How can it possibly be December next week?! Didn’t November just begin? This fall I’ve felt like I’m in one of those movie scenes where you see the pages of the calendar turning in fast motion. Each morning I wake up, notice the date on my bedside clock, and think to myself, No way! It can’t possibly be Sept. 15…or Oct. 29…or Nov. 23!
It hasn’t been a bad thing though. Such is life when things are busy, in a good way, humming along at the pace of parenthood, where the days occur in real-time but months and weeks seem to happen in fast-forward.
And now here we are, on the cusp of Christmas season. Last year we hit the holiday sweet spot and really, truly enjoyed the season as a family. So I’ve been thinking about how I can make sure that happens again. How do we ensure that this time of year, which has a tendency to get so chaotic and possibly stressful, is one of slowing down and taking the time to really enjoy traditions and time together? How do we ensure our time and energy during the holiday season goes into things that fill us up rather than leave us feeling depleted?
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few ideas for simplifying and focusing our family’s attention on what is important. None of this is revolutionary, but sometimes it helps to remind ourselves (by which I mean, it helps to remind myself).
1. It sometimes helps to get the “work” out of the way early.
One year, almost by accident, I had all of my holiday cards addressed and gifts ordered before Thanksgiving. It was awesome. When December rolled around, I had the time and energy to really enjoy myself. By doing things ahead of time, the stress of last-minute “deadlines” is avoided.
I’m thinking of ways to maximize spare time when I have it and can actually enjoy getting things done, rather than hastily rushing through. For instance, last year I made Christmas cookies early in the month, on days when I was home with Bee and we wanted something fun to do. Then I froze them to have on hand. It was much more pleasant than trying to find time to bake the night before an event. At the same time…
2. Let it go.
It’s the year of Frozen and I just couldn’t resist! What I mean is, I’ve realized many of the things I label as “necessary” parts of the holidays really are not necessary at all. Is it the end of the world if cards don’t get sent this year? No. Is it okay to say No to an invitation for yet another holiday get-together and curl up at home watching Rudolph with the kids instead? Abso-freakin’-lutely.
I’m trying really hard not to overextend myself. I’ve been wanting to host a happy hour for the women in my neighborhood for a while, as a way to getting to know them better, and I had this grand vision of hosting a “Cookies and Cocktails” party in December. Then I realized that coordinating a holiday party for a group of people I don’t know very well was just going to stress me out, even if I had come up with the perfect name for it. The neighborhood happy hour can wait until spring. Instead, I think I’ll invite a few of my very favorite friends to drink wine by the Christmas tree one evening, which will be way more low-key. I’m keeping a close eye on our December calendar and working hard to not overcommit our family.
3. Limit the lists.
‘Tis better to give than to receive, right? Um, yeah. Unless you are an 8-year-old, in which case receiving is pretty darn important too. How do we keep the kids from going overboard with their wish lists? Like many families, we limit the boys to a certain number of wishes (5, in our family). The same list goes to Santa and Mommy and Daddy. In the hopes of shopping early, we ask for the lists around Thanksgiving and then that’s it. This strategy has a couple of benefits. It helps the kids prioritize and get excited about what they really want. It also keeps their list from growing and growing and growing right up until December 24, which makes it easier to focus the kids’ energy on other things – like spending time together and doing for others.
4. Create simple holiday traditions.
There are so many great things happening in December and so many inspiring ideas out there. It seems like there are more and more possibilities as the boys get older and it can be tempting to try to do everything. Instead, I’ve started thinking about what traditions our family enjoys the most and that are most meaningful. I want to be sure we create space for those and not worry so much about the rest.
Last year I came across this great post from Rebecca at Simple As That about a Christmas Book Countdown. It’s a simple concept: Wrap up a pile of 24 holiday books (library books work just fine!) and unwrap one each evening to read together as a family. It become one of my very favorite parts of the day and did something I hadn’t anticipated – it brought our family together, every evening. Extra bonus: It provided an awesome incentive for my kids to get ready for bed without a fuss. That, to me, is worth making a tradition.
5. Give to others.
The holiday season is full of opportunities to be of service to others. (Yes, of course those opportunities exist year round too!) There is a lot of joy to be found by directing our family’s attention outside our immediate world and thinking about how we can bring a little extra happy into someone else’s.
At bedtime last night, I asked Bee to help me think of three random acts of kindness for the holidays. He suggested giving some of the boys’ clothes that don’t fit them to another family, providing food to someone in need, and donating a toy, which got us talking about how we could drop off some gently used toys at the local shelter for women and children. His ideas were simple ones that we could easily do, and at the end of the day we’ll have that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing we’ve done something meaningful.
If you could keep only 3 holiday traditions this year, which traditions would you choose?