Monday, November 14, 2011

Five Things about The Holidays (dun-dun-DUN!)

Over the weekend, one of my friends posted a status to Facebook that, well, reminded me of me. She seemed to be feeling overwhelmed by the idea of The Holidays (dun-dun-DUN!) and the rush that goes along with it, and the feeling of needing to get everything done. I'm paraphrasing, and I hope not misunderstanding what she wrote, but reading her status made me wonder if she was somehow inside my head. :D

Years ago, I used to let myself get overwhelmed and stressed by The Holidays (capitalization is a must here; the dun-dun-DUN! is optional, but silly, and I'm generally pro-silly so I'm keeping it in), to the point where I wanted to avoid the whole thing completely and be a big Scrooge.

One of the things that helped me get over myself was just chilling out some (a phenomenon that seems to be correlated with age/wisdom/parenthood in general). Another was reading a book called Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season.

It's been years since I read this book, and some of the details are fuzzy. (I thought I still had it around somewhere, but I think it might have gone into my last donation box/garage sale. So I can't refer to it directly for this post.) But one of the main things I remember from it was making a list of my holiday priorities. The idea is to list the top five things you LOVE about The Holidays (dun-dun-DUN!), to determine which events/activites define Holiday sine qua non-ness (I just made that up, can you tell?) for YOU. Maybe it was three things, or seven things, I honestly can't really remember. But the list was definitely short on purpose.

I love this exercise and after thinking about MY priorities for The Holidays (dun-dun-DUN!), I came up with a list of Must-Dos. And then I let everything else go. That first Thanksgiving/Christmas after I read this book was enjoyable. I had liberated myself from feeling overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations of activities and events that, upon reflection, weren't really fun to me anyway.

Some examples of things I've let go of in past years:

  • The need to decorate every inch of my house inside and out. Sometimes we do it, and sometimes not. But I no longer feel guilty if I never get around to it.
  • The need to make every single kind of special holiday treat I ever had as a child. Sure, Christmas cookies are yummy, and who doesn't like to decorate a gingerbread house? But there are only so many baking hours in me (and that was even before I turned away from the grain-train), and so cookies and candy are not a priority.
  • Breaking our budget to buy gifts for one and all. This sounds stingy, but it's not borne out of stinginess--it's simply a recognition of the fact that our money is finite. For years we spent way too much at Christmas and then struggled for the first few months of the year. Then, a few years ago, we decided to stop exchanging gifts with the other adults in our extended families. It was a difficult decision for some of our family to accept, but I think they do understand. And I'm glad we did it. That leaves us with a reasonable budget to buy for the kids and do something special for our whole family, too (usually a big item, like the year we got a Wii). And it cuts down on the amount of things we have in our home, and since I'm in decluttering mode, this is a good thing. Our families get gifts for the children, so the kids are not deprived at all.

The Facebook conversation this weekend got me re-evaluating my priorities again. Because I think they've changed. And someone else on the thread mentioned asking her family for THEIR priorities. Which I think I'll do at our next Family Conference.

My Top 5 Things (this year) are:

1. Go to the mall with the kids early in the season (this is a must, as I hate holiday crowds) to get gifts for Brendan and look at the decorations. We'll go to Starbucks and drink hot chocolates (I'll treat myself to a peppermint mocha because that tastes like Christmas) and watch the kids waiting to see Santa. I'm really looking forward to this.
2. Put up our new little Christmas village. It's not as badass as Spooky Town, but it's cute.
3. Watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff version, always always always) as many times as possible with the fam.
4. Listen to the Christmas carol radio station as much as the kids can stand it.
5. Get fun and creative stocking stuffers for everyone (the bacon band aids were such a hit last year).

If only those five things get done (besides the usual stuff like getting presents for the kids and making a yummy Christmas dinner), I will be happy and enjoy my holiday season! Everything else is GRAVY. And I can't wait to find out what the kids come up with for their Top 5 lists. (We might have to pare this down to Top 3.)

My list is different this year. Christmas cards used to be on my Top 5 list, but I'm not really feeling that they are NECESSARY this year. I will probably do them, but it's not such a priority this year (sorry, friends and fam). I'm not exactly sure why this is, but I'm pretty certain that I won't feel too sad if I skip a year. So Christmas cards are not on the Gravy list.

