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The top of your holiday to-do list: breathe.

How is the holiday season treating you so far?  Already wiped out?  Christmas can easily become such a stressful time of year – too many events and not enough blank boxes on the calendar, too many people on the gift-giving list and not enough in the wallet.  Too many expectations, real or perceived, and not enough hands to do it all.  The idyllic holiday scene in your mind just doesn’t match the living room scene before you.  It might be too… just not what you want.

So your holiday preparation assignment today?

Breathe.  Relax your shoulders.  And do the following.

1. Write down some descriptive words.

Take a moment with a cup of coffee, a pen, your family calendar, and your journal, and list 3 to 5 words that describe your ideal current holiday season.  Be careful to appropriately define the word ideal.  I don’t mean “magazine picture-perfect.”  I mean, what’s best for everyone in your family, in your current situation?  That’s my definition of ideal.

My words: joyful, prayerful, fun, people-centric, restful, celebrating the birth of Jesus

2. Update your calendar.

Got your words?  Okay, now grab your calendar, and make sure it’s up to date – at least through the end of the year.  Scribble in your kids’ school performances, your company parties, and the day you’ve got a babysitter to go Christmas shopping with your spouse.  Making sure your calendar is up to speed means your brain isn’t scattered and you don’t have that nagging I-know-I’m-forgetting-something feeling.

Our calendar: We’ve checked with the family members with whom we’re celebrating the holidays, so we know when they come and go (which affects how we spend our time).  We’ve scribbled down a list of additional people we want to see.  I’ve planned my blog posts for the rest of the year.

3. Evaluate your family’s commitments.

Once your calendar is up to date, back up and look at the entire month, the big picture.  Is there enough white space? Are there blank boxes?

If so, good.  If not, you’re booked.  Don’t accept any more commitments.

Us?: We’re booked.

4. List the rest of your priorities.

Now make a list of things you’d still really like to do for the holidays.  Keep it somewhat realistic (no “speed off to the airport with no one knowing and buy first-class tickets to Hawaii”), but keep it light-hearted as well.  Think of the fun things you’d like to do.

Then, for the rest of the hoilday season, make those more of a priority than doing what you feel like you should do.  Pay your bills, get enough sleep, and spend time with the in-laws, of course.  But don’t scale that gingerbread house from scratch if you just simply don’t have the energy, time, or money to do so.  It won’t be fun if you’re doing it because you feel like you’re supposed to.  Remember the words from the first task?  Keep your to-do list focused on making those words a reality.

a christmas story movie
Photo by Coco Calletti

My holiday list:

  • watch A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Christmas Vacation, and The Nativity Story
  • address and mail Christmas cards to close friends and family
  • drive around and look at Christmas lights
  • make and decorate cookies with my daughter
  • make one Christmas craft with my daughter
  • read most of Your Money or Your Life
  • sit down with my husband and write some family goals for 2009
  • relax, laugh, and play games with my extended family
  • get enough sleep

That’s my list, so that’s what I’ll be doing.  As much as I love poring over amazing craft blogs and drooling over festive recipes on food blogs, I’ll have to be content with bookmarking them for another time.  I think we’ll do crafts like snowmen garland, or woodland snowflakes, or perhaps a pretty snowstorm.  And food?  I think we’ll stick with simple cookies.  Or perhaps gingerbread – mmm.

5. Smile, laugh, and relax.

Remember your life’s priorities during the holidays, and respect them.  Don’t force it to be more than it is, yet don’t neglect its spiritual remembrance. Reflect on your childhood holiday memories.  I’ll bet you most of them have to do with family, friends, and a general festive atmosphere.  If you’re like me, you barely remember all the gifts and all the events.

After you’ve done this exercise, please share your thoughts in the comments.  I’d love to hear from you…  Are you stressed?  Where do you think the pressure stems from?  Does your attitude about the holidays affect your family?  What are you looking forward to for the rest of the holidays?

For more thoughts on keeping the holidays simple, peruse some writing from my fellow Life Skills Network members:

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  1. Krista

    that was a great, thoughtful post. funny – i sat down yesterday and did some of that out of the realization that the next couple of weeks had completely gotten away from me & i had no idea what was coming next.

    am i stressed? you bet. much of that comes from the amount of church-related stuff we have going on in the next while, which includes me cooking dinner for about 20 people on Thursday. my husband is a pastor, so this time of year is extremely busy for us. we just don’t have a lot of time to breathe until we get home from the Christmas Eve service… and then he has a week of vacation during which we will enjoy the company of his mom, and do NOTHING!

