One of the biggest surprises I’ve experienced in motherhood is the way Christmas evolved and morphed over the years. Like most of you, Christmas for me is dripping with nostalgia and family traditions. I get a “Christmas feeling” every year–you know, that excitement that originated back when we were children. We get that tingly feeling when we see the decorations and the lights, hear the music, eat the food. We remember tip-toeing down the stairs on Christmas morning to see all the presents under the tree. Maybe attending the Christmas Eve service or traveling to grandma’s for Thanksgiving.
When I started my own family, Jon and I were eager to incorporate our individual childhood family traditions along with some new ones so we could create our own unique Cooper Family Holiday. And we’ve done a great job of that.
But what surprised me was how, as a mom, pulling it all off was So! Much! Work! I was shocked at how much pressure I felt to get it right each year. I was blindsided by how many directions I would feel pulled and stretched. I had no idea how many people would have expectations of me and my time.
Slowly, over the first 10 or so years of being a mom, Thanksgiving and Christmas morphed into two months of dread. And I hated that. I hated that what is truly such a sacred time of year, turned into this materialistic, overly busy, noisy season. I even wrote an Open Letter to Christmas back in 2015 hoping that Christmas and I could redefine our toxic relationship.
So, like everything in my life, I’ve had to become super-intentional about understanding (1) how it got that way and (2) how to–if at all possible–avoid the stress and the dread that I’d begin feeling around the end of October and continue to feel until the kids went back to school the first week of January.
One of the most helpful practices I’ve maintained the last several years is sitting down with my journal after the holiday hoopla has blown over and simply writing down what worked and what didn’t.
From that, I’ve been able to make small adjustments the following year, so that slowly and intentionally, Christmas is finally becoming again a season I anticipate rather than one that completely overwhelms me.
Here are a few things I’m doing this week (mid-November) to help me avoid the holiday dread and overwhelm:
Create a Holiday To-Don’t List. If you don’t know what that is, I write about it here and talk about it here. I also created a free printable worksheet to help you create your own. Don’t be intimidated by the word “worksheet.” It’s really just a few questions to prompt you to identify things to get off your plate with room to write your answers. But it’s on super cute fallish paper.
Knock something big off the to-do list. Do you have something on your list that you’ve been carrying over from week to week and month to month? Maybe a phone call you keep putting off? Or that dentist appointment you need to schedule? Maybe it’s that errand you need to run but it’s clear on the other end of town? Or that drawer you want to declutter? Block off an hour this week and dive in and get it done. Trust me, it will make you feel like Super Woman. I just did this a few days ago. I processed a pile of papers that I’ve had on my kitchen counter for almost a year. A YEAR! It only took me two hours and I felt like I dropped 50 pounds when I was finished. (Do I look smaller to you?)
Declutter something. Decluttering calms your space which brings immediate peace to your mind. Or as Gretchen Rubin says, “Outer Order Inner Calm.” If that is true for you, now is a great time to purge some stuff.
If you have kids at home with toys, now is the time to go through and donate or discard unused or broken items to make room for the new stuff they will receive as gifts. This is also a good time to do a quick sweep of your closet and get rid of anything that you didn’t wear last season or that every time you tried it on, you were like, gross. It’s also a good time to purge your old and ugly Fall decor before you put up your Christmas decorations. You don’t need to do a whole house purge–just a few key areas will lift the mental weight that clutter brings. Unless you are on a roll–then go crazy with your decluttering.
Write out a shopping list for Christmas and set the budget. If you need to gather gift ideas from your people, go ahead and do that too. People need time to think about this stuff.
I normally wait until after Thanksgiving to start my actual shopping. In fact, I usually do the bulk of my shopping the first week of December. And that is usually plenty of time to get what I need. Even so, I often find myself coming in just under the wire with online orders, or hunting down hard-to-find items because everything is picked over.
So this year, I’m getting an early start and it feels great, mainly because I know I’m automatically clearing up space in my December calendar.
(I know, some of you are already finished shopping and have everything wrapped and under your tree. If that’s you, please send help.)
Plan out the menu for Thanksgiving. (Bonus points for also planning the Christmas menu). If you are hosting, then decide what you are serving, gather your recipes, and make your grocery lists. If you have any non-perishable items you can buy now, go ahead and add them to your grocery list for this week.
If you are hosting a potluck, (which I highly recommend because people really do love to contribute!) decide what you are cooking and delegate everything else this week.
Update the calendar with all the holiday happenings. This will be the year a lot of things get back to normal. Or normal-ish. Families will be gathering again (yay!). Your child will probably have an actual in-person Christmas concert. Your work will have an office party. (Would you believe we’ve already been to our first holiday party with Jon’s work? I know, right?)
Nothing throws me off balance more quickly than realizing at the last minute that I forgot to write something on the calendar. If your child needs an angel halo or a mock-up shepherd’s robe and staff, write it down! If you need an ugly sweater for the office party and purged your actual ugly sweaters when you decluttered your closet, then I’m sorry for your loss…make note of that, too. If you are traveling, write down what days you will be gone, and ask someone to feed your cats and get your mail.
Oh, and on that calendar, don’t forget to schedule some downtime! Self-care is super important right now. Speaking of…
Take extra-good care of yourself. The holidays are notorious for over-indulgence. Yes, yes, it’s all delicious and fun…until you feel like crap. I’m not suggesting you refrain from your fave foods and drinks over the holidays. I am simply saying, maybe now is a good time to toss the leftover Halloween candy. On these in-between days, feed your body clean, whole, healthy foods. Take care to get good sleep at night. Go for a walk outside. Stretch. Create some margin. All of that helps you stay healthy and strong when the floodgates open in a few weeks.
Finally, at the risk of sounding trite and cliche, the most important thing you can do this week and every week is to keep Christ the center of all of it. Give thanks to God for all the gifts He has given you. Talk to Him. Ask Him to help you keep a sustainable pace and make wise choices with your time and your money.
This doesn’t have to be a season of overwhelm. We can take it back, mom! With Jesus as the center, we can have the peace of knowing we have everything we need and that our priorities are in perfect order.
And as you know, this is real balance.
This post is adapted from The Balanced MomCast EP129. You can listen to that wherever you listen to podcasts or click here for the direct download.
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