We are officially entering the holiday season.
How does that statement make you feel? Are you giddy with excitement over parties, seeing family, giving gifts, yummy foods, and having the kids home from school?
Or are you already feeling the pressure of purchasing and wrapping gifts for everyone, fitting in all the magical activities and events, and making sure there is food to eat on the days other than the actual holiday?
Breathe, mama. Breathe.
I’ve got you. Christmas planning is right up there with meal planning for me. I love it. LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT.
I’m a hard and fast believer that if you don’t make a plan for your holiday season it will end up passing you by and you will think of things you should have done, done things you wish you had skipped, and overall be glad it was over. And honestly, that’s not how I want to remember the holidays!
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Prepare for a relaxing Christmas NOW
Make a list of “must do” tasks, events, and activities
This might seem overwhelming at first, but sometimes our idea of “must-do” and what is actually “must-do” are not in agreement. True “must-do” tasks, events, and activities around the holidays are those that would have actual consequences if skipped. For instance, if my son skipped his holiday choir concert, he would probably have consequences at school. If we skip a Christmas party at the park district, there are no consequences.
Also, just because you’ve done it every year, doesn’t mean you have to do it this year. I grew up going to a family Christmas party every single year on the Saturday before Christmas and another on Christmas Eve. Those still take place, but we don’t go. I have great memories of those parties, but they simply don’t work for our family anymore.
Make a list of “want to do” tasks, events, and activities
Ask each person in their family if there were only 1-2 tasks, events, or activities they could do this holiday season, what would those be. You might be surprised! My kids usually choose things like watch a movie in pjs, bake cookies, make paper snowflakes, and bake more cookies. Awesome, I can do those things. Go through the suggestions and see what will fit into your calendar.
Drop the guilt
Christmas is not the time to feel guilty for the choices you make for your family. Yes, Great Aunt Edna might get miffed that you didn’t drive the eighteen hours for the two hour party, but sometimes you simply need to do what works for you and let other things slide.
If you aren’t a baker, don’t feel guilty that you aren’t baking all sorts of treats from scratch. Buy the premade cookies from the bakery, it’s okay! If you have a friend that loves to bake, see if she has time to make extra for you and pay her for her time. I bet she’d love the extra cash in her pocket and you will have tasty treats.
There is only so much time in the holiday season and trying to cram everything in will leave us frazzled but feeling guilty over what we choose to skip will sap us from enjoying it! Take a cue from Elsa and let it go!
Create a menu
Whoo! This is one of my favorite parts and you bet your buttons I’ve already started. Are you having turkey or ham for Thanksgiving? Is it a potluck style spread or a sit down dinner for Christmas Eve? What about Christmas morning? Who is bringing the salad to Christmas day? Do you have the energy to make the same spread as last year or do you need to lighten it up a bit (like when you have brand new babies or move across country!)?
And please, please, please, don’t forget all the other meals! Sometimes we get so wrapped up in planning for the big exciting meals that we completely forget there are dozens and dozens of other meals before, after, and in between the holidays. Your family will thank you and future you will thank past you.
Also, do your future self a favor by planning simple meals. Meals that require very little effort or brain power. Your brain will probably be running all over in your head (even when you tell it not to) so meals you can make without a recipe card are fab. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, tacos, waffles from the freezer that you made ahead of time, or bought at the store - you get the idea ;)
Start buying non-perishables & long lasting foods
Take one look at the grocery store flyers and you will see they are filled with deals on specific types of items right now. All those boxed and canned items are just waiting for you to fill your cart and stock up your pantry. Do it!
I try to allocate about $5-10 each week of our grocery budget to the holiday meals. Because we tend to spend a bit more on these meals and the special dishes than our regular day to day meals, trying to buy it all at once would be a huge expense. Because I’ve got our meal plans going, I know what dry goods, frozen items, and other foods we will need. I’m buying what I can now and saving the fresh items for the week before. I don’t want to be making a huge grocery trip the same week everyone and their mom is!
Right now I’m mostly buying baking ingredients (cookies!), frozen veggies, meat I can freeze, and a few other items. Oh, don’t forget paper goods! Get those plates, napkins, and flatware, especially if you are hosting a big group. I hate being stuck at the sink washing dishes while everyone else is visiting. Using them a few times per year is no big deal.
Bake & freeze what you can
Stocked up on baking supplies and meal ingredients? Awesome! Did you know you can freeze most cookies? I remember as a kid we would spend an ENTIRE DAY baking cookies with my parents. They would get the sugar cookie dough made first and put in the fridge and then we would start on spritz, peanut butter blossoms, and rosettes until the sugar cookie dough was ready to roll out. By the end of the day we were all pooped!
I don’t they did that with us as super young kids, but my siblings and I are also significantly further apart in age than my kids. The idea of spending 8 hours in the kitchen with them and not losing it seems impossible. There would be flour everywhere, I’d be finding sprinkles in cracks of the kitchen for years, and I’m sure several pans would get burnt.
Instead we space out baking. Starting in November when we set up our tree, we bake cookies and then stick them in the freezer for December. This also helps them from running out before the holidays every arrive!
I also try and get some of our holiday meals prepped and put in the freezer. For Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve we do an appetizer buffet so I’ll get those foods made and frozen and all I need to do is cook them that night.
Go through your menu and see what foods are freezer friendly. Aren’t sure? Type in “freezer friendly holiday foods” into Google or Pinterest and you will find hundreds of posts from bloggers sharing their favorite recipes and tips. You will be so glad when the day arrives and half your work is done for you!
Create gift lists
Remember that year you swore you had the perfect gift for Grandma Sue but when you went to the store you had no clue what it was? Yeah, been there, done that!
Create a running list where you not only write down your gift ideas, but also where you saw the item, perhaps prices from a variety of stores so you make sure you get the best deal, when you bought it, and if it’s wrapped. This can also be helpful in keeping yourself on budget - we often underestimate what we actually spent!
If I could only only tell you one piece of advice for prepping for the holidays early, it would be to give yourself grace. Nothing will go exactly as planned, even if you start now. Planning early will help ease the stress, but things happen. Foods burn, kids spoil surprises, activities don’t go as well as expected, and weather wrecks travel plans. Breathe, remind yourself that this season is not about gifts, activities, and festive food spreads, but rather that we are so loved by God that He sent His Son down in the form of an infant.
Soak up some family time and let the extra go if you need.