  2. Marvyn

    re: 1st item on your list
    It’s never officially the holidays until I see A Christmas Story at least once during TNT’s all day marathon. This is probably the only movie I’ve seen over a thousand times and still find it humorous. My favorite part is with Ralphie and the pink bunny suit. I’ve been there as a child.

    Marvyn´s last blog post…Teenagers and Thongs

  3. Nicki at Domestic Cents

    This is a great exercise. I’ve been purposefully trying to keep this attitude all season, which is harder to do than you think. Everyone is so busy and rushed that it feels strange to slow down and take it all in. However, having decided a couple months ago that we were going to do our holidays quietly, simply and celebratory, has been a fantastic decision so far (and I have a feeling it’s only getting better). Thanks Tsh … reminders to slow down are never too frequent.

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post…Mmm … Christmas Goodies.

  4. BJ

    I agree with Nicki…it is hard to slow down and just enjoy….I always feel guilty because I should do this or I should do that etc. I am determined to stop and smell the roses this year. Thank you for these reminders.
    Have a great day!

    BJ´s last blog post…Good Morning

  5. sevenjobs

    Yes, sometimes, in all the troubles, I forgot to breath. So I remember to go outside every hour to breath and to spend 6 seconds in a calm environment.

    sevenjobs´s last blog post…Wo ist die Finanzkrise?

  6. Gina Waterman

    My husband and I chose not to travel until after Christmas day last year; we’ll be honoring that choice again next wk. It’s much less stressful and I feel so more relaxed about my coming week with the kids off of school.

    This year I also chose not to put up the tree too early; things were just too hectic with us sick over turkey day and school issues. We just bought it yesterday and it smells fabulous :))

    Best wishes in whatever you choose this season,

    Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

    Gina Waterman´s last blog post…Get Excited about Your Future

  7. Sarah Park

    Ha! This came at just the right time for me… Breathing is not on my to-do list, and it was getting sorely neglected. 🙂 Thanks for the timely reminder. I need to sit down and come up with our ‘words’ for this season.

  8. Heidi @ Mt Hope

    Not stressed. 🙂 I’ve let quite a bit go this year. My expectations are lowered in many ways. We’ve been taking one day at a time and enjoying ourselves. I still have things on the to-do list, but they’ll get done just as they always do. My mom just had back surgery, and for some reason I’ve used that as permission to have a low-key Christmas this year. We’re just enjoying the little things we happen to get around to.

    Booked, huh? So I guess a get-together is out of the question. 🙂

    Heidi @ Mt Hope´s last blog post…Books Galore

    • simplemom

      Oh my word, Heidi, I’ll get together with you in a heartbeat! I think life will slow down for us when we get to Oregon. I’d always make time for you.

  9. Ellen

    I love your blog. You give me such good perspective on keeping it meaningful. Thank you!

    We are Jewish and Hanukkah last year was a disaster. We had something each night, the kids were staying up too late but still had to get up for school, the 1 present a night thing made them act like greedy little monsters, and I didn’t get to do the traditional things we always do, because we were “going out” every night. This year is already different. We’ve purposefully scaled our calendar down to ONE party we’ll be going out to. Xmas falls on one of the nights, so we’ll celebrate (at our home) with some friends in our traditional way, Chinese food and a movie, plus lighting the candles. The kids will open their gifts on one night. We will make gingerbread houses (out of gingerbread graham crackers! easy and just as fun for the kids), bake Hanukkah-themed sugar cookies, fry up plenty of latkes, and play lots and lots of dreidal with Hankkah music in the background. I am really looking forward to this year. Thank you for reminding me to keep it simple and special!!

    Ellen´s last blog post…more bullets?!

  10. Mandy

    I love your Christmas list! Why is it so hard to celebrate Christmas in the manner it is intended?

    Mandy´s last blog post…Menu Planning Monday

  11. Kelly from Almost Frugal

    Well, most of my stress comes from finals and writing papers. Plus we’re disease central at my house lately: we’re in the throws of worms and stomach flu, my kids have runny noses and gunky lungs and I have tendinitis in my arm. And we’re Jewish, but my husband isn’t, so we celebrate both, which means that this year is extra busy!
    But, I’m so grateful, because my mother is here visiting, I just finished my last final, and my husband has a week vacation, during which we’re going to do nothing that we don’t want to do. And if that involves sitting on the couch in our pyjamas all day drinking hot chocolate and watching West Wing (actually that’s my idea of a perfect day), than gosh darn it, that’s what we’re going to do!

