The Home Stretch

It’s a busy time. Just 8 days left until Christmas, and if you’re like me, you have a  long list of things to do. As much as I’ve relaxed and managed not to be stressed up until this point, it’s very difficult not to feel it now. My advice: just take it one day at a time. I have a list–several lists, actually–but if I get too caught up in looking at the whole picture of what I have left to do, I get easily overwhelmed, which doesn’t help me keep moving and get things done. If I focus primarily on today’s tasks, my productivity stays high and I’m pleased with what I can accomplish each day.

Today I am getting together my little token gifts to all my students (I teach in a small school, so there are only 17 of them), and for my daughter’s teachers. The class parties are tomorrow, and it’s a good time to hand everything out. I also ordered some Christmas cards, which will hopefully be done tomorrow so I can pick them up and give them out to my colleagues on the teaching staff. This was a last minute decision, which happens when you don’t obsessively plan. Sometimes it makes things a little busier, but I’ll take that trade-off, because obsessively planning just stresses me out. Things never work exactly according to my plan, and when they don’t, I stress. For me, it’s better to stay flexible and deal with the problems of being last minute.

I’m going to keep this post short, because I know you probably have a lot to do, as I do. Keep going, take as much time as you can to enjoy these days. and check back for a few more posts as the big day draws closer. Feel free to share your experiences of this last week before Christmas in the comments below.

Christmas Priorities

christmas list pic

 

I found this list on Facebook. I’d be happy to give credit if I could find out where it came from (but I can’t). Read this list and then ask yourself: How much of what you are doing this Christmas is really important? How much of it will last?

We spend so many hours each December, finding all the perfect gifts, then wrapping them. We bake beautiful, tasty cookies. We go to parties, we go on lights tours, we search for that perfectly symmetrical tree and decorate it with precision. Let me ask you: How much of the stuff we spend hours and hours doing every December is actually important to what Christmas really means?

Let me put it another way. On December 26th, when the presents are all unwrapped, the cookies sampled, the new dresses worn, and the tree is dying, are you going to feel like everything you are doing now was worth it? Or will you be feeling like you should have spent more time being present, giving hugs, helping others, spreading peace, and being the light?

Don’t live with regret. You can change what you are doing so that you do feel you’ve spent time on the important things when Christmas is over this year.

Some things I will not regret:

1. Cuddling on the couch watching a Christmas movie with my 8 year old.

2. Making special date time with my husband during the busiest time of the year (we saw a play and we went to the local craft fairs together).

3. Participating in Operation Christmas Child events and a Christmas party for low income kids sponsored by my church.

4. Continuing to work on my writing rather than making excuses that “it’s just too busy in December.”

How did I make these things happen?

1. I gave up one of my part time jobs for the month of December. This has helped my stress level so much! Having the luxury of time is worth a lot more than the few hundred dollars I would have earned.

2. I streamlined my Christmas routine by delegating a lot of the shopping to hubby (he likes it), buying fewer gifts on the same budget (less wrapping), and baking a few items as I have time, rather than having a huge baking list that I strive to complete.

3. I decided ahead of time to ask for help if I start to feel stressed and like I’m falling behind.

What can you do this week to ensure that your Christmas priorities are met this year?

How to Handle Christmas Parties and Events

3028063258_8ac8390670_z

Central Moravian Church at Christmastime

photo source: Flickr

 

My church’s Christmas Boutique was held two Saturdays ago. This is a craft fair the church holds every year to raise money for youth ministries activities, missions trips and such. This is always the first Christmas-themed event on my schedule each year. It is held the first Saturday in November. Kind of early for my taste, but if they waited longer, people get too busy and can’t make the time to come (or to be a crafter, either).

Although this event is a little early, it won’t be long until the deluge of invitations to Christmas parties, church events, plays, shows, and programs begins. Thanksgiving is only 2 weeks away, and if you want to avoid a mad rush of activities, it’s time to make a strategy for just how to handle the next month. Here are some things I’ve done to make better decisions about Christmas-themed events.

1) Think about last year.

 Did you think last year was too busy? What event(s) did you most enjoy last year? What events did you not enjoy or decide afterward were a waste of time? Maybe you can even settle on a number of events per week as a maximum you can handle. I have had weekends in December with multiple events in one day or weekend, which not only left me exhausted, but left me without time to do the other Christmas preparations I had planned. It is okay to set limits, even if that means you can’t do everything you want to do (or other people want you to do). Doing things out of obligation that you really don’t want to do will steal your joy this season. Other than your kids’ Christmas program, don’t feel obligated to attend events you really don’t want to go to.

2) Encourage your circle to spread out or skip events. 

