I love Christmas, always have. I’m talking Clark-Griswald-watching, Wham!-Christmas-song-listening, truly-enjoy-fruitcake-eating LOVE for Christmas. We always had great Christmases when I was growing up and I always looked forward to sharing that with my own family. When I was younger I always said I was going to have 3 kids and my ONLY reason for this was “so Christmas will be more fun!”. Well I have 2 and am stopping because I realize that sleep is actually more fun this way, but I still love Christmas.
I started thinking about recent Christmases and how I could make this one even better. I have always been of the mindset that the greater the number of Christmas-y things I can cram in between December 1st and December 25th, the happier I will be. I think the truth for me is that actually, the more I do, the less I enjoy any of it and the faster Christmas seems to come and go with me barely realizing it was here. I decided to take a hard look at my schedule this year and simplify in a way that I know will allow me and my family to enjoy things more. The first thing to tackle was my Christmas to-do post-it list (just saying ‘christmas to-do post-it list gets me all giddy!). This very special post-it gets transferred to my new planner every year . Each year I rewrite it in tinier writing and add more stuff to it. It lists the things that I need to do every year before Christmas. The post-it lives in my planner somewhere around early September so I can review it at that time and begin scheduling to make sure all the players are aware and everything can be properly planned and executed. Aren’t you glad right now that you are not married to or otherwise related to me?
I am still Christmas-ing it up right and left, but letting a lot of things go if not entirely, then partially, or doing them differently. I am doing things earlier or putting things off until later. I can watch White Christmas January 3rd and the world will not cease to spin. The biggest thing for me is that I am not looking for things to fill my calendar and am looking instead for ways to enjoy things that are still Christmas-y, but more spontaneous and unplanned.
Here are my simplification notes for Christmas 2013:
1. Hang Outside Lights – When we built the house, I begged for the ‘Christmas Light Package’ that includes outlets under the eaves of the house for light stringing. I don’t know what I was thinking because we don’t own an extension ladder and my husband and I are afraid of heights. No one reminded me of this at the time. Simplified: I taped icicle lights to the wrap around porch railing, slapped lights on the door wreath and scrapped the window candles that require me going window to window every night to turn them on and off hunched over like a stage bouncer. In your face Christmas light package.
2. Decorate Inside – This is one of the things that in my head I love, but in practice is time consuming and messy. Simplified: I went through all my decorations in early November and ebayed some stuff and took a bunch that I don’t use to salvation army. When I did get things out to decorate on November 30th, everything was organized. I got my decoration-loving daughter to help and she loved it, which made it more fun for me. I stopped when it got tiring and finished up a few days later when my mom was here to help so I wasn’t on my own. I also did things like accepted that 2 advent calendars were enough and I didn’t need to make the 3rd paper chain version (though that one rocks).
3. Enter Charlottesville Gingerbread House Contest – Oh who do you think you are? Seriously. Self, you need a good punch in the face for even putting this on your post-it Simplified: Scrap this.
4. Shop with Dad – Every year I shop with my dad. It started probably 20+ years ago as me helping him buy gifts for my mom and over the years has gotten to be less about buying because most of her wish list is stuff he buys online. Simplified: We are keeping the date and making it more about the lunch (Red Robin including post-meal milkshake) with a little people watching “shopping” involved.
5. Decorate Gingerbread Houses – I love doing this, so I kept it on the schedule and my daughter joined in and enjoyed it too. Simplified: I did a less intricate design and also decorated it before Thanksgiving to ease up on the December squeeze and have it around the house for longer.
6. Bake – This is one that really gets to me because I end up rushing and becoming an assembly line of grouchy all day baking. Simplified: This year my daughter is old enough to help and loves to, so it will be more fun. I am also not going to make more than 1 thing in a given day and will have a goal of making only 1 thing. IF I feel like making more, I will do it, but I will get the ingredients as I go so I don’t feel like I HAVE to make anything just because I pre-purchased the entire baking aisle.
7. CDs – I actually have on my to do list the getting out of the Christmas CDs and listening to them. You must listen to music and enjoy it or else! I always feel like I don’t get a chance to listen to much and then Christmas is over. I also hate the radio station 90% of the time because there is to much creepy ‘Step Into Christmas’ and I really just want to step on Elton John’s voicebox. Simplified: I am playing the SONIC channel 801 (holiday music) at night when I make dinner instead of letting the kids watch a show. It makes me happy and is relaxing. It is also slightly condescending as I type it here as if I am limiting my kids tv viewing because I am superior. I’m not. I just like Christmas music and I detest Spongebob. I also have JUST the CDs I like in my car – Bing’s White Christmas, 2 Time Life Compilations and a mix CD that I made.
8. Christmas Parade – Last year my daughter went to the Christmas parade where my parents live and loved it. Crowds, noise, parking challenges. Good times. Simplified: I love parades, so I am dragging all of us this year. Crowds, noise, parking challenges. good times. Simplification fail.
