Sunday, December 13, 2015

Make The Holidays Count: 10 Tips to Lighten the Load

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
sung by Judy Garland
I'm of the mindset that you don't "have yourself a merry little Christmas," you make yourself one. I want to fix a big, traditional home-cooked meal on Christmas Day and make homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast. I want the house to be spotless for Christmas morning and a nice Christmas Eve supper. I want to attend every church service during Advent and Christmas. I want to wrap every present just so, I want Josie's tights to match her new Christmas dress, I want to take Josie carolling, to bake every kind of Christmas cookie I ever had as a child with her, to make an Advent calendar with her, to build a snowman every time it snows, to watch Rudolph, A Christmas StoryMickey's Christmas CarolThe Muppets' Christmas Carol, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch, to build gingerbread houses, to hang lights on every window...

I want, I want, I WANT!

Isn't that exactly what we keep telling our kids Christmas is NOT about? I get so focused on doing things for my family (and truthfully for myself) that I forget all about what was done for me: what Christmas is really about. (Eh, Linus?) When "I want, I want, I want..." turns  into, "I can't, I can't, I can't...," remembering why we're doing all of this hard work in the first place is the key to keeping the merry in our suddenly less-festive Christmas. Keeping the birth of our Savior firmly in our minds, here are some suggestions not about how to cut corners when it comes to your family's Christmas fun, but about how to cut out some of the fluff and make the real Christmas count.

1. Use Some Pre-made Food

I love to cook and see my family enjoying the extra-special meal I made for them: I just can't do it all anymore, but I can do some of it. Pre-made Entrees (Honey Baked Ham Co. for example) or premade sides, appetizers, and desserts might not be your ideal, but giving this one up to American Consumerism has spared me fatigue and undue pain as well as time. And  There is one thing I will always make from scratch for every holiday meal: my Mom's coveted Creamed Potatoes (see the recipe below: SO GOOD!) So long as we have those, everything else can be the next guy's job.

2. Minimal Gift Wrapping Is Plenty

I mean really, why not? It all ends up on a pile on the floor. Conserve trees and forgo bows and ribbon, or let your kids help on the non-surprise presents. If you have back trouble, please be extra careful! I don't have back trouble, and wrapping presents on the floor just about does me in. Try using a table or even the bed instead of the floor for your wrapping workshop and wrap only a two or three presents a day.

3. Utilize the Gift of Online Shopping

Unless you truly enjoy shopping, then you go, girl. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are pros at Black Friday shopping: maps, plans, standing outside Best Buy in line all night long in the cold... Their dedication is admirable (and they always remain polite, even in the face of, shall we say, less politeness). But if you can see yourself sitting alone and quiet at a computer at midnight on Cyber Monday instead of in a packed shopping mall at 6am on Black Friday, an Amazon Prime membership will pay for itself in December alone. The Cyber Monday deals are amazing. No muss, no fuss.

4. Tone Down the Gifts

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite advocating this, but it's good to set limits on gifts for a lot of reasons. Here's one limit I've heard that my husband and I vow to implement ...starting next year: 1 thing they want, 1 thing they need, 1 thing they wear, and 1 thing they read. In my house, it'll probably be more like four things they want and five things they read... But it really is good to set limits and not just a budget. Kids shouldn't get everything they want, and I don't have to tell you why. Plus, there's less to clean, less to wrap, less to clutter and trip over...

**This is totally a matter of personal choice here, but I read a post from a lower-income Mom asking other parents to have their kids' more expensive Christmas gifts come from them instead of from Santa because at school the following week, kids can understand that Mom and Dad don't have a lot of money, but they can't understand why Santa would discriminate, and she didn't have an explanation for her kid either. Her plea made me stop and think. But whatever you label your gifts in your own home as is 100% your own business. It's just a thought.

