Hallmark Christmas movies are wonderful, but they can set us up for some totally unrealistic expectations. They provide a vision for the holidays that includes wonderful family moments, perfectly set tables with delicious, homemade food, and possibly a few romantic moments. While that makes for great television, expecting to have it all is a recipe for disaster in real life (IRL).
Most of us don’t have a staff of assistants to ensure everything is perfect. We are juggling jobs, family and other commitments, health issues, and financial problems just to name a few. So how does the average person have the Hallmark Christmas and stay sane?
First, and this is very important, you throw out the idea of a perfect Hallmark Christmas. It’s not real. Then you forget about perfection. Yes, we’d all like to have a perfectly clean and tidy house, with clean and tidy children. We’d like to have wonderful dinners on the table every evening, time to read stories, play games, watch a movie or two, volunteer, write lovely Christmas cards for loved ones far away, shop for the perfect Christmas gifts, bake homemade goodies and deliver them to our elderly neighbors, and maybe knit a blanket for the hospital NICU. But is that realistic? I’d hazard a guess for most of us that is a pie in the sky list.
Here are a few tips to try and get you through the holidays without going crazy, having a melt down, or drinking all the cooking sherry, but still checking off some of those items on THE LIST.
Set Your Priorities
While many of us would like to have it all, that really is a recipe for a stressed out Christmas. Remember Christmas With the Kranks? Better to decide early on what truly matters to you. And FYI, if skipping all the craziness and escaping to a sunny southern destination is your idea of holiday bliss, by all means, do that. But if that’s not going to happen, then read on. What those priorities will look like will be different for everyone. Is it family time? Do you want time to watch movies, play board games, do activities with the kids or grandkids? Is volunteer work important to you? Are you a baker at heart and want to share lovely goodies with everyone? Is it important to you to give special and personal gifts? Do you want to have a party at your house?
Figure out what your non-negotiables are and start there. Prioritize those things when you are dividing up your time.
I want you to get a small box. Put it beside your calendar, planner, list, whatever you’re using to schedule everything. Then put all your guilt for whatever it is you feel you “should” do, but simply don’t have time for, in that box and hide it at the bottom of your closet. Or better yet, write down all the things you’d like to do, feel guilty not doing, but simply can’t do, and then have a ceremonial burning to let it go, followed by a lovely holiday beverage.
Even Martha Stewart can’t do it all. Trust me, she has a lot of people making her holiday tips seem effortless. If you can, have others help you (and if that will just stress you out more, than don’t do it). If help isn’t on the table, then pick a few items off your prioritized list that you know you can accomplish and take a deep cleansing breath and let the others go. I know it would be great if we could do it all, but we’ve already established that’s not possible while retaining our sanity and cheerful disposition.
Here’s a particularly helpful trick I’ve learned. Repeat after me. No. Come on. Say it out loud. NO. When someone asks you to do something that you know is beyond what you can reasonably do, just say no. And then perhaps, direct them to this blog post. This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Saying yes to something that is just going to stress you out, make you angry, or bitter is not worth it.
Start Planning Early
While it’s a nice idea to wait until after Thanksgiving (US) or Remembrance Day (Canada) to start our holiday planning, that is really not a lot of time if the Hallmark extravaganza Christmas is your goal. It doesn’t mean you have to decorate your house the week before Halloween (like I do), but you could have a list of what you want your house to look like this year for Christmas (if that’s important to you). If you are a visual person, maybe set up a Pinterest board for inspiration. Ideally, you’ll shop the sales after the previous Christmas for any new holiday décor you’d like to incorporate. Unless money is no issue, in which case email so I can become your personal Christmas consultant.
You can buy your holiday cards the year before, or make them over the summer months when things are less hectic and maybe even address the envelopes so you’re way ahead of the game. Or dispense with cards altogether and send out holiday wishes by email. If you’re going to do a family holiday pic, then get that done in September or October. It’s a lot nicer standing outside when it’s 75 F then 7 F.
Start knitting that special item you want to give to someone well ahead of time. Bake cookies ahead and freeze them. Think outside the box and do what you can in advance, so those precious weeks before the holidays can be devoted to the things you’ve prioritized.
FYI it’s probably already too late to “start early” if you’re reading this and haven’t already started. But there’s always next year. Everyone’s prioritized list is different, but get creative in ways you can get things done early.
Set a Budget and Stick To It
Yes. Actually stick to the budget you set for yourself. I could make millions with that nifty bit of financial advice, right? If you want a stress-free holiday, you don’t want to be paying for it next July. I think we put way too much pressure on ourselves for how much we should spend on gifts, let alone decorations, food, charitable giving, etc.
Again, look at your priorities. If you want to give some expensive gifts, then cut back elsewhere. If you want to give to a charity, but can’t afford it, see if you can volunteer your time instead. I’ll be honest. I don’t remember what I got for most of my Christmases growing up. What I do remember is the time spent with my family. But this is your holiday, so check those priorities and allot the budget in accordance.
There are all kinds of tips and tricks not to spend money or to save money. Leave the credit cards at home. Freeze the credit cards in water so you have to wait for them to thaw to make a purchase. Disconnect your credit card from online shopping sites so you have to enter it manually each time. Put all your coins in a jar during the year. Set aside money each month in a separate account just for Christmas. But once your budget is set, stick to it. Remember that helpful trick from Tip 2? Say NO.
Having done all the above, remember to be flexible. If you realize it’s actually more important to have time with the family then to make homemade cards, then go buy some holiday cards, or skip them altogether. If you were going to make gingerbread houses and you realize you don’t have time to bake, then buy a kit from Walmart, or try using Pop-Tarts. Yup, I did that last year. That baby blanket you were going to knit for your third grandchild, and it’s December 20 and you haven’t even bought the wool, maybe it’s time to purchase something instead.
If you were counting on getting a picture of your cat wearing a Santa outfit and your arms look like something from a horror movie for the effort, maybe just skip it. The same goes for getting all the kids to look at the camera while smiling. When my kids were little I wanted them to dress up like shepherds and angels and act out the nativity while I read it from the Bible. Let’s just say that I was the only one in the room that had that particular desire, and that included other adults. Sometimes you just gotta let go.
Remember, deep calming breaths. Ask yourself, will this matter in 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years. Another phrase to put on repeat: It doesn’t have to be perfect to be okay.
Schedule Down Time
We all need to have time to relax and unwind. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating right? When was the last time you exercised or took a walk? How you relax is a personal thing. One person might need a soak in a tub, while another person goes for a five-mile run. Whatever you need, schedule some time for it. Your family and friends want the happy, sane person you are January through October showing up for the holidays.
Once again, let’s repeat that ever-helpful word I taught you earlier. NO. Giving up all your time to eat, sleep, exercise, and relax, so you can do more for others is not going to contribute to a less stressful holiday. Just because someone asks you to do something does not in any way require you to agree to do it. And don’t feel you have to make excuses if you say no. A simple, “I’m so sorry, I have previous commitments,” or “I’d love to help, but I’m not available.” And please, no guilt. Go get the box from the bottom of the closet.
Something I noticed in my banking days that really opened my eyes to the difference between men and women regarding schedules. When one of the guys in the office left early, they just said, “See you later.” When a woman left early, she’d give a laundry list of all the reasons why she needed to go and how she’d come in early or work late to make up the time.
Well, that’s it, my 6 tips for having a less stressful holiday. Let’s be realistic, you’re probably still going to stress about things. But I truly hope you’ll stress a bit less if you manage to incorporate just one thing from the above, even if that one thing is to buy a better quality cooking sherry.