9. Wrap Gifts – Wrapping is another one that sounds good in theory but by the end my eyes are burning from pattern overload and I am digging for any gift bag I can find to save me. Simplified: This year I wrapped during mommy time. This is when my husband watches the kids and I escape from the house for 2-3 hours for peace and quiet. This time I hid in my room, locked the door and watched “Miracle on 34th Street”. I enjoyed drinking my entire cup of morning coffee before it got cold (not typical for me). I also ate the peppermint patties I had purchased to give to my sister since I was locked away and couldn’t escape for fear of my kids glomming on and not letting go. One less gift to wrap. All in all, it was a little more pleasant than usual and done in about 2.5 hours.
10. Mail Gifts – Mailing gifts usually stinks. The post office is usually insanely crowded and it is super expensive. I also hate packing boxes, properly, addressing them etc. Simplified: This year we decreased the total # of gifts by eliminating some people who mutually didn’t want to do gifts any more. Next, I bought and wrapped ahead so I could give gifts to long distance family members to take home when we saw them at Thanksgiving. I also ordered some food gifts that I had shipped to the recipients directly from the company. That leaves me with 1 small gift to mail. Not bad.
11. Select Christmas Tree – I grew up going to the tree farm and picking/cutting a tree. I believe this is the proper way and if you have a fake tree, I don’t judge you, I just think you are not as good as those of us with real trees. That said, I dragged my kids to the tree farm when they were 0 and 1.5 and it was ugly – screaming, whining and complaining (and that was just me). We hit up a stand on the way home and got our tree. The next year we just went to the stand and this year I started thinking it was finally time to venture back to the farm and the ritual of selection and cut down. Simplification: Got over myself (maybe next year). We are going to the VFW down the road. 3 minute drive, nice people, good cause, nice trees. $55. Done. We decorate the tree as a family on Christmas Eve – I love this more than maybe anything else all season, so this does not need any simplification.
12. Watch Christmas Movies – This one weighs on me. I have quite a few Christmas movies and many of them are must watches. While I have accepted that some, such as Dolly Parton’s ‘Unlikely Angel’ are not make or break, I still feel like I get some points for watching as many as possible. Simplified: I have accepted that the kids don’t have any holiday movie quotas. There something physically wrong with their brains causing them to have zero interest in the Rankin & Bass Rudolph Christmas special, so I’ll throw on Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas here and there and other than that, they are on their own. For Chad and I, I have selected the top choice DVDs, placed them in an accessible location and will watch them when the mood strikes. I have watched pretty much all of the movies at some time other than Christmas in most cases, so there is no reason I can’t watch Home Alone in January if the mood strikes and time runs out between now and Christmas.
13. Christmas Card Photos – Oh lord. Every year I have a photo shoot of my kids and imagine perfect lighting haloing their little angelic Christmas heads at just the right moment for their Christmas-card-perfect photos to be taken. Everyone I know will stare in wonder when the card arrives and know for certain that I lead an absolutely perfect life based solely on the glint from little Rocco’s tooth in the photo as he gazes at his reflection in a shiny ornament! In reality, someone screams, someone touches someone, someone poops their pants and the photo shoot goes to crap. Simplified: There was a photo shoot attempt, but after a few minutes I scrapped it in lieu of some candid? non holiday-themed photos I happened to have already taken of each kid in October.
14. Christmas Cards – I like to write a personal note in each card for Christmas. I don’t do the typed letter and when I write I like to fill up all the white space on the inside of the card. I want to make you feel special reader! Simplified: I wrote on the ones I had time for and wrote short notes on those I ran out of time for. For those of you who don’t send me cards, those of you or who just sign a name or have your cards pre-printed with your name (you know who you are Finkles, Westons and McGoos), I may have just signed our names to your card to simplify this year. I am working through the guilt of this passive aggressive lash-out on my part. Seriously – if you are a signer only, good for you! Stand strong. I just have a hard time reciprocating.
15. Lights Ride – When I was a kid, we used to do this growing up on Christmas Eve after the tree was decorated and we’d stay out late. We’d drive around in some of the Manassas subdivisions back behind what was then K-mart and Hechinger and see some truly gawdy and wonderful places. I learned my left and right by telling my dad which way to turn next. Simplified: Minor simplification only. We will go on a day other than Christmas Eve so it doesn’t get stuffed in too late with 2 little kids and there will be a dvd playing to entertain Rocco whose neck is non-existant and therefore doesn’t hold his head up high enough to see many lights.
16. Shopping – I am always done with shopping early and this year, was done AND wrapped by December 1st except 1 person, so no stress there. Simplified: started early and did most of it online. I started in September and did gifts one at a time during my kids naps so I could be thoughtful about it and not have to rush. Almost everything was researched and purchased online.
There are more – family visits, menus, new years plans, visiting Santa etc., and I am trying to take the same approach on everything. Don’t make plans just to make plans and spend the effort on the things you want to do, not the things you think you should do to check off the list. Hold on, I need to put that on a post-it so I remember…