    Kelly from Almost Frugal´s last blog post…Carnivals, Festivals and Linklove

  12. make art every day

    i’m somewhat stressed. i’m a photographer and i’m trying to wrap up my last few editing sessions, so some others can have a merry christmas. but the tree is up (who cares that it took five days to get it, put the lights on, decorate it and put the boxes back in the attic?). my long-distance family’s gifts are mailed. we’ve planned a cookie decorating party with moms and daughters (baking is not stressful for me). i’ve planned christmas eve dinner with friends (again, not stressful — looking forward to it). and tonight we are going to eat dinner early and watch “a christmas story” at the request of my husband. the christmas cards (actually new year’s) aren’t addressed, but i’ll get there.

    make art every day´s last blog post…C’mon, B4!!!

  13. FishMama

    I may be a tad stressed, but very little is Christmas-related. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. 😉

    This fall we had our sixth baby and moved cross-country when she was four weeks old. Hubs started a new job, and life has been a whirlwind since Oct 1. Since we don’t know a lot of people in our new area, it’s made our days very open, with few outside commitments. I kinda like it this way. We are determined to craft a new life here in the simplest of terms.

    Great post. My to-dos look a lot like yours.

    FishMama´s last blog post…Easy Meals – FishMama Style

  14. Ann

    LOVE the craft ideas – so fun! Hey, just curious, have you announced who won the necklace give aways. And just how do you “randomly” pick the winners…just curious! Love your blog!

  15. tacy

    thanks for the exercise. my words: generous. memorable. peaceful. rich. full. intentional. incarnation-minded. my movie picks are rudolph and home alone. the snowstorm looks so awesome and so easy… love it. went to see the symphony play pops already (holiday spectacular), so we can cross that off the list. and as for the rest… READ, spend one-on-one or at least quality time with my grown siblings, cook for my parents, see my grandma.

    tacy´s last blog post…Thanksgiving

  16. jodi

    I am so thankful that I don’t feel at all stressed about Christmas right now and that is for sure in part thanks to your 12 week plan…it got me started thinking about Christmas back in October and we’ve worked through our plans incrementally in babysteps. I’m 8 mos pregnant and I knew if I didn’t get with it, dec could be a disaster…planning ahead has made such a huge difference!

    I had a few projects that I had hoped to do that won’t make it this year, but that is okay by me…I’d much rather have less stress than get too worked up about something that really didn’t matter anyway! I know that my attitude super affects the rest of my family, so we’re doing our best to keep it stress-free and peaceful, and it’s been wonderful! Our little guy is 2, so this is the first year he’s really able to enjoy Christmas at all, and we’re focusing on enjoying the season with him. We’ll probably still do some baking and hope to see some lights and just really enjoy time with family! I think this will be our best Christmas yet! Thanks for your part in that!!

    jodi´s last blog post…Christmas Planning – 1 Week & Counting

  17. Amy

    This is a great exercise … I’ve really struggled this year with balancing what I want to do and what I can do. It’s really forced me to examine what matters to me and what I want to focus on for our family. Next up, we’re building a Gingerbread House. Then, we’ll make cookies to frost & then we’ll make salt dough ornaments. Those are the crafts we’re focusing on. Keeping it simple but FUN! Thank you!

    Amy´s last blog post…Balance Schmalance

  18. Blessed

    I’m Breathing, I’m Breathing!

    Really – this is a good post – unfortunately the stress and craziness I’m dealing with right now has nothing to do with the holiday and everything to do with a sick child, 3 too many unexpected jobs from a customer I couldn’t turn down and my never-ending battle with clutter. I will win… I will breathe!

    Blessed´s last blog post…Privileged

  19. Frugal Dad

    Great post! You will enjoy Your Money or Your Life–my all-time favorite personal finance book. It helped me finally make the connection between money and life energy, and I found out I was wasting both! Hope your family enjoys a very Merry Christmas!

    Frugal Dad´s last blog post…What To Do If Unable to Afford Home Heating Bills

  20. Melissa

    I am extremely stressed. I have to move, make cookies for the cookies exchange, take some time out for the kiddos and hubby, have christmas with relatives out of town-some of whom are not very nice to myself or childern- a very stressful situation itself, visit my side of the family and travel back to unpack and finish moving and cleaning the old place all by New Years Eve. I have not even thought of making any new years resolutions. We also have the little parties and such at school. My to do list is over flowing, but I like your list better. I am trying to be upbeat and happy about it all. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  21. calahonda spain

    Last year my village was sold out of turkey therefore had to cook chicken. Make sure u do your food shopping in advanced if you live in a small village!

  22. Jeff

    If you live in a big city, one thing that can save stress is ordering your Christmas tree or wreath online and have it delivered. This can save you a lot of time and hassle. We have ordered from this company from Michigan,

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