It’s December–Don’t Panic

It’s been almost a month since my last post. I thought I would get to post before this, but my best laid plans didn’t go the way I thought they would. I’m okay with it, though.

I probably would have just said in a nutshell, don’t get stressed about Christmas. Don’t worry about getting things done yet, you’ve got plenty of time. Easier said than done, I know. But not stressing can be done–and it should be.

It’s December now, and I wonder how many of you are in full-on panic mode at this point. I hope none of you are, but probably you wouldn’t be on this list then.

So . . .

Think about what is making you most stressed. Here’s a good test to see if you should stress about it. Are you going to still care about it in 5 years? How about this time next year? For probably 95 percent of the things people stress about at Christmas, the answer is NO.

I still remember the year I told my husband I was not going to have time to bake cookies, and if he wanted them he would have to bake them himself. We had probably been married about 12 years, and I had always baked (and sometimes he had baked some cookies, too).

You know what he did? He baked. And he wasn’t the least bit stressed about it. He had fun, and the kids helped, and I did what I needed to do, without staying up half the night and getting myself sick over it.

Becoming Realistic

You are one person. Chances are, you have a job, maybe kids, and not a whole lot of extra time after you get everything done that you need to do on a daily basis.

You deserve to sleep. You deserve to do things YOU enjoy during the holidays (and other times). Christmas should be fun, not stressful.

It’s time to become more realistic about what you can accomplish at this time of year, and how much you can realistically expect to get done. Then, you need to let things go.

What can you let go? In previous years, I have let go of sending Christmas cards, I have not decorated as much, and I have comandeered my husband to wrap gifts (and trust me, it wasn’t very pretty, but it got done).

I went from being someone who spent weeks making homemade, craft fair-quality gifts to save money and sewing dresses for the girls and ties and vests for the guys every year to being able to let my husband do at least half of the shopping and some years, all of the baking. I haven’t even touched the sewing machine this year (although I might do so to help my daughter make some little gifts for her friends).

I decided at some point that if I as the mom wasn’t finding joy in Christmas, then my kids were probably going to be suffering for it and I was probably costing them joy and sending a very bad message about what Christmas was all about, too.

Was stress and losing sleep and being cranky worth it just to have everything be what I thought was perfect? I decided NO.

Beyond Simplicity

My current approach to Christmas goes beyond the concept of simplicity. That’s part of it, but just simplifying is not really the whole point of what I’m trying to do here. There’s a reason for the season, and it’s not the perfect cookie or the perfect gift or the perfect outfit.

Christmas celebrates Christ, and He surely doesn’t care about any of the stuff I just listed. I want my Christmas to be centered around the stuff He cares about–spending time with family, doing meaningful things together (including helping others), and celebrating together.

So wherever you are on completing your to-do list, I hope you can take a little time to evaluate how you’re feeling and doing this season, and if you are feeling mainly stressed, that you can take some time to think about what you can let go to make your schedule more realistic–and ultimately bring some joy into the season for yourself and your loved ones.

Although it may seem even more stressful at first to make changes and do things differently, if your experience is like mine it will lead to a much Merrier Christmas when it’s all said and done.

Feel free to write me a comment if this post resonated with you and, if you feel comfortable, let me know how you have tamed Christmas.

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Decorating the tree together with ornaments collected for over 40 years.

Stopping Christmas Stress in Its Tracks

Well, as promised, it has been a l-o-o-o-ng time since you have heard from me. I don’t know if you were thinking about Christmas in January as you tried to keep New Year’s Resolutions or in April as the flowers started to bloom or in September as the new school year started. I can honestly tell you that I haven’t bought any gifts yet except for a few stocking stuffers, and I’ve been ignoring my few Facebook friends who like to occasionally taunt me with memes like this:

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Wow, do we really not have anything better to do than think about Christmas almost 4 months ahead of time? Besides the fact that half of those memes are not accurate about how many more days or weeks there are. They get posted, then shared for a few weeks, and people don’t bother to check their calendars. If Facebook says it’s 15 weeks until Christmas, then it must be true, right?

