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12 Steps to Take

right now

to Ensure a Merrier Holiday

It’s coming…..the start of the holiday season is right around the corner! There is a change in the air and pumpkin spice has returned to Starbucks, so you know fall is here.

Whether you have been waiting all year in anticipation or you just refuse to think about it until  Thanksgiving dinner preparations are eminent, the holidays are on their way. (I fall into the former category, in case you were wondering.) But if it still feels a little early to do anything but order a yummy latte, think again!

There are a number of things you can do RIGHT NOW to help ensure a merrier holiday season! Seriously, even if you love every minute of them, the holidays can be a big stressor. But it is within your power to make this season more enjoyable by taking this list and checking it twice, ASAP.

1. Do a financial evaluation.

One of the biggest holiday issues is budget. We get caught up in the holiday cheer and spend way more than we can realistically afford. And then we justify to ourselves that it is “to give our kids a better Christmas”, or that we “have” to participate in a large family gift orgy or we will hurt someone’s feelings.

It’s time to be the adulty-adult and do the hard thing. I know, it can be painful to look carefully at what is realistic for you this year. But crunch the numbers and make a plan. By discussing what is possible for you or your family now before you are swept away in a wave of holiday spirit you will avoid waking up in January hungover and full of regret from a holiday spendfest.

2. Decide where and with whom you are spending the holidays.

You may already have a tradition in place that works for you and your people. But if you and your partner take turns spending the holidays with respective family, figure out what happens this year. Or if you change it up every year, think about your options now.

Especially with the disruption of the last few years, now is the time to have the conversations about what you want to do and what you are willing to do, as well as the needs of your extended family members. It is also time to make reservations without breaking the bank.

3. Have a family meeting.

Often we do things the way they have always been done out of habit. Now would be a good time to sit down with your family and ask each person to identify their favorite part of each holiday. To identify what values you and your family want to promote during the season. To narrow down the one thing they want the most from their wish list.

You might be surprised what activities or traditions they identify as important or as their favorites. Give yourself permission to focus on the things you and your people have decided are important, and be willing to let go (or loosen up) about the rest.

4. Write down what worked in the past (& what didn’t).

Give some real thought to what has been wildly successful during your holiday celebrations in past years and what has always felt like pushing water uphill. (Keeping in mind that things will change as the seasons of your life change; what worked 5 years ago may no longer be as successful.)

Approach this like a business would and evaluate the importance of the activity. If it is something you want to continue, evaluate your approach.  There is more than one way to do things, after all. Don’t lock yourself in the box of ‘the way we have always done it’. That box can get mighty uncomfy. 

Einstein said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. This also applies to the holidays.

5. Choose your priorities with intention.

One of the hardest things about this season is how many amazing ideas there are out there. I know I get a little dizzy when I am scrolling through Pinterest, looking at all the clever things other people have done. Look at that homemade advent calendar! Look at that hand painted 5’ holiday porch sign!  Look at that $500 light up yard display!

And you may not have to go online to be inundated with ideas…your own family may pile them on. The 50 different kinds of cookie baking with grandma, that gift swap party at work, the committee at your place of worship you aren’t sure how you ended up on.

If you wonder every year how you are going to get it all done because there just isn’t enough time….you might need to take a look at your priorities.

I know, I know. All the things are fun and festive. They really are!

But our budgets and energy are not endless. And if you are so tired from trying to do it all that you are snapping at your kids and basically don’t have a real conversation with your spouse until January, then you aren’t actually enjoying all those fun and festive activities as much as you want to.

6. Mark up your calendar.

Look at your calendar and make a tentative plan. When we look at the blank pages we think Oh, I’ve got plenty of time to do X,Y & Z! But do you? Enter the holiday season with a realistic picture of the time you have available to say yes to other commitments.

Go ahead and schedule what you have identified as the non-negotiables: those things you have decided as a family that are most important.  Now schedule time for the activities you deem necessary: work party, kids events, church services.

Block off time to decorate, shop for gifts, wrap the gifts, address holiday cards, go to the post office and wait in line. Now block off time for the mundane things that still have to be done: grocery shopping, meal prep, bill paying.

Do you have any time left? Probably very little…mark off some white space in your calendar. This is for the unexpected that is inevitably going to come up.  Or maybe a bubble bath… or watching Christmas Vacation on the sofa with some popcorn.

Now when you get invited to things that sound amazing, you can evaluate realistically whether they will fit into your schedule, or if you are willing to give up something else to accept.

7. Identify your holiday stresssors.

Think about the upcoming holidays. What causes you the most anxiety? Cooking the turkey? Always being asked when you are going to have kids? Scrambling at the last minute with that damn Elf on the Shelf?

Take the time to recognize the activities, people and triggers that cause you the most stress before they arrive on the scene in all their messy glory. Think about some strategies you can use to deal with each one.

Now, instead of reacting, you are prepared to respond. Even better, you may have identified a few holiday potholes and can more easily navigate around them completely.

8. Create a Not-to-do List.

Maybe you always start the holidays with the intention to savor the season, but then get caught up in obligation and overwhelm. This year, create a list of things you are going to say No to. Activities that drain you, conversations that are unproductive, time wasters, obligations you don’t enjoy, stressing about things you can’t control.

Figure out an alternative way of doing things if they can’t be totally eliminated. And if possible, consider how you need to decline. Or just practice saying ‘No thanks, that’s not part of my holiday journey this year’ in the mirror.

9. Start your holiday cards.

If you send holiday cards, start now. This is one task that you can absolutely do early.

Ideally, choose a photo or photos from earlier this year to use on your cards. At a minimum, schedule a photo shoot ASAP. If you don’t use photos, or if you have them selected already, pick out the cards themselves and get them ordered.

If you write a newsletter, get it started. Gather your addresses and reach out for any you are missing. Order stamps from USPS online. If you use special return address labels, order those or print them yourself.

You can even start addressing envelopes if you really want to eliminate one time-consuming item from your holiday calendar!  When it is time to get everything  in the mail you will feel amazing to already have this big task complete.

10.  Create a holiday mantra.

A holiday mantra is something you revert to in times of stress or frustration, just like a regular mantra, but for the holiday season. A word or phrase you can use to re-center yourself into the way you want to feel about your holiday experience. Write it on a post-it (or 10) and put it where you will see it often.

Some examples:

Breathe in the joy. Breathe out the stress.

Holiday joy is all around me if I have eyes to see it.

I am choosing where to focus my energy this holiday season.

I choose to be merry and bright.

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

11.  Commit to shopping local.

Instead of stressing about your holiday shopping, identify local vendors that you have wanted to investigate and do your gift buying in your own backyard. Shopping local is convenient, saves you shipping costs, supports local businesses, and keeps your money right in your own community. As an added bonus, the items you find will often be unique and you can develop relationships with local vendors.

12.  Don’t fall into the trap of saying it’s too early.

I know, I know…it feels like the holidays are light-years away. But here’s the thing. Once you start decorating for Halloween, you have already been sucked into the holiday vortex. And it won’t spit you back out until around January 3rd.

You know it’s true. Once the pumpkins come out, the space-time continuum speeds up. So just do these few things now. For future you. Future you will thank you for her more relaxed holiday season. I promise.

Now, what are you waiting for??

While it may be slightly less fun to make a plan instead of being totally spontaneous for the holidays, I guarantee a thought-out plan now will allow you more spontaneity throughout the season. With the added benefit of less stress and more merry!

So what are you waiting for? Grab your calendar and a notebook. Take the time now to invest in Future You’s holiday sanity. She will thank you for it, I promise.


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