorating going on over here!