How is the holiday season treating you so far?  Already wiped out?  Christmas can easily become such a stressful time of year – too many events and not enough blank boxes on the calendar, too many people on the gift-giving list and not enough in the wallet.  Too many expectations, real or perceived, and not enough hands to do it all.  The idyllic holiday scene in your mind just doesn’t match the living room scene before you.  It might be too… just not what you want.

So your holiday preparation assignment today?

Breathe.  Relax your shoulders.  And do the following.

1. Write down some descriptive words.

Take a moment with a cup of coffee, a pen, your family calendar, and your journal, and list 3 to 5 words that describe your ideal current holiday season.  Be careful to appropriately define the word ideal.  I don’t mean “magazine picture-perfect.”  I mean, what’s best for everyone in your family, in your current situation?  That’s my definition of ideal.

My words: joyful, prayerful, fun, people-centric, restful, celebrating the birth of Jesus

2. Update your calendar.

Got your words?  Okay, now grab your calendar, and make sure it’s up to date – at least through the end of the year.  Scribble in your kids’ school performances, your company parties, and the day you’ve got a babysitter to go Christmas shopping with your spouse.  Making sure your calendar is up to speed means your brain isn’t scattered and you don’t have that nagging I-know-I’m-forgetting-something feeling.

Our calendar: We’ve checked with the family members with whom we’re celebrating the holidays, so we know when they come and go (which affects how we spend our time).  We’ve scribbled down a list of additional people we want to see.  I’ve planned my blog posts for the rest of the year.

3. Evaluate your family’s commitments.

Once your calendar is up to date, back up and look at the entire month, the big picture.  Is there enough white space? Are there blank boxes?

If so, good.  If not, you’re booked.  Don’t accept any more commitments.

Us?: We’re booked.

4. List the rest of your priorities.

Now make a list of things you’d still really like to do for the holidays.  Keep it somewhat realistic (no “speed off to the airport with no one knowing and buy first-class tickets to Hawaii”), but keep it light-hearted as well.  Think of the fun things you’d like to do.

Then, for the rest of the hoilday season, make those more of a priority than doing what you feel like you should do.  Pay your bills, get enough sleep, and spend time with the in-laws, of course.  But don’t scale that gingerbread house from scratch if you just simply don’t have the energy, time, or money to do so.  It won’t be fun if you’re doing it because you feel like you’re supposed to.  Remember the words from the first task?  Keep your to-do list focused on making those words a reality.

a christmas story movie
Photo by Coco Calletti

My holiday list:

watch A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Christmas Vacation, and The Nativity Story address and mail Christmas cards to close friends and family drive around and look at Christmas lights make and decorate cookies with my daughter make one Christmas craft with my daughter read most of Your Money or Your Life sit down with my husband and write some family goals for 2009 relax, laugh, and play games with my extended family get enough sleep

That’s my list, so that’s what I’ll be doing.  As much as I love poring over amazing craft blogs and drooling over festive recipes on food blogs, I’ll have to be content with bookmarking them for another time.  I think we’ll do crafts like snowmen garland, or woodland snowflakes, or perhaps a pretty snowstorm.  And food?  I think we’ll stick with simple cookies.  Or perhaps gingerbread – mmm.

5. Smile, laugh, and relax.

Remember your life’s priorities during the holidays, and respect them.  Don’t force it to be more than it is, yet don’t neglect its spiritual remembrance. Reflect on your childhood holiday memories.  I’ll bet you most of them have to do with family, friends, and a general festive atmosphere.  If you’re like me, you barely remember all the gifts and all the events.

After you’ve done this exercise, please share your thoughts in the comments.  I’d love to hear from you…  Are you stressed?  Where do you think the pressure stems from?  Does your attitude about the holidays affect your family?  What are you looking forward to for the rest of the holidays?

For more thoughts on keeping the holidays simple, peruse some writing from my fellow Life Skills Network members:

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