My mom cried because the turkey wasn't done.
I remember this incident from a childhood holiday very clearly. We had all been told that dinner was ready and that it was time to come to the table. As my dad began to carve the bird, it was discovered that the meat was in fact not fully cooked yet. My frazzled mom started crying — which was rare for her — and I can still see her wrapped in Dad's arms, sobbing, as we all slunk quietly away…
Let's face it: holiday stress is a fact of life. There is a lot going on in just a few months; and as homemakers, it seems like we are supposed to make it all go perfectly. We feel the pressure to make great memories for everyone, cook amazing food, find perfect presents (which we then wrap über-creatively), decorate beautifully, etc. etc. etc. AND we are expected to do it all without spending too much money and while still keeping a smile on our face. Phew! Just thinking about it all stresses me out! :-)
Well, you know me; I am all about making things simpler so that we don't have to work so hard. I refuse to let holiday stress steal my joy. So over the years I have discovered some ways to make the season easier, to reduce that holiday stress, so that we ALL can enjoy the celebration. I'd like to share some of those ideas with you today and next week. This week I'll give my DO's of reducing holiday stress, and next week we'll discuss the DON'Ts. :-)
The first thing I have to say is pretty much a no-brainer, but I'm going to say it anyway:
The BEST way to reduce holiday stress is to PLAN AHEAD.
Start thinking about the Thanksgiving meal in October, and Christmas gift-giving way before that. Make lists of ideas. Figure out a Christmas shopping budget. Keep your eyes peeled for goodies when you're out and about.
This way you can work in little snippets of time and never feel overwhelmed. Do I do this consistently every year? Unfortunately the answer to that is a resounding NO. (I promised y'all I would always be honest with you and never try to appear like someone who has it all together; I am still VERY MUCH in process!!) But when I remember to plan ahead, the entire season goes much more smoothly, and I am able to accomplish a lot more of the things I would like to do. So I had to at least mention the concept here. :-)
But here are some other ideas that don't require much advance planning. Each one of them will reduce your holiday stress level by A LOT. Put them all together, and you've got a recipe for a much more leisurely holiday season, where you can actually enjoy family and friends AND feel like someone they might actually want to be with. :-)
Things I DO to relieve holiday stress:
1) Prepare the roast turkey in advance of the holiday. This is something I DO plan ahead for — every single year — even if only by a few days. Because it truly does relieve so much stress on the actual day. Turkeys generally go on sale the week before Thanksgiving, so I pick one up and don't ever put it in the freezer. Within a couple of days of residing in the fridge, it is thawed; and the Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving sees me roasting it and carving it. Then that mess is ALL GONE and I can concentrate on cleaning the house and preparing the rest of the food. This is HUGE, y'all. If you do only one idea from this whole list, do this one. Here's how: Easy Make-Ahead Roast Turkey.
2) Choose easy recipes, that can be prepared ahead also, for the rest of the food. The more that can be made beforehand, the less stress there is on the actual day. Bake the rolls, assemble the sweet potato casserole, bake the pie(s) — all at least a day or two ahead. Plan an easy salad that has only a few ingredients that don't need a lot of chopping. For Christmas morning, assemble a breakfast casserole or my Christmas morning sticky buns the night before; then the next morning all you have to do is preheat the oven and shove them in.
3) Better yet, plan for guests to bring part of the dinner. This is my FAVORITE option, because y'all know how much I hate to cook! So I tell my guests what I will be making and ask them what they would like to bring. Another way this helps is that then your guests won't feel the need to bring a hostess gift, since they are helping with the meal.
4) Remember that when guests are coming over, having the food ready is more important than having the house ultra-clean. In the past I have sometimes gotten so wrapped up in getting the house perfect, that I neglected food prep or put it off until very late. Then the guests would arrive and find me shining knick-knacks, while the meal still had two hours to cook.
The thing to remember is the guests won't really notice the condition of the house, as long as it is not disgusting — but they will notice if they are starving, lol. So if the two goals — a sparkling house and on-time food — are going to come into conflict with each other, I give up the cleaning and turn to the cooking. I also usually try to have at least one appetizer ready — something as simple as chips and salsa — for people to start snacking on as soon as they come through the door. Then everybody's happy!
5) Delegate tasks to the kids. For the last several years, #1 has been in charge of shopping for all the stocking stuffers. #5 is often my gift-wrap girl. All of the children are responsible for putting up the tree and hanging the decorations — and taking it all down after the holidays — and have been since most of them were small.
Kids can help with cleaning and decorating, with cooking, setting the table, creating a centerpiece, or providing entertainment for the guests. For that matter, they can greet them at the door and take coats; they can keep smaller children occupied — the list goes on.
6) Take one day to go Christmas shopping with my husband. I do some shopping without him, obviously, but we always plan for at least one day to go together. He and I have a general plan before we set out, but when it comes to decision-making time (which brand to get, how much are we willing to spend for this item, etc.) it is VERY helpful to have him along. It's a fun date, and I don't have to bear the brunt of responsibility for all these purchases — he does. Muahaha…
7) Assign a wrapping paper design to each family member. We started this tradition a couple of years ago. Each person in the family chooses a wrapping paper for themselves, and all of their gifts then get wrapped in that paper. This is fun and eliminates the need for tags. We often just write right on the paper who the gift is from or volunteer the information when we see that the recipient is about to unwrap ours. It definitely makes passing the gifts out on Christmas morning that much quicker!
8) Remember the reason for our celebrations. Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks to the Lord for all He has blessed us with. It's not a day to feel frustrated because you have too many things to do. Christmas is about baby Jesus, who “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself, taking the form of a bond-slave and being made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7).” I've printed out the devotional for the month of November from Frugal Fun for Boys this year, which is putting these things at the front of my mind. In December I hope to find something similar. Spending time each morning to think about the eternal helps me put the temporal in perspective.
It is too easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of the season and experience holiday stress to the extent that we forget why we are celebrating. I hope implementing some of these ideas can help. :-)
Part 2 of this series is my list of things I DON'T DO for reducing holiday stress. If you want to join me as we find ways to make EVERYTHING easier and more manageable, put your email address in the box below. Then you'll get my newsletter each week and have access to all of my subscriber-only printables! :-)