By Terry Hannum
The Daily Star
---- — Step back in time to 11 months ago, on one of those winter holiday preparation days when thousands of us swore that next year would be different. We will not wait until the last minute. We will not overspend. We will have a budget and a list. And there will be no more insane mall parking lot nightmares waiting for an open spot only to face gridlock when trying to leave.
Last year was going to be the last year that the beautiful holiday cards sat in the box tormenting us every day as we proclaimed that tomorrow there would be time to sit down and write heart-felt notes to all family and friends, until January came and the box was packed up with all the other decorations that barely made a debut.
Many people who say that they loathe the winter holidays really don’t despise the entire time, just certain parts of it, and feel trapped into having to repeat certain rituals year after year. Get ready for this year’s holiday season by taking a good hard look at last year. What made things stressful? Too expensive? Too exhausting? Then ask yourself what your favorite things are about this winter holiday time — these are things to write down as you begin a new way of celebrating Christmas.
If you dread Christmas-card writing, groan from the constant get-togethers, fear crowded stores or have no fondness of cookie baking, this is all information to write down. If there never seems to be enough time and money to do it all, you are most likely correct. But it does not have to be that way. It all begins with a few simple lists starting with List One.
This is not as much a list as it is a reminder note to yourself about why this holiday is important to you, what your idea of a nearly perfect holiday is and what are a few things that you can do for yourself along the way to add joy to preparations. The note might include things such as how giving gifts makes you feel, how wonderful this holiday’s special foods are and the religious/spiritual significance of this time of year to you. Memories play a major role in how we perceive a holiday as being great, but commit to making new memories this year instead of relying on what once was.
Celebrate the busy, out-of-routine, sometimes-hectic season by keeping healthy. Drink plenty of water, eat fresh foods, get more sleep than usual, take a brisk walk during lunch or afternoon break and take time for a soothing bath. Try a new tea, breathe deeply, smile more and remember that this holiday season is going to be the best ever.
What are the absolute certain things this holiday season? For example; your children’s or grandchildren’s Christmas concert, a fresh-cut tree, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner with family, gifts, lights put up outdoors, food bank donations and the office office party might all be important holiday time events. More optional items may be the cards, cookies, home-made gifts, caroling or hosting a neighborhood party. The idea is to separate the things you don’t want to miss from all the extra things that would be nice but are optional.
Having clarified what the most important things to do are, make a time line to prioritize. Be rational about some things that may already be too late to do such as online purchases that may be delayed due to the busy season and elaborate home-made projects. Here are some examples of what is best to have done by the end of each week in December
By Dec. 8
Any packages that will need to be mailed should be packed up, addressed and ready to send by Monday, Dec. 10.
Put up outdoor decorations by this week to make your home and neighborhood bright. Pick the indoor decorations you want to put up this week, and box up everything else for the season. Trying to keep decorating right up until Christmas Eve just adds to exhaustion. Designate one afternoon or evening to decorate, and be done with it.
Have a gift list ready of each recipient, how much you can spend on each person and several ideas of items you would like to purchase for them. Limiting yourself to one absolute and definite gift idea per person can cost you time, money and stress. Having a few ideas allows you to be flexible with shopping. Once you have made a gift purchase for each person, cross their name off the list but keep the list as a reminder.
If baking is on List One, have some baking done this week and stored in the freezer.
Artificial trees can be set up by this week, but live trees are best left outdoors, wrapped and the cut end in water until next week.
By Dec. 15
Wrap up shopping this week and be done with your gift-giving list — literally. Set up a space that has plenty of holiday paper, tape, ribbon, gift bags, tissue paper, labels and scissors. Any purchases already made can be wrapped and any final purchases wrap as soon after shopping as possible. Stick to the shopping list even if you spot another perfect gift for someone for whom you have already bought.
Bring in the live Christmas tree and designate one person who will faithfully be in charge of filling the tree’s water reservoir. Lights go on first followed by ornaments and a tree skirt.
Wrap up some small happy holiday gifts for co-workers, favorite cashier, bus driver, teachers and unexpected visitors. There is no need to spend more than $1. A scented candle wrapped with a ribbon and holly branch, a candy bar with a Christmas card wrapper, lollipops with festive ribbon or a small notepad with a fabric cover glued on are a few suggestions.
Make a very detailed grocery shopping list that highlights what dishes you are serving followed by the ingredients you need to make each item. Add to the grocery list any stocking-stuffer items such as candy, granola bars, nuts and hot chocolate or tea packets as well as some treats for the pets. It’s good to have the list include a few back-up staples such as crackers, cheese, nuts, chips, sparkling juices, beer and wine.
Baking not finished last week that can be frozen or stored in the refrigerator is best to have all done this week.
The Christmas cards are a recurring stress factor on many peoples list of what they dread about the holidays. If you feel compelled to send off cards this year decide on 10 families that will receive a card from you. Unless you have a copy of a more lengthy note, keep the sentiments short, seal the envelope, stamp them and mail. If you have more time, start on 10 more otherwise wait till next week to send a group email with holiday wishes for all.
By Dec. 22
Stop shopping, make time this week for those special concerts, parties, yuletide events, favorite holiday movies, volunteering to help make other peoples holiday merry, visit with friends and enjoy the display of lights.
In the kitchen, there is plenty of prep work to make Christmas week a breeze with meals. Chop up vegetables, pre-slice cheese and sausages, mince herbs, marinade meats in well-sealed bags and have lots of fresh fruits for healthy snacking.
Set the dining table in advance, have beverage glasses ready, drinks chilled, candles trimmed, a selection of holiday music ready and have a few favorite DVDs and board games set out.
Children off from school or extra guests at the house will be happy to help out and gratefully allow them to. Making special dinner napkin folds, hang mistletoe, salt icy walkways, frost cookies or even check the smoke alarms in the house are important duties that help make the holidays merry.
Finally, after all of this beautiful planning, keep in mind that there are plenty of things that are completely out of your control — winter weather, sickness, flight delays, sold out items and friends/family members that did not make a list this year. These are all small reminders that life is full of surprises and this is a time of great joy that you can remind others of.