If you are asked for input, let your boss, pastor, scout leader, etc., know that having a Christmas party or event isn’t necessary. If someone seems determined to have a party, suggest holding it after Christmas, even after New Year’s, to lighten the schedule before Christmas. Between my husband and me, we are involved in over a dozen organizations that could have parties. That’s a lot of holiday events. I’ve been able to offer input to several of them, and as a result my workplace and our Bible study group both have their parties after the new year.

3) Make the best of it.

If you are attending an event purely out of obligation, try to find something enjoyable about it. Start a conversation with someone who interests you, try a new food, or suggest a fun party game (Apples to Apples is fun and can be played pretty quickly). If you are allowed, bring someone you care about so you can spend time with him or her while attending. Take time to appreciate the efforts of the event organizers, whether it’s good food, pretty decorations, or festive background music. Avoid thinking about your to-do list; stressing about what you should be doing will not accomplish anything and will prevent you from enjoying yourself.

At worst, attending a Christmas event will fulfill your obligation to someone you consider important. At best, it may be a great opportunity to relax and have some quality time with people you enjoy. Some of my husband’s and my favorite date nights come at Christmas, going to our town’s Christkindlmarkt and (when we get invited) our alma mater’s Vespers service. Don’t let stress rob you of enjoying all the season has to offer.

This Week’s Christmas Not-To-Do-Yet List

5221065752_3dffb4bef9_z

Here is a list of Christmas preparations I didn’t do this week:

1) Decorate my house. If I do it now, I’m tired of it by Christmas.

2) Buy from any of the Christmas displays I saw in stores this week.

3) Sing along to Christmas music, which I did hear little snippets of on TV and radio. Same reason as #1.

4) Watch any of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, they already have Christmas specials on just about every day. I’m seeing the ads on other channels.

5) Baking or card writing. I have done these things in other years, when I subscribed to the “plan way ahead” method of Christmas preparation. My stress level has lowered considerably since I abandoned that method in favor of the “keeping Christmas in perspective as one day of the year” method.

I’m not against some level of planning ahead; however, intensive planning this far ahead doesn’t really lower my stress level much. Instead, I find that I’m at a heightened level of busy-ness for close to two months, and by Christmas day, I am exhausted. It takes most of the week between Christmas and New Year’s to recover.

I have decided this is too much to put into one day or holiday. Being intentional about keeping things simpler and less time consuming relieves my stress and is a better reflection of my beliefs.

photo credit: Flickr

Attitude is Everything

I was driving through the city where I live the other day with my daughter. “Oh look!” my daughter said happily, looking out the window. “They are starting to put up the trees!” This time  of year, the city is in full swing, putting up live Christmas trees and lights on many of the light poles throughout the city, especially the downtown area, although they don’t begin to light them until after Thanksgiving. Our city’s nickname is “The Christmas City,” and we have tourists come in each year to experience being in “The Christmas City” during the Christmas season. There are lots of poles that get decorated with trees, so the city starts preparing early.

Hill-to-Hill Bridge

The Christmas City, showing one of the trees now being installed on poles all over the city. Photo credit: Flickr

What got me about this exchange with my daughter is the attitude she expressed. She was excited to see those trees going up. She and my husband are already counting down–gleefully–the number of days and weeks left until Christmas. The two of them approach Christmas full of joy and excitement about the many experiences that season brings.

What is your attitude toward Christmas when you think of it? Most recent years, I was downright resentful to see Christmas decorations and other items for sale before Halloween. How could they be thinking of Christmas already? I would grumble to myself. I’m not ready to start with all of that. I had an attitude of dread toward Christmas. I felt rushed into it all, and I didn’t like it.

I looked at those who enjoyed and looked forward to Christmas, like my husband and my daughter, scornfully. They enjoy Christmas because they don’t have to DO everything, I told myself. They can do what they want, what they like. I have to keep up a crazy schedule for two months just to get all the shopping, baking, wrapping, card-writing, and decorating done.

Then I realized the one thing that allowed my attitude toward Christmas to change. I didn’t have to do everything either! At some point, I also realized I was allowing society to rush me into Christmas. I had to make choices about what I did and how I responded to the Christmas cues all around me. My husband has begun to do a lot of the Christmas-related preparations that would stress me out, including gift shopping and even baking cookies. He enjoys doing these things and he does them with a great attitude, feeling the joy of the season AND the joy of taking away my stress.

This year, I have not started to really plan the many aspects of our Christmas holiday. I don’t feel ready yet, but I don’t feel badly for not feeling ready. I am at peace with where I am. I know that when it’s time, I will make plans and carry them out. When I’m ready, I will move forward and experience Christmas with a heart full of joy. I will do the things that add to my enjoyment of Christmas, while limiting and eliminating the things that cause me stress. I will realize that I am one person and get help or let things go when I feel rushed.

