Every year, I tell myself that I’m not going to let the holidays stress me out. And every year, despite my best efforts, I end up frazzled and fatigued.
Maybe the problem is that I’m setting a random goal but not doing specific things to create a different outcome. This year, that’s going to change.
I have compiled a list of 25 small but impactful steps that you (and I) can take to keep things on track and enjoy the season more. That said, I’m guessing you don’t even have time to read this whole list. The tips are organized into 4 categories – prioritizing, shopping, coping and connecting – so feel free to jump to the section that interests you. There, you’ll find some suggested mini tactics to help ease your holiday burden.
Pause and reflect. Time for some big-picture thinking. Can you clearly identify which holiday traditions matter the most? Is it taking a photo with Santa, or spending an afternoon decorating the tree? Maybe it’s going skating, assembling a gingerbread house, or watching a beloved holiday special. The ironic thing is, while you instinctively want make things magical and special for others, your best bet is to prioritize things that will be uplifting and festive for you. If you’re motivated and upbeat, the whole thing is likely to go better, and other family members will follow your lead.
Rewind. To focus your time and energy effectively, think back to last Christmas (and other years past) and see what sticks out in your mind. What was a hit, and what was a flop? Hold a family brainstorming session, and if needed, scroll through your photo archives to jog your memory.
Don’t be a hero. In the wise words of Mabelhood contributor Jen Millard, “the sanctity and success of Christmas does not rest solely on your shoulders.” Free yourself from the pressure to create a “perfect” Christmas by following her list of pre-holiday tips.
Protect your calendar. Book the most important gatherings in advance, and don’t be afraid to politely decline an invitation. Log all commitments on a shared calendar so there are no surprises. To avoid overscheduling, be realistic about how much stamina you (and your family) will have on a given day. Reserve some days for “family time only” and if necessary, communicate these to relatives and friends in advance.
Simplify the menu. If you have the time and inspiration to try a new holiday recipe, go for it! (We’ve got detailed instructions for delicious frosted gingerbread squares, courtesy of Jill Campbell.) On the other hand, if you can’t face a kitchen experiment right now, stick with a familiar classic like your grandmother’s shortbread.
Follow through. Some popular holiday traditions, such as Elf on a Shelf, are a serious commitment. If you’re hesitant, you’re not alone – Mabel’s Labels writer Jennifer White wrestled with the Elf dilemma this year. If you end up welcoming a little pointy-hatted friend into your home, consider setting a nightly alarm on your phone to prevent any forgetful blunders.
Think ahead. Shopping in advance means more selection, better stock, and less panic. For online orders, allow extra time for delivery so you’ll have the gifts in hand well before the big day. In the past, I always forgot to buy stocking stuffers, resulting in a flurry of last-minute desperation purchases. Now, I constantly keep a lookout for “little things” that I can stash away ahead of time.
Embrace quality over quantity. To prevent excess spending and keep kids’ gift expectations in check, consider implementing “The 4 Gift Rule.” Linsey De Ruysscher explains this clever rhyming gift plan, which can be especially helpful in large families.
Make notes. Keep a notebook handy or start a list in the notes app on your phone. Brainstorm all potential gift recipients, including godparents, teachers, coaches, crossing guards, and so on. Update it regularly so you know what gifts you’ve purchased and what you still need to find.
Pick it up. Grab gifts and groceries in a flash with curbside pickup. These services can be game-changing when you’re short on time and want to avoid crowds and line-ups.
Say hello to peppermint. Pumpkin season is over, and you’ve got the green light to pick up some candy cane flavoured lip gloss, hand sanitizer, lotion or body wash. If you’re not into mint, go with pine scent, gingerbread or whatever makes you smile!
Slow down. Counteract the constant hustle and bustle with a few deep breaths. Make a conscious effort to be in the moment, rather than dashing on to the next task on your to-do list. Take notice of the joyful moments, both big and small. You’ve waited 11 months for this, so don’t rush it.
