October 11, 2011

Lighten the Load: No Holiday Blues

We all know that the Holiday Season is upon us. Whether or not we like it, marketing departments and research groups all over have caused the insanity we face each year. First, the Back to School items show up right after the 4th of July, next, the costumes, candy, and Halloween decorations are up before Labor Day. Before your teeth have time to start hurting over the kids’ haul of candy, the Thanksgiving and Fall items have been put away and Christmas songs are playing throughout stores and lights are strung!

I distinctly remember growing up that my mother flat our refused to even entertain the idea of Christmas before the day after Thanksgiving. That’s right! No Black Friday shopping madness at our house…oh wait…that didn’t start until I was in High School…anyway…my family would spend Thursday enjoying the Thanksgiving feast, watching football games, playing games and working puzzles with each other. If it was mild, we’d play football outside, get in what we were sure was our last bike riding. If it had already snowed, or was snowy, we’d hang out and read, and spend time together. We’d enjoy our leftover turkey sandwiches, hang out some more, and head to bed. The next morning, bright and early, we’d be up, hauling up boxes from the basement, or down from the attic space above our garage. We’d move furniture around the living room, vacuum and dust everything thoroughly, and begin putting up our artificial tree. We’d laugh and spend time untangling lights, string them up, get the skirt just so, and put Mom’s special ornaments on the tree – each year a little bit different theme. One year was all her angel ornaments, the next she’d found a steal of a deal on beautiful iridescent icicle ornaments, and the whole tree sparkled, as though covered in frost, with white lights and these gorgeous ornaments. It was almost a shame to put our own motley crew of ornaments on the same tree. While we girls were setting up the tree, my Dad and brothers would be putting up the outdoor lights and hanging the garland along the first floor gutters (or, for my non American readers, eaves-troughs), the giant red velveteen bows on the lamp-post and the wreath upon the door.

By the time we headed back to school for the final 3 weeks of the term, our house was oozing Christmas out every possible location.

Over the following weeks, we’d spend time baking the special cookies our family was known for, decorating, making up beautifully arranged plates and delivering them to the neighbors up and down the street. We’d bake fruit breads, my grandmother incredible white fruit cake that is NOT soaked in alcohol and hideous. This thing is AWESOME, even if it weighs a ton and half…

We’d start our Advent Calendar and Scripture reading faithfully on December 1st. I remember one year, we actually had an Advent Wreath with the candles, and Mom actually lit them…it was my favorite Christmas.

The weeks would creep by slowly, wrapped gifts would start to appear under the tree, and the warnings would be repeated over and over – “LEAVE THE PRESENTS ALONE!” DON’T SHAKE THE GIFTS!!!!”

Christmas Eve Day would arrive, and we’d spend the day, again, together, playing games, doing puzzles, watching the Christmas classics like White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life…in fact, we watched every single Christmas special that aired from Rudolph to Mickey’s Christmas Carol! We’d enjoy some sort of homemade soup that Mom would have in the crock-pot simmering all day. We’d have plates of cookies and breads, veggies, fruit, cheese and crackers…and we’d head out to Christmas Eve services. We’d cajole and whine and hope that my folks would take pity upon us poor children and allow us just one gift to open…sometimes they’d allow it.

Christmas morning was the usual insanity and chaos as we all excitedly woke each other, waited as long as we possibly could to wake Mom and Dad. Dad would go downstairs while we got on robes and slippers, and rubbed the sleep from our eyes…to make certain that Santa had indeed visited our house. We’d wait for that eternity at the top of the stairs, dying inside with each second that passed before my Dad would allow us downstairs. Presents would be opened with quite a bit of order and peace…as much as a family of 7 could muster anyway. As we ripped and tore through paper, oohed and aahed, cheered and screamed our way through the bounty of material blessings, we knew that we’d had the best Christmas ever! As we grew older, there would first be a pot of coffee started as we enjoyed the gifts in our stockings, and then we’d troop, some of us with coffee, some with plates of breakfast goodies like pastries and fruit breads to enjoy while we opened gifts.

We’d clean up the wrappings, and only then were we allowed to actually OPEN the boxes of things to be assembled and decorated with stickers and decals…All our gifts were always stacked neatly and tidily back under the tree so we could enjoy them throughout the day. We’d enjoy a massive breakfast, and then spend the morning playing, enjoying, reading, preparing the dinner feast.

A long distance call was placed to each set of grandparents, and my aunts and uncles, as my parents shared their delight in the Day, and their sadness at being apart from extended family.

Nowhere in my memories did I ever feel stress, or angst, anger, frustration, or the need to compete, to fight over must-have gift items…

And here, is where I get to the meat of this Lighten the Load post…how to escape the insanity of the Holiday Season.

