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 cajolingbegging 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
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!