Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 19, 2001

Some tips for a stress-free holiday season


It's hard to believe that the holiday season is right around the corner. Just think, Thanksgiving is upon us. We are only five short weeks from Christmas.

I just had a mini-panic attack, because it just dawned on me that I have a lot of shopping to do.

My husband and I decided that this year we are going to be looking at Christmas differently. Last year we spent an ungodly amount of money, and spent an amazing amount of time running around.

We are determined to have a peaceful holiday season from now on, and fully intend to enjoy Christmas, along with all of its symbolism, this year.

This attitude, even though I consider it to be positive, has caused some problems on the family-front.

We are a young family, and are fortunate to have parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family that enjoy our company (or at least pretend to, ha, ha).

My family is quite small, and it is important to all of us that we spend time together around the holidays. My husband's family, whom we are close to as well, and also enjoy spending time with, is much larger, but is less structured and more easy-going. They still want to see us, and us them, but are much more easily accommodated.

Add to the mix a two-and-a-half hour driving circumference, several children, and Christmas falling on a weekday, and you can see where the problems can begin.

Does this sound familiar to anyone out there?

It all makes for some stressful and confusing holiday planning. It also causes us to plan waaaaayyy in advance. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we decided in August where we are spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, and drew names for gift-giving.

The stress is starting to get to me. The running around is difficult, and leaves less enjoyment. But the problem is, where do you cut? Not only do we want to see all of our relatives, we all want to enjoy the time as well.

We have tried to brainstorm some ways to make it less stressful, and have decided that first and foremost, we are absolutely not spending as much money as we did last year.

I'm almost surprised that we didn't have to declare bankruptcy last year. This year, things are gonna be different. Here are some of my strategies:

1. Do not overbuy. The children will get so many gifts from everyone that they won't notice the difference. One gift from us for each, and Santa will build them one also. That is plenty.

2. Spend Christmas morning at home. The family is just going to have to understand why we choose to not stay overnight on Christmas Eve. We want to spend Christmas morning with our children at home, and feel that it is an important way to alleviate stress for them.

3. Shop early. Shopping will be finished before Dec. 21 for us. I don't care if that means a quick trip for gift certificates, which most people like anyway. I will not consider this to be a cop-out. Repeat several times until you believe it.

4. No more wrapping. Gift bags, if purchased from the dollar store, are a great time-saver and economical to use. I've also found that pretty Christmas-themed paper lunch bags are great for wrapping.

For my son's birthday, he received a gift that was wrapped in a paper bag with wrapping paper lining the top of the bag, which I thought was ingenious. I intend to try that this year for my Christmas wrapping.

5. Church - the reason for the season. Going to church on Christmas Eve will not be sacrificed because of time. I don't want my kids to forget the true meaning of Christmas. It's important that they understand that Christmas is not just an excuse to get stuff.

6. Draw names. We have already drawn names for the adults to help alleviate the financial strain on all of us. I don't think it's a bad idea to draw names for the kids either. I know my kids get a shameful amount of gifts. They don't need three gifts from everyone. One is plenty.

7. Catalogs and Internet. Catalog and internet shopping is great, and a way to get really cool, unique gifts. The trick is to watch shipping costs and order early so that there is no chance of not receiving items on time. I have had great luck with this.

8. Lists, lists, lists. I have now started my holiday lists, which are for gift buying, events to attend, and to-dos. I have found that if you take the time to write it down, it saves an awful lot of aggravation. I like to carry a small notebook with me in my purse to jot things down whenever they strike me.

9. On the flip side, don't forget the important behind-the scenes people in your life. Not necessarily with a gift, but how about a card or a thank you? Show your appreciation with a batch of cookies, a note, offer to do a chore, etc. It will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to be kind.

Basically, this is where I've started. I know there are many (and I'd be willing to say most) families out there that deal with the same issues.

The biggest change that we decided for us is that it's time to move away from the commercial aspect of Christmas. We are tired of it. Gifts are a great thing, and we all enjoy giving and receiving them. But if it is painful to the pocketbook, STOP! Or, at least, slow down.

Even the most unreasonable person will understand that you simply can't afford to outfit each niece and nephew in new Tommy Hilfiger jeans.

And, if they don't understand, let it go. Remember that you are the bigger person, and feel sorry for the poor soul. At least you won't be poor in the checkbook, and your spirits will be high.

I would love to hear suggestions from anyone who has one, no matter how big or small. Drop a note in the mail or e-mail me. Trust me, I will be thrilled. And I certainly need the help.

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