I Google’d how many days until Christmas before I started working on this post. 59. 59 days. Which means it will be 57 days when this lands in your mailbox. It’s enough to make me start stress-baking (and eating) dozens of Christmas cookies. You know the minute Halloween is over we are going to be bombarded with full-on, lights-blinking, music-blaring Christmas in every store and online. Over the last few years I’ve tried to bring some calm to Christmas by simplifying. But you can only simplify so much. There’s still a lot that has to get done. The gift buying, food prepping, and activities coordinating tend to fall into moms’ laps, so here are a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way to make it easier.
Organize. (Insert laughter.) Organization is NOT one of my gifts. I’m awful at it. If you could see my desk right now…oh, wait…you can’t see my desk because it’s covered in crap! Ok, so knowing this isn’t a strength, I started making a Christmas binder. (“Every successful project begins with a trip to the office supply aisle!” I tell myself.) In the binder I put the following:
A place for gift receipts (I label the receipt with the recipient’s name before I slide it in.)
A list of EVERYONE I plan to give a gift. From Great-Grandma’s to school bus drivers – everyone gets put on the list. I jot down any ideas I had for that person next to their name. As I buy/make gifts I check them off.
A list of the possible activities I think we’d like to do. Dates for family parties and any special school concerts get listed, too.
A separate list for my boys and their gifts. (Don’t leave the binder lying around if you have readers!)
A page for food. We go to a lot of holiday parties and bring side dishes and desserts. I make a list of what I want to bring and then on a separate page I list all of the ingredients for said side dishes and desserts. That way, I can take the list with me when I shop in November and get some of the non-perishables. It also helps avoid that panic when I’m halfway through a recipe and I realize I’m out of nutmeg. I also list all of the types of cookies and breads I want to make and stick to it. Once those holiday cookies start showing up on magazine covers I start getting delusions about my baking abilities. The last thing I need to do is to waste time trying a new recipe that is likely to fail miserably. So, I keep it simple and my cookie trays look strikingly similar to last year’s cookie trays. I’m happily consistent.
Prioritize. In early November I take a look at the list of activities and choose 4-5 activities I don’t want to miss. Just like in the post about summer planning, I try to pick out the most important ones and let the others fall in where they can. I do this early because I feel like once December arrives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and start assigning all the activities equal importance and then I’m trying to pack it all into the schedule…and everyone gets crabby. So I pick the most important stuff early and get it on the calendar.
Perspective-ize. I know that’s not a word, but I’m trying to go with the theme here. Christmas is an awesome, exciting time for the kiddos! They have so much energy! And they quickly make me nuts! So, four or five years ago – it’s all a blur – I started a tradition to channel that energy into something a little less self-centered than the messages they get from the TV at Christmas. I found some stuffed animal ornaments at Target for about $3 each. There’s a bear, a fox, and a mouse and they’re dressed in their little winter clothes. They’re called our Kindness Elves. In December – whenever I have my act together – the elves leave the boys a “Kindness Mission” overnight. (Everything is more appealing to my boys if I use some sort of military lingo.) Anyway, the missions are intended to direct their focus from themselves to the world around them. They actually love it. It’s a bit of work on my end, but not much more work than some of you are doing with those Elf on the Shelf stagings! Those are impressive. You can also buy Kindness Elves online and I found a number of websites with ideas for your elves. I posted them to our Pinterest page. To give you a better idea, here’s a list of some of our past missions:
Bake cookies for the police officers and fire fighters. (The elves leave some of the ingredients for us in the morning along with a note.)
The elves leave dollar bills and we hide them with a note on the shelves of the Dollar store. (with permission from the management)
Make decorations for a nursing home. (The elves left patterns, paper, and googly eyes for us to make snowmen. We just called a nearby nursing home and they were happy to take the kid-made decorations for their hallways.)
Smile at everyone you see today. ( The elves wanted us to spread some Christmas cheer! And I think they left us new toothbrushes that morning.)
Donate gently-used toys. (The elves left bags for us to pack up some of our toys and make room for the new ones.)
Make cards for kids who’ll be spending Christmas in the hospital. (Check with your local hospital on the rules for this.)
Do something nice for a sibling. (The most painful mission, obviously.)
Donate to an animal shelter or nature center. The elves left a list of things needed at a local shelter and we went shopping together. Our local nature center usually has a “giving tree” where kids can take an ornament with a specific need on it, then bring the needed item.
Some of it will depend on the ages of your kids, but with a little parent help, you can accomplish a lot. The elves always leave a note congratulating them on any mission accomplished, too. Of course, I realize this is one more thing to add to the to-do list when I was just proclaiming simplifying. But even if you skip the elves and pick just one mission to try as a family, it helps to keep the focus on giving during the holiday season – which helps us keep perspective on how much we already have. And just so you don’t get the wrong idea about us, the missions usually do involve brothers fighting and me taking deep, cleansing breaths.
If you have any Christmas tricks to share, we’d love to hear from you. Happy Halloween and Merry Christmas!
57 days!! Binders! Research on good deeds to do for the community!!! I’m torn between warm fuzzies and wanting to hide behind my fake gravestones for a few more days, at least until I’ve figured out what I’m serving for Thanksgiving. But I know Julie’s right, that organization is half the battle, and that the sooner we get started, the easier (and more jolly) the season will be. So, many merry thanks to you, Julie, for getting us on the holiday express.