The holiday season is upon us. It's that time of the year when many of us vow to make this one count, to put aside the chaos and just enjoy time spent with family and friends without getting overly complicated with gifts, decorations or elaborate celebrations. It's the vow I make every year and the one I consistently break.
I often shake my head at how early the stores get on the holiday bandwagon, putting up decorations before Halloween. Some even start in September, just after the kids start back to school. But, even though I don't want to be reminded of the winter holidays before I get a handle on fall, these months seem to fly by at an alarming rate. Once school starts, time is measured in school days that seem to be shorter than summer days. When you add in school, sports, activities, appointments, and homework, there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to accomplish it all. Now add in over a month of holiday preparation with school performances, special events, parties, clothes shopping, gift buying, baking, and cooking. Days shrink, hours fly, and many find themselves just trying to get through the holidays rather than enjoying them - often welcoming January and the end of all the fuss.
How do we find time to enjoy these next two months with a loaded calendar of obligations? I recently wrote a novel about a mother who dies tragically and comes back to her family as a ghost. She is given an opportunity to view her life - her shortcomings, and her achievements. Most importantly and sadly, she realizes her busy life got in the way of what she truly wanted.
"She was so busy doing that she wasn’t being. Too worried about the future rather than focusing on the present."
How many times are we too busy doing and not being? I often remind myself of this failure - my failure to be present in the moment, to take it all in and enjoy each minute as though it were my last. It's easy to get sucked into the everyday tasks that consume us, and when we add the holidays to our already hectic schedule, we tend to become stressed and have difficulty enjoying this time that's all about giving thanks, celebrating life, family, and the joy that each brings.
This year I have decided I am going to work on really celebrating the holidays without the stress I have added to it in years past. I am not going to flip out if my Thanksgiving meal doesn't go as planned; I'm not going to spend countless hours shopping for unnecessary gifts while wading through packed malls with crabby, rude people. I'm not going to pack my calendar with activities that don't fill me with the spirit of the holidays or spend money just because 'tis the season! Instead, I'm going to just be this holiday season. How? Here are some tips, you may find helpful that I hope to follow:
1. If you must shop, do it early! The number one stressor for me is shopping. I get so busy the closer I get to Christmas, I don't seem to have much time to shop and eventually find myself swearing under my breath as I rummage through the picked over items less than a week before Christmas. I end up buying random shit (yes, shit) that will probably never be used or appreciated by its recipient - they needed something to unwrap so why not unwrap shit? How much money am I going to save by waiting for the sales? Is it worth crawling over people or losing time I could be reading a book by the fire or having treasured time with family or friends? Nope.
2. Bake ahead of time and enjoy! Set a day to bake some of your favorite holiday treats ahead of the rush. You can freeze them and take them out when you are ready to enjoy them. Have someone stopping by for a glass of hot spiked cider? Pull out your cookies and soak in the holiday visit. Also, stock your pantry with easy snacks you can pull out if company pays a visit. Keep some cream cheese and salsa or other perishables that have a long shelf life in the fridge for easy snacks.
3. Buy hostess gifts and wrap ahead. Have them ready "just in case" you are invited to a party or get-together. I don't usually have time to run out and get a gift each time I am invited somewhere. Having some things on hand, takes the stress out of attending these events.
4. Wrap gifts a little at a time, so you are not doing it at three in the morning! I am so guilty of waiting until the night before Christmas to wrap, not realizing how much I have to wrap and kicking myself the entire night, swearing I will not do it next year (but I do anyway!).
5. Plan time with friends and family - those who you cherish and want to celebrate with. Many have them - the family who we don't jive with. Those who we see out of obligation - that's almost unavoidable. But make sure you spend extra time with those who make you happy and who won't give you the white glove test or don't care if you didn't get them a gift.
6. Plan fun time with your family. Take an evening to play board games, watch a special movie, bake cookies, enjoy community events. Put it on the calendar and commit to spending that time. Time with family is something you will never get back. Kids grow up, parents age and the time will come when not everyone will be able to be together. Make this time count so you never regret what you wish you would have done - just do it!
7. Take time to do something for someone less fortunate. Sponsor a family for Thanksgiving, Christmas or a holiday you celebrate. Work at a soup kitchen, collect toys for the needy, help a senior decorate their home, invite someone from the military who can't go home for the holidays to have Thanksgiving or Christmas with you. There are so many ways to share the holidays with your family and those less fortunate or lonely. This is the season of giving, and the best type of giving doesn't cost a cent. What you give, comes back and warms your heart, knowing you have touched the life of someone else.
8. Keep the house in order. Give each family member a job so the house stays in some order during the holidays. The goal is to keep it tidy enough that if someone pops in, you don't have to run around like a crazy person and clean. Have the kids pick up their things and bring them to their rooms before they go to bed, load dishwasher and run it while you sleep, keep kitchen counters clean and de-cluttered, tidy up one room that you can entertain guests. Life happens in our homes every day and we can't expect our homes to be spotless. If we spend just a few minutes every day keeping down the mess, it will be ready for those wonderful, impromptu get-togethers.
7. STOP and listen. Listen to what this holiday season is telling you. It's probably telling you to slow down, inhale, reflect, appreciate, give thanks and just be. It won't be easy to push aside what you think you have to do, but when January comes around, knowing you made the most of the holidays by being instead of doing will be empowering and intrinsically rewarding. If only we could box and wrap the time we would traditionally spend shopping and hand it to those we love, we would have countless hours of laughter, memories and a sense of belonging beyond any monetary gift. Truly, the best gift we could ever give is time.