5. Donate, Donate, Donate!

If you find your closets a little too full of sweaters, gloves, coats, boots and scarves: donate. If the toy box won't close anymore and neither Santa nor Grandma and Grandpa have been to your house yet: donate. If you've put up your decorations and still have several boxes of lights and garland and bows of holly in your attic: donate. If your pantry is overflowing with canned goods and you haven't even thought about Christmas dinner yet: donate. If you really want to add a new Christmas dress to your wardrobe: donate, donate, donate. Lots of people don't choose to get Christmas gifts for their kids and loved ones secondhand: they have to. (And some people--kids included--are feeling really, really, really cold this time of year while some are going to bed hungry, and some are doing both). So, let's set an example for our kids and make it easier on our neighbors in need by giving away our extras (and make cleaning and tidying up for the holidays easier on ourselves as well). (James 2:14-26)

6. Pick a Church Service to Attend

We ought to attend all the different services this wonderful time of year has to offer: that's why they're all different. They are each celebrating something new. But here's the reality: it's hard work to get the kids ready, to get myself ready, to make them sit still, to change supper times and bedtimes... It might be too much to ask that we do this 10 times in 4 weeks, and that's OKAY. If you know you won't be able to make all the services without making a big, negative impact on your health, don't try. Trust me. Be realistic. Plan to miss a few and the church services your family can attend will be time better spent. You can worship at home when you can't make it, or make plans for your kids to attend with someone else.

7. Pick a Party to Attend

Same logic as #6, and also applies to concerts, recitals, and plays. Be realistic. Someone or something, or several someones or somethings, might have to be told "no," and that's OKAY. If you're going to travel a fair distance in a car, do what you can to make the trip as comfortable and as easy as possible: plan to stop frequently, ask your doctor for extra or different medication if that might help, think of ways to keep the kids entertained beforehand, get an adapter so you can bring a heating pad along, don't forget blankets and pillows (and of course, at Winter Emergency Kit).

8. Pick a Treat (or 2) to Make

This suggestion runs along the same line as using premade food. Baking and making candy is hard work, as fun as it is for many of us. But how much do you really need to do in order to validate the Christmas season in your home, and how much to you really want to do? In my home, we make sugar cookie cutouts and that's it. If your family enjoys Christmas sweets, you might want to get a group of holiday-treat-makers in your neighborhood, family or church together to do an exchange so that everyone makes their best treats and each family gets a little bit of everything without having to make a dozen different things.
9. Pick a Tradition (or 2) to Do

Building Gingerbread houses? Carolling? Making homemade snowglobes? Making frozen balloons for lawn decorations? Making homemade Christmas cards or ornaments? You don't have to do it all. Do one or a few and make them special. This way, you kids might actually remember doing it :) There is far less cleanup on a daily basis, less work overall, and you won't be dragging by the time Christmas finally does come.

10. Tone Down the Holiday Decor

What goes up must come down, so the less you put up, the less you'll have to take down. Ask for help. In our home, we've combined Christmas Tree Day with Nana & Josie Day. My husband and I are still there to help, but my husband does the heavy work and my Mom goes on overly-excited-toddler-patrol while precious decorations as old as I am are lovingly unpacked and spread around the house. As my Mom and my daughter have been soulmates from day one, they both love every second of it. It's great memories for Josie and her Nana to make together, and takes a lot of pressure off me, keeping decorating the Christmas Tree a happy time, not a stressful time.
Some additional tips: hydrate (with water), rest, eat as healthily as you are able, exercise, and remember to take your med. In other words, try not to deviate from your normal routine too much during these hectic weeks. And PRAY. Pray for peace, for calm, for direction, for focus on Christ, for the ability to not only accept the not-so-perfect, but to find the beauty in those fifteen ornaments your toddler hung on one single branch of the Christmas Tree and not rehang them, and to likewise find the beauty in the extra 30 minutes of playtime those frozen rolls give you and your kiddo(s). Mary (a different Mary than the Mother of God from a different account with the very same Jesus) has indeed chosen the good portion over Martha, who chose to work instead of pausing to sit down and listen to the words of her Savior (see Luke 10:38-42). So, pray for the ability to let imperfection be imperfect even if that means you have to let your Christmas To-Do List change with the way your family celebrates change along with it. Because even though that list might have changed, and certainly will change many more times in the years to come, actual Christmas will forever stay the same:
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And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
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Click image to enlarge.
**Do you have tips or recipes to offer mothers who are struggling? Or maybe stories to share about how your illness has affected your family's Christmas, good or bad? Please submit them in the "Comments" section below or email them to MWCI at And above all, MERRY CHRISTMAS! (Which sometimes means just let your Christmas be merry).