To tell you the truth, a few years ago, I would have been panicking about the fact that it is now only about 9 weeks until Christmas. In previous years, I have been mostly finished shopping by Halloween. Some years I was writing out my card list and getting ready to start wrapping gifts at this point. But when I really thought about it, I realized that Christmas is one day! And no one day, no matter how special, is worth 3 or 4 months of preparation. I had to simplify.

I still think October is too early to get overly concerned about Christmas. It’s on my radar, but barely. Women’s ministry at church had to set a date for the cookie swap and luncheon. I took a peek at when the last day of school was and what Christmas vacation looked like. There are some things that it makes sense to do in October. My next post will go into some detail about what those are and why it makes sense to wait to do some other things.

I know most of the retail world is not on board with my simplified Christmas, but that is nothing new. I decided a long time ago that stores were not going to dictate my shopping habits to me. Last week, I walked into Bon Ton and saw this:

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Does the sight of Christmas decorations in October make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it make you feel behind in your planning and shopping? Take a breath. You are the one who decides when it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. It’s a process. It takes time to change habits and ingrained patterns of thinking.

If Christmas gives you joy and you enjoy decorating, shopping, planning and thinking about it for months every year, I’m not here to tell you there’s anything wrong with that. You don’t need this site, though. There are lots of sites out there for you!  If Christmas mostly stresses you out and you dread it, though, I encourage you to set firm limits on how much of your time and energy it consumes. You are the people this site aims to encourage, to support, and to help find a better way.

It’s not going to harm anyone if you send a Christmas email instead of cards this year. It may actually benefit your family if you sit them down and explain that you need to stay sane this holiday season, so you won’t be doing some of the things you’ve done in the past. More about that later. The point is, sometimes we feel trapped by the things we think are necessary to the Christmas experience of those we care about. If we don’t bake the cookies, our family will suffer. If we don’t send out fancy cards, our friends will think we won’t care.

In fact, if you courageously draw a line and refuse to do the things that stress you out, you will be pleasantly surprised at how little the people around you actually care. And if they do react initially, you will be surprised at how quickly they adjust to the new normal. In many cases, we overestimate the importance of having to do everything the same way every year. It’s okay to change things up and say no to being over-busy and stressed.

So right here, right now, banish Christmas stress this year. Just don’t allow it to come into your life. When it knocks at your door or tries to climb in the window or sneaks in through the back door and tries to sit right on your chest, you just come visit this site again, maybe take a read of my ebook “Taming the Christmas Monster,” and tell yourself that Christmas is about faith first, family second, and showing love to others third. There is simply no room for stress!

Take Time To Evaluate

An important part of change is the process of evaluating experiences. So how was Christmas this year? What was good about the day, and the season of preparation? What didn’t go how you planned?

Take some time to think about all the aspects of your Christmas celebration–the preparation, the execution, and the aftermath. While it’s fresh in your mind, write down some of your thoughts. Make plans for next year and write them down. Then put them in a place where you will be sure to see them next year at the right time. Maybe store them with your Christmas decorations–or even with your fall decorations if that’s when Christmas starts trying to get your attention.

This year was a good Christmas for my family. It was probably the Christmas I’ve felt least stressed and pressed for time since before I was married. In evaluating the reasons for this, though, I need to be realistic about recreating this experience.

Part of the reason I felt less stressed was because I didn’t do as much. We cut back on the amount of gifts we bought (but not the amount we spent), so that meant less gifts to wrap. I had changed my diet in the months leading up to Christmas, so we baked much less. We didn’t plan any day trips in the days before Christmas like we had other years, either. These changes helped make the days leading up to Christmas calmer and less busy.

But there were other reasons why this year probably seemed so relaxed. First, the school where I teach part time decided to give an extra-long vacation this year, including 5 days off BEFORE Christmas. This is unusual and is unlikely to be repeated every year (probably depending on when Christmas falls in the week). Being finished with school so early gave me a lot of extra time to work on all those last minute details. The second reason why this year seemed so relaxed is that my husband took off the same days as I had off from school. As I have mentioned in other posts, he is extremely helpful, and he did everything from last-minute shopping to a whole day of baking cookies for the family.