Because of these important choices, my attitude toward Christmas is so much better! I encourage you to think about your attitude toward Christmas and how to improve it, even if that means you change long-held traditions. Most of us try to do too much all through the year, and I urge you to make Christmas a time of year when you slow down and savor everything, rather than get even busier.

5 Easy Steps to Making Christmas Easier

15577242905_05e2043cc6_z

Gorgeous fall foliage from Michigan, October 2014, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Christmas may be coming to your thoughts more and more often now. Today is exactly 2 months until Christmas! And while you really don’t need to be thinking about it a lot, if you find yourself itching to get started on preparations, here are 5 things you can do to prepare for Christmas now that will make it much easier (read less stressful) when the time to celebrate comes.

1) Get rid of some clutter. Now is the perfect time to go through clothes, pare down decorative items, and clear out things you just aren’t using anymore. Decluttering will make things simpler when it comes time to put up the tree and Christmas decorations.

2) Go through kids’ rooms. If your kids are like mine, they have too much of everything. Too many toys, too many clothes, and so many accessories and trinkets that I wonder where they all came from. October is a great time to do a good room clean out, which will make room for the new stuff they will receive in a few months.

3) Decide how much to spend. Making a Christmas spending budget now has some advantages, if it doesn’t cause you stress. Knowing how much you have to work with will leave you well equipped to make good decisions when you do your shopping.

4) Make a list of people you want to give gifts to. Also, list how much you would like to spend on each person. Don’t forget to write down any gifts you might have already purchased at sales during the year.

5) Plan your baking. You don’t have to plan your baking this early, but doing so can help you find the best prices on the ingredients you will need, as well as being able to plan ahead so that everything gets done on time. That being said, I encourage you to keep it simple. If you don’t have time to do a lot, don’t! The stores are full of goodies, and everyone will enjoy them whether you make them homemade or not. Participating in a cookie swap is another great way to get a variety of goodies even though you just baked one thing.

So if you just can’t hold back the urge to get started on Christmas, here are some things you can do to be more prepared later. However, feel free to blow off this list and just keep on enjoying fall for now! Feel free to post in the comments your own best pre-planning tips or anything that helps keep your stress levels down in regards to Christmas!

Don’t Panic!

keep-calm-only-11-weeks-till-christmas

If this graphic makes you tense up, take a deep breath and stay tuned! Over the next few weeks, I will offer lots of good ideas and suggestions on how to have a peaceful feeling about Christmas.

For today, I want you to focus on the fact that Christmas is one day out of the year. The Bible says that each day has enough trouble of its own, so for today, just think about today. It’s Friday–do something enjoyable, spend time with loved ones. Check back Monday for some more ideas.

No More Dreading Christmas

It’s a horrible feeling, dreading Christmas. For years I felt it when October rolled around. I had a physical reaction to the beginning of Christmas preparations. My chest tightened; my stomach clenched. Instead of thinking about beautiful decorations or the look of surprise on my kids’ faces as they opened gifts, I was thinking about the loss of all my free time until January and the expenses for which we weren’t prepared. Instead of meditating on Advent-themed scriptures and the miracle of Christ’s birth, I was making long to-do lists and wondering how I was going to get everything done on top of work and all the kids’ normal activities.

A few years ago I decided it wasn’t worth it. I had to change the way I was doing things so I could find true joy in Christmas again. The end result–this blog and an e-book called Taming the Christmas Monster, which will release to Kindle next week–is intended to help those who feel frazzled by Christmas back to a place of peace and sanity again.  This year, I don’t yet have a to-do list. My stockpile of gifts is smaller than ever. I don’t have much of anything planned for December yet, but when I think of Christmas, my thoughts are good. Whatever happens, I know I will sense the joy and wonder of this time of Christ’s birth, and that is all I need to know right now.

If you have dark thoughts about this special time of year, this blog and my e-book are for you. If you just want to crawl under the covers and wake up on December 26th, subscribe below. If the thought of buying gifts, sending cards, decorating, baking and attending parties, performances and other events overwhelms you to the point where you feel like a failure before you’ve even begun, stay tuned. I will be posting frequently as the time draws nearer, and the book WILL be on Amazon next week to guide you through action steps that will make Christmas manageable again.

It is possible to love Christmas again, to find its joy and peace. If you don’t celebrate Christmas from a place of faith, this blog and the e-book are still for you.  The stress of Christmas never had anything to do with my faith–it was everything else that seemed to get in the way of what Christmas was supposed to be about. My faith is an integral part of who I am and my experience, so I need to talk about it when I share those experiences. The same principles apply, however, whether one celebrates the coming of baby Jesus or just sees Christmas as a special time for family and togetherness.

If you like this blog and what it has to offer, please subscribe below. There are many harried people out there, overwhelmed by Christmas and all it signifies. If you can relate, tell your friends. Chances are, they can relate too.