Other Gravy list items:

  • Decorating the outside of the house
  • Driving around to see Christmas lights on other houses
  • Finding cute matching clothing/pajamas for the kids and forcing cajoling begging them to sit still and not irritate each other for 2 minutes for a photo shoot (which is part of why the cards are lower down this year).
  • I might bake cookies--the good thing about older kids is that they are competent to do this somewhat independently, so I might pass along this responsibility to those who will be the ones eating all the cookies anyway. 

What's on your Top 5 list? What's on your Gravy list? And, probably more importantly, why?

I highly recommend this exercise, especially if you are prone to getting overwhelmed by The Holidays (dun-dun-DUN!) like I was. Identify your top values and go after those first. Make happiness a priority (your own happiness, as well as the happiness of the potential innocent victims of your holiday madness the people you care about the most). Because the whole point of this time of year is to experience Joy and Goodwill Toward Men and all that good stuff.

And it is MUCH easier to do that when you don't want to simply kill everyone who stands in the way of your holiday goals. No, really!


Kelly Elmore said...

This year, I am chucking Christmas all together! Aaron and I are going to be out of the country for the whole thing, and I am just cancelling it. :)

Livy will do Christmas with her dad. Aaron and I will be going to a Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols at Westminster Abbey. Other than that, I am not going to worry about it at all. No presents, no decorations, no nothing.

I thought I would be sad about this, at least a little, but it feels like a huge relief to me. Maybe I'm the Grinch, but if so, it's good to be the Grinch. Very freeing.

C L said...

A sort-of-related-story:

Somewhere in suburban Chicago is a house with an enormous yearly electric Christmas display / tourist attraction. There probably are a few like that, but here I'm talking about the one I went to.

A few doors down from the spectacle, a neighbor had a solitary neon sign in an upstairs window that said, "Bah, Humbug"

Anonymous said...

What my family usually does for the adults is a secret santa. That way everyone gets a nice gift, but nobody ends up spending hundreds of dollars on things that most of us mostly don't want anyway. imp

bofroggy said...

I love this post - I have been scaling back for a few years now, and it seems like every year, it's more and more enjoyable :) We have a couple of traditions that no one wants to skip:

On Christmas Eve, my Dad always reads "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to the kids. Even the huge teenagers get as close as they can on the couch and listen.

We have our big Christmas meal on Christmas Eve, around 2:00. I started this a few years ago and it's wonderful. That evening, we make cookies and decorate them. I usually have a breakfast casserole or something easy that requires no prep for Christmas morning, and we pick at leftovers for the rest of the day. I always hated that I had to leave the festivities to start dinner, and now I don't have to.

Also, we have to watch "Elf" at least a hundred times, and I need to see "It's a Wonderful Life" at least once.

Here's to a relaxed and fun holiday!

Lynne said...

It is ridiculous how much I'm looking forward to watching Elf with the family on Thanksgiving eve or that weekend as a kick-off to our holiday joy! Hearing hand-bells and choir voices in Christmas Carols also really put me in serene holiday mood. The smell of cedar, balsam, and all things pine-scented wafting through the house, the sight of all things that twinkle, sparkle, and clink, and the satisfaction that comes from a fabulously meticulous wrapping job for a homemade gift are a few of the other happy things I will concentrate on this year.

All things considered, I'd still rather go to England with my honey for the holidays. :)

Jenn Casey said...

I think we'll start a new "Elf" tradition this year because that is such a funny funny movie.

And Bo--I love your idea of doing the big fancy meal the day before. It'll be just us this year, so maybe I'll do that. Because let's face it--the kids will be eating candy canes and cookies all day long anyway.

Lynne--you reminded me that I might need to add some Christmas scents to my plan. Because, CEDAR! And BALSAM!

And yeah, I'd gladly throw a Yule Log on top of the whole thing if I had a chance to go to England instead!

David Buchner said...

Thanks for sharing this. I'm going to make my wife read it.

I like going out in the woods, finding a tree, and cutting it down and dragging it home. That's pretty much it for me.
Okay: that, and the Charlie Brown special.

Kelly Elmore said...

The things is though, that even years when I don't go to England, I am kind of a Christmas humbug. I don't ruin other people's fun, but it's just not such a rockin holiday as Halloween or Easter.

Tough Guy and Little Man said...

So glad I read this today. I am definitely going to take your approach this year! Who knows, maybe for once I'll actually enjoy The Holidays! (dun-dun-DUN!)