It's been a crazy busy Christmas season for us this year. How 'bout you? Yeah, I thought so.
We try to slow down the Crazy Train a little early every year so that we can refocus on Jesus, family and the simple life. It's easy to write about slowing down and remembering the reason for the season, but it isn't always easy to actually do when we're faced with real life. We have to do it on purpose.
So how do we manage? The number one thing I do is start early. Start earlier than you think you need to, because the Crazy Train starts it's madness earlier and demands more every year. I start planning in October and try to get my shopping at least mostly done before Thanksgiving. (Sorry, Black Friday Sales. There just isn't a deal out there that's good enough to make me do the Black Friday Madness.) I do a lot of my shopping online instead of running all over town fighting crowds. I wrap gifts as I purchase them, rather than letting them pile up into a Night-Before-Christmas-Mountain-of-Doom. I try to get any cards or gifts that I need to mail sent off by mid-December. Granted, it doesn't always go as smoothly as I would like, but those are my goals.
We usually go on our Christmas School Break in mid-December, so I like to have everything pretty much finished up by then. That way, the kids and I can spend part of each day doing all those Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas things like baking Christmas cookies and candy, making ornaments and cutting paper snowflakes. We read books aloud and spend time together. We slow down at about the time everyone else seems to speed up into a cranky Christmas frenzy.
It wasn't always this way for us. It took a few years of skidding into the finish line exhausted and just wanting to get it over with. It took some heart-searching and honesty on my part to see what was working and what wasn't. It took letting go of traditions that we did simply because we were "supposed to", not because they brought us joy as a family. It meant stepping away from the glossy magazines and simplifying our expectations of Christmas. It took learning to organize, plan and think ahead.
It has been so worth it.
My kids love Christmas. Not just the present part (I'm sure they like that, too). The part they talk about the most, though, are the daily activities we do together as a family, the foods we make, the stories we read. What they value most about Christmas is time --Time slowing down and just being a family.
But the planning and starting early mantra isn't going to help you much if you are looking at your calendar right now. But maybe you haven't looked at a calendar lately. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but "early" is over.
What can you do now if you feel like you have too much to do and too little time to do it? What can you do if the panic has already set in and instead of being patient with your kids, you are snapping at them because they're slowing down your to-do list frenzy?
First of all, dear one, take a deep breath and realize we have all been there. Take a look around you the next time you are standing in a line internally begging it to move faster. Pretty much everyone else is in a panic, too. You are not alone.
Next, give your kiddos a kiss. Everything is going to be okay. Try to get to bed early tonight. I know. You don't have time for sleep. Christmas is almost here. But trust me. You will be much more efficient after you've had a decent night's sleep.
Great. Now you're slightly more rested. We're ready to take back your holiday.
Make a list (if you don't already have one) of everything that you have to do before Christmas. Take a hard look at that list. What brings you joy? What ties you up in knots? How much of that list really has to get done in order for Christmas to be, well, Christmas-y? Start crossing things off that list. Be brutal. I know you think that you have to make 16 versions of Christmas cookies, but wouldn't it still be Christmas if you only made 2 or 3 kinds? Do the Christmas lights on your house really have to look like Martha Stewart's design team put them up in order for you to have a happy Christmas? I know you think no one will understand if you don't go to hear the annual Sheep Bleating Chorus bleat out Jingle Bells. But really, how much is that event promoting your personal Christmas Values? (Nothing against sheep. I happen to like them. I just don't think hearing them bleat really needs to be part of my family's Christmas festivities this year).
My point is this: People will learn to do their festivities without you. Their lives will go on even if you bow out of an event. Simplify your expectations about what you think you must do during the Christmas season. Make your Christmas to-do list manageable. Learn how to say, "No." Or at least, "I'm sorry, but I won't be doing/attending XYZ." You don't have to explain. They really will live without you. I promise.
Once you have pared down your list into something a little more reasonable, begin systematically working through what is left. Keep people as your top priority, not the decor, the food, the events or even the presents. Believe me, people will feel much more blessed by what you've accomplished if you are rested and at peace. I don't care how elaborate your Christmas preparations are. No one will enjoy them if you're cranky or if you've made those preparations a higher priority than your friends and family.
As you work through your to-do list, make notes for next year. What works? What doesn't? What do you wish you had more time to do as a family? What do you wish you never, ever had to do again? What recipes worked? Which ones flopped? These notes may seem unnecessary right now, but next year, they will revolutionize your Christmas planning. It is these notes that will help you identify what you really want out of Christmas and will help you simplify your holidays into something beautiful and meaningful. File them where they will handy for next year. Next October (I actually schedule this in my planner so I don't forget), pull them out and start brain storming for your best Christmas ever.