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How to Simplify Your Holiday Celebration and Save Your Sanity

Do the shopping, plan the menu, wrap the gifts, cook the food—fa la la la la! If your family holidays are more stressful than joyful, here's how to step back and find your happy place again.

By
Cheryl Butler
Episode #556
winter holiday

Does this sound familiar? You start the holiday season feeling festive and full of good cheer. You have big plans and ambitions to make everything merry and bright for you and your family. But as your to-do list grows, so does your stress level. The next thing you know, you just want to settle in for a long winter's nap and not come out again until spring.

Even before I became a mom, I wanted nothing more than to give my family the gift of the most magical holiday season possible. First, I had to orchestrate amazing decorations. Then I would not only make festive treats but plan elaborate five-course meals. And let's not forget shopping 'til I dropped so I could shower my friends and family with impeccably wrapped, showstopping gifts!

No pressure.

I spent so much time and energy trying to pull off the perfect Christmas that, come December 25, I was run so ragged I hoped to never see another candy cane for the rest of my life. I would collapse after the last gift was unwrapped. Fa la la la la la la la ... ugh. 

Each year I vowed to be smarter with my time and efforts, but I still wound up mindlessly repeating this vicious cycle. That is, until I was expecting my fifth child. Seven months pregnant, I ended up with pneumonia and a cracked rib. As miserable as I was, it was the year I received the best gift ever—the doctor ordered bed rest!

I had to rely on my husband and the grandparents to take over so that our kids would still have a Christmas. By no means did they do everything the way I would’ve done it. (Actually, they did nothing the way I would've done it!) But by letting go of the control, I watched a wonderful holiday unfold. I finally wasn’t in the trenches driving myself crazy trying to create a perfect holiday. Instead, I was living in the moment.

I knew right then that I was finally done with all the holiday hype.

De-stress this holiday season by deciding what's important

I still enjoy the magic of the holiday season, but now I approach this time of year with much less fuss.

If you've realized that spending time with loved ones is more important than pulling off the "perfect" holiday, think about what you can cut back on this year.

  • No time to stage a photo card of your family this year? New Year’s cards are festive, too! Bonus: They might even stand out more if they arrive after the rush of holiday cards.
  • Is it really necessary to spend time and money on gifts for teachers, bus drivers, teacher assistants, and the school nurse this holiday season? Have your child write a heartfelt card to these special folks instead.
  • Does the Elf on the Shelf really have to make a pre-Thanksgiving appearance? Maybe he could show up the week before Christmas. Less work, same fun!
  • Can you simplify your holiday décor by cutting back on outdoor lighting or limiting your decorating to just one special room in your home? You don't have to be the neighborhood Griswolds to have a happy holiday.
  • Which holiday invites do you really want to accept? Politely decline invitations for parties you're not really interested in or just don't have time for.

Center your time and energy more on the things you actually love doing and less on those that feel like a chore. You’ll automatically simplify this hectic time of year.

Tap into your holiday senses

I’ve always been a Christmas junkie! Whether it's enjoying all the lights and bling of the season, soaking in the enchanting sounds and delicious tastes that surround us, or decking the halls—count me in. Being mindful of the elements that make this time of year so special can deliver an entirely new experience for both you and your loved ones.

Instead of rushing from one errand to the next, tap into your holiday senses so you can be more present this season. Here are some festive, low-key ideas.

Bake with your kids. Find an afternoon where you can roll out some sugar cookies, decorate a gingerbread house, make homemade fudge, or dabble with delicious peppermint bark. Notice how amazing your house smells while these goodies are baking. Enjoy an ice cold glass of milk as you nibble on a delightful iced gingerbread man. Make an extra dozen or so for your neighbor and leave them as a surprise on their front porch. Savor the experience. Check out these yummy holiday recipes on Food Network.

Get crafty. Watch your child swell with pride when they create a special masterpiece for Grandma and Grandpa. Head over to Pinterest for hundreds of easy, jolly ideas. In our house, our favorite DIY holiday décor is paper snowflakes. Even my college kids love to make these every year. We sprinkle a little glitter on them and decorate our windows to create a real winter wonderland feel.

Play holiday tunes. Get in the spirit by playing festive music first thing in the morning. When your kids get up, they can jingle all the way to the breakfast table. Sing along with Frosty the Snowman as you carpool to practice. Let holiday music play quietly in the background on Christmas Eve as you prepare for the excitement of Christmas Day.

Check out holiday light displays. Take a brisk early evening walk through your neighborhood and enjoy the beautiful glow of holiday lights. When you get home, make some creamy hot cocoa and talk about which scenes were your favorite. Or drive through your community to take in the festive displays. Soaking in the holiday bling can illuminate positive energy and it’s a low-cost way to spend some time together as a family.

Watch holiday classics. Pick a cozy afternoon or evening and binge-watch your favorite holiday movies together. Don’t forget the popcorn!

RELATED: 7 Ways to Save Money During the Holiday Season

Focus on tradition

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is celebrating the traditions we’ve created over the years. There’s something comforting about practicing a tried and true ritual that belongs to your family.

My parents established a fun tradition—Christmas Eve PJs! We opened them before bed each year.

When I had my own family, we continued the tradition. But I incorporated a theme each year like footed pajamas, Star Wars, Polar Express, or our favorite sports teams. This year we’re getting reindeer pajamas, and yes, they will come with antlers!

The beauty of a traditions is that you can start them any time. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Cut your own fresh tree
  • Have a Secret Santa exchange
  • Donate gifts to those less fortunate
  • Go caroling
  • Have a grab bag of both practical and gag gifts
  • Explore another culture’s tradition
  • Have a potluck holiday celebration with friends
  • Decorate your tree with colorful, handmade paper chains
  • Have a family game night
  • Create a romantic, special quiet time for you and your spouse to exchange gifts—just the two of you

RELATED: 6 Ways to Create Family Traditions

Give Experiences

The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion nationwide. Yikes!

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching my kids open their gifts on Christmas morning, particularly when the gift is some pricey item I know they weren't expecting. But gifts are not what the holiday season is all about.

Experiences are a great alternative to material gifts. We started doing this years ago, and my kids look forward to receiving things like concert or sporting event tickets, a family weekend away, or private lessons more than a new electronic gadget. One year we gave them bedroom makeovers and let them pick out their color schemes!

Rely on Mother Nature

I recently attended a wellness workshop and one of the speakers focused on one of the most neglected, free assets available—mother nature.

If you live in a climate where winter weather is getting into high gear, it may be tempting to limit your time with nature to climbing in and out of the car. But winter is a wonderful time to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. Embrace a walk in the new-fallen snow, take your kids to an outdoor ice-skating rink, or hike on a nature trail and take in the frosty landscape. A walk on the beach in the winter can also be invigorating. With fewer people around, you can have some quality time with your own thoughts.

Reconnect with yourself

Most parents focus on making things fun for their kids throughout the holidays. The decorating, baking, shopping, and constant running around seem to be for everyone but ourselves. Instead of waiting until post-holiday exhaustion sets in, use the holiday season to reconnect with yourself.

Finding quiet pockets of time throughout the week may seem like a laughable concept, but if you put your mind to it, you’d be surprised at the different ways you can sneak some me-time into your schedule.

Give meditation a try. Listen to an inspirational podcast or captivating audiobook that takes your mind away from the daily annoyances you have little control over. This well-spent me-time will help you to relax and get into the true spirit of the season. You may also learn something new!

About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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