Readers reveal how they slow down and actually enjoy the season.
Last year was crazed. I was going home for the first time in three years, and throwing my first dinner party for 20-plus. To save my time and sanity, I did all my shopping on-line and had everything shipped to my parents' house. At the same time, I bought a few gifts for myself (like Philosophy's Message in a Bottle bubble bath), scanned the Web for recipes, and used Evite.com for the dinner-party invitations. This year will be another Internet happy holiday!
I de-stress during the holidays by hiring a service to clean my house from top to bottom the first week in December. I entertain frequently, and knowing that the house is ready for visitors is pure heaven. I can then concentrate on other things, like having fun.
Most people will roll their eyes when I say this, but I try to get all my shopping done before Thanksgiving, except for small gifts like stocking stuffers. I managed to do this last year and was amazed at how I got to enjoy the holiday season without stressing about how I was going to fit shopping time in around work.
My husband's large extended family of eight brothers and sisters makes it financially implausible to give gifts to everyone. Instead, I make and freeze sugar-cookie dough in early November and bake cookies for all the children and my coworkers. For the adults, I start a whiskey cordial in midfall that takes six weeks to cure, so it's ready by the holiday season. My husband and I either set a dollar limit of $100 to spend on each other or save up to buy one gift together for our house (this year it's a Stickley dining-room table and chairs). Planning ahead and simplifying creates more time to share the holidays with family and friends.
Fairview Park, Ohio
Stay organized and plan ahead. If you can be ready for drop-in guests and last-minute gifts, you will enjoy this time of the year without being so stressed. I keep Christmas music and eggnog ready for friends and for a moment alone. I also keep an expandable file on hand with sections to hold Christmas-card lists, stamps, cards, a Christmas buying list, receipts, and a holiday grocery list.
Newport Beach, California
Practicing New and Old Traditions
I find that doing something for others, whether it's serving a holiday meal at a homeless shelter or contributing to a clothing drive, puts the mad rush of the holidays in perspective for me.
New York, New York
When I feel the holidays getting to me, I take time to sit with my two boys (age four and six) to talk about the meaning of the season. It helps ground all of us during a time of overload. All too soon, they won't be so happy to sit and talk to Mom about such things. But for now they love it, and so do I.
Schuylerville, New York
Long ago I started to save gift tags that were special to me―for example, the tag from a gift my father gave each of his children the year he became a recovering alcoholic. And the tag that my nephew, who was just learning to spell, wrote for me, misspelling my name. And the ones from our only child, Adam, who writes "To Mom, From Adam," although I know it's from him if it's addressed to "Mom." And, finally, the tags where he makes up aliases to make it interesting. I tuck these in with the blank gift tags and wrapping paper that I'll use the next year. Then, when the following season rolls around, I relive those memories of holidays past.
I settle down on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and a bowl of popcorn to watch the old holiday classics: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. Watching old cartoons helps me remember the Christmases of the past and makes me laugh.
Manchester, New Hampshire
It seems like everything shifts into high gear during the holidays. Our family sets aside one evening during December to enjoy a night out downtown. We have dinner, see the lights, listen to downtown carolers, browse the Christmas section in the bookstore, and even visit Santa Claus. I love that night with my husband and daughters. It makes the season brighter for all of us.
Salt Lake City, Utah
My golden rule for the holidays is "Less is more." Rather than having a long list of must-do holiday tasks and feeling disappointed if they don't all get done, I try to think of holiday activities as "time treats" and do as many as my schedule that year allows. Last year our daughter was six months old and we concentrated on enjoying her first Christmas. Many hours were spent under our Christmas tree watching her drool on the bows. So I didn't have time to handcraft a wreath or make 12 kinds of cookies. I bought a wreath from a fundraiser, made my two favorite cookies, and got over it.
I walk. One Christmas my aunt came to stay with us for the holidays. She and I got all bundled up in scarves, hats, and gloves and walked for miles, past homes with colored lights and churches with lit nativity scenes, enjoying conversation and the quiet scenery. Now I try to do that walk each year. It reminds me of the simple beauty of the holidays and brings me closer to my favorite aunt.
I come from a large family that has splintered into my six siblings and their families. My husband has remarried parents and extended families on both sides. All our relatives want to see us for the holidays, which would take a miracle for us to accomplish. So how do we make sense out of all of this? We divide up our visits throughout the year. We visit the families with children during the summer. For Thanksgiving we alternate between my parents' and my husband's parents' houses. Christmas is reserved for our family only. As for presents, we forgo gift swapping and send presents to the youngest children of our immediate family only. It is a time-honored tradition that has helped keep everyone in the true holiday spirit.
Los Angeles, California
A Thanksgiving of gratefulness can mean a simple buffet dinner at a local restaurant. A Christmas of renewed hope can mean just two kinds of Christmas cookies. We must make our own traditions by tailoring family customs to our personalities and schedules. If you feel resentful and stressed about a tradition, stop doing it. Your family might be shocked when you start making changes, but do it without guilt, because they'll see how much calmer you become.
Mary E. Luesley
I think I should take lessons from my husband and just stop once in a while. I have a collection of holiday photos of him―13 years of sleeping on the couch. My own photos depict a crazed, red-eyed grump, surrounded by a cheerful, rumpled family. Holidays are such a complete whirlwind of activity for us moms. Before we know it, we've worked ourselves into complete panic mode, all the while worrying if the tablecloth matches the Christmas tree. But all that really matters is that we be thankful for our lives.
Scotch Creek, British Columbia
I have five loving woman friends with whom I meet on a regular basis. Last year we decided to make our holiday gathering a more relaxing one by hiring a masseuse to come to one of our homes. The one-hour massages took place in a quiet part of the house while the rest of us sat by the fire in our robes, listening to soothing music, eating light snacks, and drinking tea. We came off the massage table feeling pampered and relaxed, and I even spent the night so I wouldn't have to drive. It was a wonderful gift to give to ourselves and to share with one another, and we didn't have to leave town, spend a small fortune, or feel guilty about it.
Elk Grove, California
Taking Time for Yourself
Sometimes I go to church during holiday choir practice, sit alone in the back pew, and listen to the beautiful and spiritual music. It is so uplifting.
Since shopping is stressful during the holiday season, I try to buy myself something small―a Godiva candy bar, a candle, or new pajamas. It makes carrying all those other purchases a little easier.
North Scituate, Rhode Island
After everyone else has headed to bed, I fix myself something to sip and turn off all the lights except the ones on the Christmas tree. Often the embers are still glowing in the fireplace and my Christmas village lights are twinkling across the room. I curl up on the couch with an afghan and savor the magical effect and quiet beauty of the moment.
Raleigh, North Carolina
My family gets together from all parts of the world for Christmas. It's wonderful, but it's also very stressful. I make sure that every day I take some time for myself to go for a walk or do some knitting. Afterward I always feel refreshed and ready to socialize.
The best Christmas my husband and I ever had was when we booked a last-minute charter to Cancun, Mexico, and pinched each other on Christmas Day as we lay on the beach with the sun shining on us and the azure waves crashing. No gifts, no hassles, just relaxation at its finest.