I can’t count on these two reasons above to repeat themselves every year, but I certainly did enjoy it this year. When next year comes, I will reflect on the simplicity of this year and do what I can to recreate it. Other years, I have not had experiences as great as this one, and I have used this time to reflect on what I want to be different next year.

One thing that didn’t go as planned for me was the posting schedule for this blog. I had planned many more frequent posts to help navigate the season with joy and without stress, but other writing commitments and several (seasonal) family illnesses ate up a lot of my time and prevented me from keeping to my schedule.

I may post a few more times as we head into January, but I will not be keeping this blog going continuously until next year. To do so would defeat the purpose of this blog, which is to stop Christmas from taking over too much of our time and energy throughout the year. In October of next year, I will resume postings. Until then, my e-book, Taming the Christmas Monster, is available on Amazon if you would need to get a head start on the season.

Today is New Year’s Eve, and so I wish everyone a Happy New Year and every blessing for 2015!

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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

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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?

What’s Behind the Stress?

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Photo credit: Flickr

On Mondays until Christmas, I’ve decided to write about the stress we can experience surrounding Christmas and what we can do about it. In this post, part one of the series, we will recognize what is behind the stress we are feeling.

There are 23 days until Christmas. Does that statement make your heart skip a beat or your stomach lurch? For years, my strongest feeling about Christmas was something like panic. Sure, I had some joyful moments, and I recognized the significance of the season, but the anxiety I felt overshadowed it all and crowded out far to much of my enjoyment.

Behind my near-panic were some fears I had to deal with in order to really enjoy Christmas again. Identifying these fears and changing the thoughts behind them is the key to defeating them. How many of these fears can you identify with?

1) The fear of not getting everything done. I used to think of Christmas as the mother of all deadlines, looming over my head. My huge to-do list had an end point, and it was December 25th. This led me to look at parties and Christmas-related events as obstacles to my to-do list, making them impossible to enjoy. Instead of looking toward Christmas with anticipation, I dreaded it.

What changed: A combination of prioritizing (read: shortening) my to-do list and realizing that my Christmas-loving husband was just waiting to help me get it all done led me to see that my fears were unfounded. Who in your life will help you with the necessary tasks?

2) The fear of forgetting something. Many nights in December, I would drift off to sleep only to wake up shortly after, heart racing. Something I needed to do or at least write down had stolen my rest yet again. No wonder I ended up sick or even further behind because I was too tired to keep up the pace that Christmas seemed to require.

What changed: Keeping a notepad (or in my case, my phone has a notes app) next to the bed helps immensely with remembering things, but I notice that I don’t even typically wake up needing to write things down anymore. I guess I just realized that I will remember the important things and the rest, I have just let go.

3) The fear of disappointing someone. This is a big one for a lot of people. By nature, we want to make other people happy, and the prospect of disappointing our loved ones by not doing everything we’ve done in the past or not making Christmas special enough is a scary one.

What changed: Realizing I couldn’t make people happy, they had to make themselves happy. Even if I did disappoint someone, they would most likely forgive me and love me anyway. And that I was probably disappointing people much more by being stressed and grumpy than by not getting every little thing on my list done.

Recognizing the fears that are causing us stress and anxiety at Christmas is the first step to overcoming them. What fears are causing you stress this Christmas? Post them in the comments below. Chances are, you aren’t alone. Now go enjoy Christmas!

Next post: Christmas Priorities

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Hardly a day goes by in my life now when Christmas isn’t mentioned or represented in some way. The stores are decorating, the road the mall is on is decorated, and one of my students even saw someone bringing home a live Christmas tree on their car the other day. My tree is dry enough by New Years, thanks. I will wait until after Thanksgiving.

My reaction to the people around me who are talking about Christmas and the Facebookers posting about Christmas has been a very firm “It’s too early.” The cartoon above sums up how I feel about it very well. Let me enjoy Thanksgiving and spend some time being thankful before you start bombarding me with Black Friday ads and wrapping paper sales.

It’s very ironic that we spend a day expressing thankfulness for all our blessings, then immediately, sometimes even an hour after eating, go into an intense focus on all the things we don’t yet have. Before the leftovers are even cleared away, family members are rushing out to the Black Friday sales. This will probably happen in my own extended family, and I just think it’s a shame that people consider it so important to get these things that they need to go out on Thanksgiving night. I love my family, that’s just how I feel about that issue. We can love each other and disagree.

