Avoiding over-commitment and enjoying the week of Christmas

The families were coming, wagons drying off in the garages, gloves and hats laid out by the front door.

They had all responded to our invitation for our annual night of caroling through the neighborhood. Snow or rain, about 40 people – from big grown-ups down to the wee little babes – would pack into our tiny house for hot chocolate and sweets, and to practice up on our songs. Then out the door to the neighbors we’d go, with our harmonies, kids, and sometimes umbrellas.

But then, what once was a blessing turned into a burden. It wasn’t fun for us anymore. We were trying to pack too much into our schedule, and the stress of entertaining on this night didn’t feel right anymore.

So we stopped. It was a painful decision for me, because I wanted to do it all.

This was years ago, during the week before Christmas, but I can still remember the “rush” of Christmas that was running through my veins:

I need to host this dinner party (because I’m the party-girl), attend these functions (because we always have), get the kids involved in this and that (will they have a normal childhood if they don’t experience it every year?), host the Christmas caroling night at our house (what’s Christmas without caroling?), write out the 100 Christmas cards (with pictures), make the homemade cookie baskets for everyone I know, and still keep a smile on my face.

Looking back, I can now admit:
I was over-commited.

So much about Christmas sounds exciting on December 1: the tree goes up, the Christmas dishes come out of the boxes, Pandora’s playing our favorite tunes – everything is so exciting and fresh for the season.

But by the time the week before Christmas rolls around, life can be pure drudgery.

The Christmas season should be one that we enjoy, not dread – each year, exciting and new. But we have to learn to count the cost and not let our emotions get in the way.

Learning how to avoid over-commitment

1. Journal: write down your hopes, dreams, and desires for you and your family for the holidays. Separate out the pages according to Family, Must-Dos, Dreams, and Invitations, and then prioritize the essentials and non-essentials in each category.

2. Family: be willing to ask your family their opinion regarding whether they want to keep certain traditions going, or it’s time to make a change.

3. Must-Dos: consider stopping or changing the way you’ve always done things in the past. Is there a better way? What would happen if you stopped?

4. Dream: it’s beautiful to dream and come up with new ideas. Write these down and try something new!

5. Invitations: don’t say yes to any invitation until you’ve really counted the cost.

I’ve learned that by not answering an invitation right away, I actually have time to think things through. Just because you’ve always attended “that party” doesn’t mean you have to say yes every year. What if saying no could affect your family in a positive way?

By now, I’ve set realistic expectations for entertaining in my home, choosing a few parties to host (not feeling like I have to do it all), and have given myself permission to back out of commitments, if it’s better for our family.

It’s okay to simplify our lives in the most hectic season of all.

The simplicity of Christ’s birth is the reminder we need to slow down.

Don’t over-commit.

This week, don’t miss the message – a message that came to us in the quiet of a barn, with no electric lights or temperature control or fanfare.

What are your tips for not over-commiting during the week before Christmas?


Sandy Coughlin is an author, blogger, wife, and mom to three children. She lives in Oregon and loves to develop recipes, cook, and host dinner parties. Read more at Reluctant Entertainer.

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  1. Beautifully said! I have done this for so many years, tried to pack in too many activities or whatever… all you end up doing is making yourself and your family miserable.

  2. It is so hard to say enough is enough when it comes to Christmas. Just this week I had a dinner and gift exchange planned with friends that was quickly growing into a night of shopping too. Truth was I didn’t have energy left to hit the mall one more time even with friends, so I simple told them I would drive myself and meet them for dinner and skip out on the shopping, neither seemed disappointed despite me being nervous that they would. Both understood that I am not much of a shopper or a night owl, and were happy to just spend time with me over dinner.

    • I can so relate to this! Why do we hype things up in our mind that our friends or society in general will just be done with us if we do such-n-such?
      I had a really hard time a few years back when I had to start being realistic about my finances. I stopped doing gift exchanges and I thought everyone would be upset. They were totally understanding and I just tell them not to get me a gift either, let’s just spend time together!

    • Sounds like you really worked it out, Victoria. I’ve learned that my immediate family (husband included) is really the most important. I don’t really do the girlfriend stuff during the month of December, and it’s okay! I love the coziness of home and kids and good food, music playing … awwww …..

  3. There’s nothing like overcommitting to zap the joy out of the season for me. To avoid that, I tend to look at the majority of the holiday celebrations as optional: adult gifts are optional, cards are optional, and many events are optional. Enjoyed this piece.

    • Thanks Audrey. I so agree. Traditions (holiday celebrations) can ruin us! We’re doing something totally different on Christmas Day this year. I’m so happy –I reached out in a new way that I haven’t done in years–because years ago I stopped the tradition because it wasn’t working for me. 🙂

  4. The biggest way we keep from being over-committed is we try not to travel. Both of our families are a long car ride away and we’ve found Christmas is much more enjoyable if we stay home, enjoy our little family and visit our extended families at other, less-filled-with-expectations times of year.

    • I like this, Steph. We’ve always stayed home for Christmas, but I’ve always admired the people who travel (because it’s important to them), because it can be so stressful. It’s good you learned what works for your family. 🙂 Merry Christmas!

  5. Thank you so much for this reminder. We try to slow down and enjoy each other’s company during the holidays, but it is tough to do that sometimes. We make a habit out of staying home all day on Christmas, often in our jammies, taking time with gifts, eating when we are hungry, just relaxing. I love that.