Stay calm. When you start to feel overwhelmed, try this technique from mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker. On her blog, she explains the “SNAP” acronym (Soothing touch, Name the emotion, Act, Praise) to help manage stress on the spot.
Soak it in. Another mindfulness tactic is to engage your senses. For example, at mealtime, savour your food and really focus on the taste (especially those decadent desserts that only show up once a year!). During festive gatherings, take a moment to fully absorb the sights, sounds, smells, and textures around you.
Sing “fa la la la la.” I drive an old car – so old, in fact, that the CD player doesn’t work anymore. As such, I have discovered a 24/7 holiday music radio station, and I must admit, it puts me in a merry mood! If you prefer to be your own DJ, create a personalized playlist (Ed Sheeran’s new “Merry Christmas” song can’t get here soon enough!). On the other hand, if the constant holly-jolly jingle-jangle is getting to be too much for you, you’re also entitled to enjoy a “silent night” by turning off the music and enjoying some much-needed quiet time.
Stay warm. It’s hard to be jovial and festive when you feel chilled to the bone. Dress for maximum coziness at all times, with layers, fuzzy socks, comfy sweaters, wool, fleece, flannel – whatever it takes! And, it’s okay to lean on hot drinks to generate warmth. During the cold-weather months, my personal philosophy is to have a steaming beverage in hand as often as possible.
Take a walk. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, bundle up and get outside for a change of scenery, some fresh air, and a quick break from it all. Enjoy the twinkling lights and try to catch a snowflake on your tongue.
Press play. Declare a holiday movie night. Grab some snacks, cuddle under a blanket and give yourself over to some on-screen Christmas cheer. Whether it’s a kid-friendly cartoon or a sappy Hallmark movie, it’ll touch your heart and revive your tired spirit.
Spread some cheer. Full disclosure: I’m one of those people who still send old-school Christmas cards. (If you’re keen too, check out this 5 step guide for prepping and mailing.) Whether it’s paper-based or electronic, this is a great time of year to reach out to others with a positive message.
Be practical. No matter what form your holiday gatherings take, try to roll with the ups and downs. One year, we had a power failure and couldn’t cook a traditional meal for the 15 guests. Rather than lament this turn of events, we called Domino’s and had an impromptu pizza party. It was incredibly memorable (and actually, so much simpler!).
Manage Zoom calls. Video-chat gatherings can be fun, but can drag on if no one takes charge. Set specific time parameters and add a focal point or activity (such as a photo slide show, family trivia quiz or round of holiday jokes) to give a sense of structure and completion.
Give back. What charitable action can your family take this year? Maybe it’s supporting the food bank or volunteering with a charitable organization. Consider donating a new toy to a local toy drive, or de-cluttering your playroom and giving gently used items to a nearby day care or community centre. It is the season of giving, after all.
Help a neighbour. It always feels good to do something thoughtful for someone else, and it doesn’t have to be a giant gesture. It’s as simple as shovelling someone’s driveway, offering to walk their dog or dropping off a tin of homemade baking.
Support seniors. Those of us with young kids and busy families have plenty of built-in holiday action, but for older adults, this can be a lonely time of year. If your kids like to draw or colour, contact a nearby retirement home to ask if you can bring them some cheerful holiday artwork. My local library is organizing a “holiday card drive” for seniors this year, and my kids and I will definitely be signing up.
Be true to yourself. Above all, this is your holiday season. Don’t get caught up in what others are doing to celebrate or decorate – do what is authentic and right for your family.
What does it say about the parents of today that we need mindfulness techniques to survive a season that is supposed to be naturally merry and bright? Sometimes I think we’re our own worst enemies, piling on the pressure to make everything wondrous and magical (thanks for nothing, Pinterest and Instagram).
This year, give yourself permission to enjoy the holiday season and whatever it may bring. If there are bloopers or glitches, try not to over-react. Instead, laugh about it, straighten your Santa hat and carry on. The good news is, you just created a funny memory to look back on next year.