I’m thankful for so many things this year. At the top of the list are my husband, who is wonderful to me every day of the year in a thousand ways, and for the way God has allowed my writing to grow this year. This blog and my other one, www.nextlevelfaith.com, as well as my two Kindle book,s 7 Days to a Closer Relationship with God and Taming the Christmas Monster, are a testament to God’s faithfulness in fulfilling my lifelong dream to be a writer. And from what I understand, this is just the beginning.

If you really think about it, you will realize that you are very blessed. If you have access to a computer on which to read this blog, you have so much more than most people in the world do. I hope that in addition to being blessed with material things, you have also been blessed with things you can’t hold in your hand: people to love and who love you in return, joy and an optimistic attitude, fulfilling work, and a personal relationship with your Creator.

God bless you this Thanksgiving. Please enjoy the time with family and friends, and think about what you’re thankful for. Post your comments below!

 

 

 

How to Handle Christmas Parties and Events

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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.

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.

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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.

Don’t Plan Ahead (too much)

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This is a photo of the plaza outside my town’s city hall and library. Yes, those are Advent candles. They were mounted a few days ago.

I attended 2 meetings last week–a staff meeting at the school where I teach, and a planning meeting for women’s ministry at my church. Christmas was heavily featured at both of them. A friend posted on Facebook that the first Black Friday information has already been posted online. Walmart and other stores already have their Christmas decorations, cards, and other items out on the floor for sale.

On some level, Christmas is beginning to break into the awareness of many people. In the past, hearing about Christmas in October would start to get me angry. I would exclaim that “I’m not ready to think about Christmas yet!” Shortly thereafter, I would give in and start making my to-do lists.

So many of the books and articles I have read on how to get Christmas under control focus on planning ahead. Just plan ahead, they seem to promise, and you won’t be stressed at Christmas. Planning ahead will make you more organized and you will feel happier about Christmas.

I’m not going to tell you not to plan ahead for Christmas at all. I think a certain amount of planning ahead is necessary. However, planning ahead is not the whole answer to taming Christmas. No matter how much you plan ahead, it fails to do one thing that is a very big part of my purpose for this blog and my e-book (available here). Planning ahead doesn’t keep Christmas in its proper place–as one day of the year, or maybe a week or two if you look at Christmas as a season. Planning ahead may make you more prepared for Christmas and reduce your stress level around the holiday, but planning too far ahead will still give Christmas a larger presence in the year than is necessary or beneficial. Do you really want to be actively engaged in  planning Christmas for 3 months, or 25% of the year? I don’t.

You may not be able to get away with refusing to plan for Christmas in October. Certain things need to be planned well in advance for them to go smoothly when the time comes. Our school had to plan field trips and Christmas program practices. The ladies at church needed to settle on some details about the Christmas luncheon and cookie swap (which is held early in December). And those poor maintenance guys need to put up trees and lights all over the city in preparation for the tourist season, so they need to start early. However, you can contain the planning and refuse to get too deeply into your own planning until Christmas is closer.

As Christmas comes into your awareness in little bits and pieces, try to evaluate whether it is something you really need to deal with yet. For instance, I did discuss the cookie swap with the church ladies, but I stopped short of planning what kind of cookies I will be making when I attend. That’s something I really don’t need to plan for quite yet. Our school may have it’s field trip and party schedule in full swing, but I don’t need to plan any details of my class’s party yet.

As you decide what things you really need to plan at this time, I hope it will give you peace to let go of the rest until Christmas is closer. One thing I do start to plan in October is gifts. Since I crochet and sometimes sew some of the gifts we give and some of our holiday clothes, planning in October will allow me the time I need to finish these projects early. Completing these projects at a more leisurely pace in October and November allows me not to hurry with them in December and gives me a greater sense of relaxation as Christmas draws near.

Did you like this article? My ebook, Taming the Christmas Monster, is full of ways to take the stress out of Christmas, leaving only the joy and peace of this special time of year. Available on Amazon for Kindle.

 

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