While the Holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, it is also a time for increased stress. During this time of year, we shop for gifts, attend seasonal festivities, have seemingly never-ending holiday dishes and baked goods, prepare for children's activities and endure, I mean enjoy, family time. For some people, they breeze through this time effortlessly. For me, I can be a nervous wreck just checking boxes off my list until I realize it's over and I'm back to my day to day routine in January with a feeling that I missed the actual enjoyment of the season. I hate that. Here are some things that my family did to allow us to get back to enjoying the season again.
How many of you love going to the mall, rummaging through piles of remanence from the previous shopper to search for the perfect scarf for Aunt Sally, elbowing your way through crowds of fellow holiday shoppers while bumping your shopping bags or waiting in 30-minute lines for a $20 purchase to complete that last stocking stuffer? For some it may feel like a treasure hunt. They can stroll through the mall humming carols, make small talk with those around them in line to help pass the time and greet the oncoming masses passing from store to store with a grin and occasional "Happy Holidays". For me, it's a miserable experience with the feeling of desperation that I must get through this with no idea what I'm getting my mother-in-law still and complete my gift shopping in time to meet the shipping deadlines. It's just another box to check off. I also have the added stress with my daughter's birthday around Thanksgiving so what else can I gift her at Christmas that she didn't already receive just a few weeks earlier? Oh, and did I mention my son's birthday is in January when stores are stripped of items from the December chaos and he's just received everything he asked Santa for? It is not the time of year where I can casually browse, peruse the stores expecting to find the perfect gem of a gift for Dad or my husband. And then I discovered online shopping. In October, my husband and I started making a spreadsheet listing out the gifts for our kids for their birthdays, holiday gifts and stocking stuffers. We brainstorm on ideas, ensure fairness of quantity and gift size. I create my own list in advance on who and what to purchase for other family members. Yes, this may seem a bit overkill but what a difference this has made. We take our ideas and shop and purchase everything online....in advance. Many online stores allow you to select the delivery date so your gift lands at your brother's doorstep just before Christmas. Did I mention they gift wrap too? We have time to put thought and consideration into what we're gifting rather than sending an item because that's all that was left on the shelf. It may be meeting a checkbox but not out of desperation, out of efficiency to avoid adding stress when you're pressed for time.
During the Holidays we found we were trying to squeeze in and attend every holiday themed event we could find. We thought these were going to help create those everlasting holiday memories and traditions for our kids. Instead, my husband and I dreaded the rushing to get ready after school and work or wake up early on the weekends to attend the "event of the day" while longing to just relax and take a breather. We love our family and friends and used to enjoy the events throughout the season, but life becomes busy with work, homework, chores, sports practices/games, music lessons and the once a pleasurable evening out or trip to see Santa became another stressful checkbox making us feel like scrooges if we didn't go. We had actually become scrooges when we went. We donned fake smiles and engaged in forced conversations while looking for signals from each other for when we felt the checkbox had been met and we could go home. Very un-holiday like and not truly gratifying. And then one year we said no more! Now before the season begins we sit down as a family and ask each other what is the one thing you want to do over the holiday season that means most to you? What we found were the most important activities to all of us were those special events we did as a family that were less stressful and had true meaning. Every year we squeezed in driving the kids around the neighborhood to look at the glowing displays. We take our hot cocoa and all dress in our pajamas while playing Holiday music in the car and oohing and awing over the same house every year that has taken the time to recreate the Grinch Who Stole Christmas on their front lawn. We always made a special evening each year to go downtown, visit Santa's village to see the big man himself followed by dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. These were the events that stood out to all of us. Instead of trying to work it all in, we have learned to gracefully decline attending all our friend's and family's parties and focus on 2-3 events making them extra special. While we still have the scheduled children's events, band concert and choir performance, we find these are truly more special to attend as they're not just another event buried within 20 other events on the calendar.
Who thinks of their favorite dishes and desserts when you mention the holiday season? I certainly do but along with the taste of the delicious stuffing and turkey meeting your taste buds comes the thought of grocery shopping, constant cooking or baking and another mess in the kitchen to clean up...added stress. Don't misunderstand. I have not completely stopped cooking and baking over the season. I've just been more selective on what dishes I choose to cook and desserts to bake rather than trying to do it all. I had found that I was spending more time in the kitchen cooking during family gatherings, barking instructions to the gracious family members who offer to help on which serving bowl to use for the potatoes or stuffing and stressing over the perfection of everything hitting the table hot and ready at the same time. I was in the kitchen while others were able to enjoy the football game on Thanksgiving or roaring fire while sipping their wine or holiday cocktail. Our extended family all live elsewhere in the country and fly to our house every year, so I didn't have the luxury of them being able to bring dishes from home. Then one year when my kids were just babies, I opted for catering knowing I wasn't going to be able to pull off a perfect meal. That year I felt a huge lift off my shoulders. While that year was a fully catered holiday meal, I have since added back our holiday tradition dishes that are family most crave each year. For us, it's the fruit salad with citrus dressing from my grandmother, cream corn from my mother, the salami appetizer from my aunt the smell of turkey roasting in the oven. I also try to prepare as much in advance by setting the table the day before, cutting fruit and having serving bowls ready to go the day before. You may have an amazing recipe for pumpkin or apple pie, mashed potatoes or stuffing. For my family, we order those items from a local restaurant that provides quality dishes and pies that everyone still relishes. I don't have to worry about peeling potatoes or rolling pie crust. I have some time to sip my wine during the day and sit by the fire catching a touchdown or two. I'm able to play a few games of dominos and engage in fun conversations with my family rather than being distracted by constant stirring, chopping and the mess in the kitchen. The men in our family help wash and clean dishes after the meal is finished. I still bake during the season but it's only cookies or desserts that are those we don't want to live without that year. Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies are really our staple as we prepare for Santa to arrive with the kids helping with the changing of the next filled cookie sheet and clean up now that they're old enough. While food is a part of everyone's holiday season, I now feel it's more enjoyable to focus on select dishes versus trying to do it all.
These are some of the changes we have made as a family that allow us to appreciate the holidays. The season is still a little stressful however we have taken measures to reduce the amount of stress. I love this season and it was disappointing when I would wake up in January and realize it was over and I hadn't taken the care to truly enjoy the things that mattered most to me and my family over the season. It had become a series of checkboxes. Now I check my boxes but in a positive, meaningful and more fulfilling way.