Some things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Each of the Holidays is only 1 day. Unless you are celebrating Hannukah, which is still only 8 days. Do not allow Thanksgiving or Christmas to dominate and dictate an entire week or month or 2 months of your life.
  • Start planning your Holiday Feasts NOW!! If you haven’t already, get out a notebook and pen, or create a new document or spreadsheet on your computer.
  • Start a budget for gifts. Set a dollar amount, and/or number of gifts for each family member. Stick to it. If you say you’ll only spend $15 on extended family members, then do NOT go beyond that amount. If you state each kid will get 5 gifts under the tree, with 3 being from Santa, then STICK TO YOUR GUNS. It is NOT too late to budget – there are still almost 12 weeks until Christmas Day. And, then, start in January on the actual putting aside of money – I actually keep the cash in our little fire safe, in an envelope and each month I add to it. When I begin shopping for Christmas gifts, that’s the money I take with me. Each child has their own envelope, and there’s one for me and one for BB. I also have a Birthday/Anniversary envelope for each of us. That way, I don’t blow our living expense money as I buy the “perfect” gift.
  • If you have an artificial tree, set a day NOW to get it up and decorated. Put it on the calendar, and tell the family that is what you’ll be doing that weekend. Together. Take time in the days/weeks ahead sorting out your decorations, locating boxes and tubs, untangling lights and testing them. And you know what? If the string of lights is not working? TOSS IT! Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT waste your precious time trying to find the rogue bulb…lights are cheap enough that you can go buy a new set and still not have spent the same amount of time as it would take to repair the silly things. I know a family who recycles their lights each year and buys fresh on clearance the week after Christmas! Gather and clean/ready all your ornaments, lights, artificial greenery, ribbon garland etc. That way, on “Decorating Day”, you’ll be more efficient. I sit at night, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and sort our lights as I watch DVR’d episodes of TV with BB. He goes up the ladder, and all the lights are ready to go! No disgruntled hubby!
  • Set a time on your calendar to do any Holiday baking that you can ahead of time. If you do an exchange, or provide a plate of goodies for teachers, pick 2 – 4 recipes, make enough (single or double batch) to share among the gifts. Keep in mind that your teachers are going to get something from almost everyone, so they don’t need a dozen cookies from you! Also, my rule is 2 of each kind of cookie for each family member that we share with. That way, I can bake a triple batch of each recipe, and we end up with about 1 ½ batches given away, and 1 ½ to enjoy over the coming weeks. I also only share those cookies that I know no one else makes! We do pizzelles, kringeles, and a secret family recipe of “press cookies” that makes like a bazillion cookies with my cookie gun. In return, our neighbors provide us with chocolate covered pretzels, home-made candies, those awesome little sugar/butter cookie wreaths with the red hot holly berries, fudge, cheese ball and crackers, and our Mormon neighbors always have cool things – my all-time favorite? The soup in the jar! A mason jar filled with the rice, herbs, spices, split peas and pasta to make an amazing hearty soup that we enjoyed on New Year’s Day after our Feast!
  • Make space in your freezer NOW for leftovers or pre-made items.
  • Plan special event wardrobes NOW – you know there will be concerts, Church Services, Parties…go ahead and pick out what you’ll wear NOW! Make sure you have all the items you need ready to go – shoes polished, hosiery free of snags, no stains or missing fasteners, accessories such as jewelry, ties, hair bows, suspenders. Now is the time, so you can take the next weeks filling in any gaps like black socks, heavy tights, or that special length of ribbon to tie up “fancy hair”.
  • Make a commitment to attend only one special event per family member. That’s right! If your office does multiple events, pick one and go. Go to ONE Christmas program offered outside of your Church and schools. Attend the required events. Book a sitter NOW if necessary.
  • Create an emergency kit of candles, canned goods, blankets, flashlights, dry milk, granola bars and toss in bottles of water, matches, and extra cold weather gear. Stash it in the back of your vehicle. Make this appropriate for your climate zone.
  • If you’re travelling, book a house-sitter/pet-sitter/boarding kennel NOW. Put a reminder on your calendar NOW to stop the paper, mail, and arrange for a neighbor to pull in any deliveries. Make certain that whoever is caring for your house runs water through the faucets, turns on and off lights – anything to keep it appearing as though you are home. Insure someone is around to shovel your drive and walk if you live in the city. Have the check your water heater and furnace to make sure you don’t come home to a flood from something failing.

Above all, make sure you remember why you’re celebrating this Season! Regardless of your beliefs, this upcoming Season is magical. Choose happiness and joy, choose peace and contentment. Remember that NO ONE is perfect. There is NO SUCH THING as a perfect holiday.

I welcome your advice, recommendations, memories, and even the things you’re planning on doing!

PS– that Advent Calendar? Hasn’t happened yet…we ran into a crazy smoking deal of 60 pounds of apples for only $30, so I’ve been putting up applesauce, peaches and salsa for the last few weeks. If this mild weather continues in Colorado, I’ll get a third batch of salsa out of my tomato plants!

1 comment:

Kat said...

Thanks for the organizing tips and most importantly, the reminder that no one is perfect and there is no such thing as a perfect holiday. So much of my holiday stress is self-imposed. Who cares if everything looks and tastes perfect if Momma is stressed out and barking at her Hubby and kids? This year, I'm focusing and seeking Peace instead of Perfection. Thanks for the great post!