    • Stephenie, same for us. Home, jammies, movies, fire, good food (sometimes leftovers! yikes) … it’s a wonderful day for us! Thanks for sharing.

  6. We have tried saying no to others in our family, but they are just not getting the hint!! It is so frustrating when we are trying to intentionally slow down and simplify our holiday to be sucked into celebrating in a way that completely sucks the joy out of the season. We are now just looking forward to the 26th when it will all be over. 🙁

    • Michelle, some of my younger family members have struggled with the same problem. Big family, great expectations. They’ve learned to say no, I’m so proud of them. They don’t get sucked in and they have started creating their own memories for their young family. I think we live in fear if we say “no” but really, is our family going to stop loving us because we set a boundary? I hope you can do this next year and ENJOY up to 12/25! 🙂 Hugs!

  7. In past years, when I have felt overwhelmed, I have vented about it on paper. But I also write a follow-up entry sometime on Christmas Day — when my feelings are usually different and I realize that some things were, in fact, worth all the hassle. I put these notes in an envelope and tape it to the following December on the calendar to read before the season begins. This helps me to truly learn from one year to the next.

    • That is a great tip, Julie. Thanks so much for sharing. It is true, sometimes meaningful things can be hard work, it takes our effort to make memories happen, so I could see where this tool could really help! 🙂

  8. When our boys were little, I had an Advent Calendar wall hanging with an appliqued tree above 24 numbered pockets. My sister-in-law, who made it, apologized for not finishing the 24 little ornaments she’d intended to put in the pockets, for hanging on the tree one by one–but I loved it just the way it was. I numbered small red and green sheets of notepaper [about Post-It size, to fit the pockets], one for each day, and each year chose an array of one-each-day activities. Each Sunday had an Advent scripture reading. Some days had big things like making cookies [one kind only in a day; sugar cookies got made one day, frosted another]; others had small things like cutting paper snowflakes or driving/walking neighborhoods to see Christmas lights. Made sure the kids had something to look forward to each day [they got to take turns pulling out the day’s activity card] without getting us into overdrive–days of big things all in a row, for instance. I’d take time the end of Thanksgiving weekend to plan that year’s activities, with things like dates for school concerts already known, so they could be figured in.

  9. We are definitely a much happier family when we aren’t over committed.

  10. This is the first year I intentionally tried to simplify so that I could focus more on Christ! I have to say – I don’t regret it in the slightest 🙂 I blogged about it a couple of weeks ago too: http://redandhoney.com/2012/11/5-ways-to-simplify-christmas/

  11. Sandy, we changed how we are doing things this year i have written a few posts about it.
    It is good to re evaluate now and again. It gives us perspective, when everything around us is going at the rate of Santa’s sleigh.
    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  12. I really loved this post because it is so true. Peace, joy, love and hope are what Christmas is really all about and how can we have that if we are overcommitted and stressed. We just moved to a new City so for us it’s not difficult to not overcommit and we are appreciating and loving every minute of it.

  13. You’re so right–there are so many things that I WANT to do, that I think we SHOULD do, and even a few we HAVE to do. I’m working hard to sort activities into these categories, which makes it easier to not be too disappointed if the “wants” or “shoulds” don’t work out. As you mentioned, we try to map out activities early in December so that we are sure to do what we want to most.

    P.S. I love Susan NC Price’s idea for using an advent calendar to remember and fit everything in! Now the challenge of remembering that for next year!

  14. I implemented #5 on your list this year for the first time ever. We always spend Christmas with my family. I love to see them, but it’s 3 hours round trip (not terrible, I know) and it’s just too tiring now that we have a toddler and baby #2 is due any day now. I fully intended to go when I first received the invitation, but as I sat on it for a few days, I decided I’d rather just stay home. It will be hard for me not to spend the day with my family, but, I think it will be a much more relaxed day.

  15. I keep the week before Christmas enjoyable by planning well earlier. We travel across the country to visit family almost every Christmas. As a result, for that time to be enjoyable, I will have already talked over holiday plans with my mom and sisters. We will already have meal plans in place. We stick to a handful of simple Christmas traditions. And I purchase almost all of our gifts online shipping them to my mom’s house. All this planning ahead actually makes our Christmas visit enjoyable, not frantic.

  16. I love the honesty in everything you have said. Holidays is meant to be shared with families and preparing your home for them makes it even more exciting!

  17. Thank YOU! While I’m certainly not overcommitted, I’m guilty of getting quite caught up in the “ideal” of Christmas rather than the “idea” behind Christmas.. I need reminders like this post to tell me that it doesn’t have to be about a BIG dinner party or killing myself baking Christmas cakes.. Thank you, Sandy and wishing you and yours a peace-filled holiday season.

  18. It looks like you summed up all my feelings in this post. Over committed=stress=sickness. I used to get sick after Christmas day. It just shows how fatigued I was during those times. So I have decided to decline invitations that make me stay up very late, say no to some family members who wanted us to visit them, and avoid cooking very complicated and taxing menus. This has made me a better person and good company during Christmas day.

  19. In addition to over-committing, I think many people neglect to really plan ahead for the holidays. There are so may things you an do well in advance to help relieve that holiday stress.

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