It's December, which means for many of us, Christmas is coming, and along with it, a to-do list a mile long, an ever-shrinking bank account, and a house full of guests, among other things. Do you remember when you were a child, filled with the wonder and excitement of the season? I do. Everything was magical. Of course, as children we have no clue just how much goes into pulling off an enchanting holiday. But now that I'm a mom, boy do I know. The snow globe has burst and there's glitter everywhere.
I'm not going to spew a bunch of platitudes because I know you're busy baking, shopping, decorating and hosting. To that end, I'll keep it brief and practical. I've even made up an acronym for you because I love them and it gives me an opportunity to create a pretty image on Canva.
I wouldn't write a blog post advocating something I didn't do myself. Over the past few years, I've employed all of these techniques and they've made a difference. I won't lie and say I'm no longer stressed during the Christmas season, but I can tell you my stress level has dropped substantially. A lot of these are obvious, maybe even trite, but perhaps one or two will resonate with you.
Anything you can prepare in advance, do so. Shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, decorating, cleaning–this is probably the number one thing that has cut down on my stress. I usually start shopping in October and by early December, have 90% of it done and wrapped.
Last year I made double batches of cookies, rolled them into balls and froze them in single layers. Then I put them in bags and on top wrote the oven temperature and length of baking time. If someone dropped by or the kids wanted a treat, all I had to do was pull out the bags and in fifteen minutes, I had an assortment of cookies, hot from the oven. I also do this with appetizers.
All of us could benefit from lowering our expectations. We've had Christmases without power due to ice storms, in bed with the flu, and in hospitals dealing with life and death situations. Families argue, gifts bomb and food burns. Life is messy and that doesn't stop because it's Christmas.
Release your expectations of a "perfect Christmas." It doesn't exist. I prepare what I can, but in the end, I understand that there's a lot beyond my control. When things go wrong as they sometimes do, roll with it, laugh at it and salvage what you can.
In our ever-imposing social media world, it's easier than ever to peek through the windows of others. What we see may leave us wanting. Wherever you are, whether what you wish for is intangible or material, focusing on our blessings will always fill us with joy. I believe the simplest things bring us the greatest happiness. Whether it's quietly drinking our coffee (hot, without reheating it five times), a hug from a child, a good belly laugh, or warm mittens, there's always something to be thankful for.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy technology and other gadgets, but when I'm thanking God for my blessings, it isn't for my flat-screen TV or my jewelry. It's for my health, my family and friends, and other intangibles. Gratitude, when practiced often, will reduce stress, increase joy and best of all, leave you blissfully content.
Cease traditions that don't serve you. Three years ago, I stopped sending out Christmas cards. It was a tough decision and that first year it felt wrong, especially as the cards rolled in. But the time, money and effort saved have been well worth it.
If there's a tradition you're holding onto that mostly causes you stress, end it. There's no hard and fast rule that says you must sustain all traditions. Who says you have to display your entire Christmas village or that massive nutcracker collection? Do you have to host the annual Christmas open house? Or bake a dozen different types of cookies? How about that fifteen-foot tree that takes two days to decorate? Evaluate your traditions and stick with the ones that bring you joy. This year, I left one third of my decorations in the basement. I'm thinking next year I'll reduce by half.
If you're a parent, remember that you set the tone in your house. A stressed-out, frustrated mom or dad will quickly zap the magic out of the holiday season.
Christmas, like life, is made up of a series of moments. Some will be fun, others annoying, and many neutral. For years, I was in the camp of "I'll be so happy after all the decorations/baking/shopping are done," and I missed the joy of the actual activities.
Living in the moment is a learned habit. Instead of rushing through the baking, cooking, shopping and wrapping, I now make myself slow down and enjoy it. Wrapping presents used to be a chore. Now, with a Hallmark movie, a fire, and a glass of wine, it's an evening (or two) that I look forward to. I don't know about you, but I've noticed things always turn out better when I'm actually happy to do them.
Think back for a second to your childhood Christmases. What do you remember most fondly?
For me, it's how pretty my mom's tree looked every year, the time spent in Quebec with my relatives, the chocolat chaud my grandmother made with cocoa powder from the yellow Nestle tin, going to mass in Quebec, hearing the story of Jesus' birth told in French, the rousing rendition of "Minuit Chretien" that sent chills up my spine even at the age of nine, and the clementine-peeling contests with my cousins at my grandparent's farmhouse.
All these years later, those simple, sweet moments put a smile on my face.
That's what the spirit of Christmas is all about.
In the spirit of giving, I've uploaded hand-written Christmas printables to my website, accessible to those who sign up for my newsletter. I've also included instructions on how to print onto fabric to turn these into unique gifts. You can sign up by entering your email on my website. I send out monthly newsletters with updates, freebies and book recommendations.
Wishing each of you a peaceful holiday season,