If we were living in a remote island, stress at Christmas would be something we’d be unfamiliar with. Alas, we live in the midst of this thing called civilization. Christmas, therefore, has turned into that dreaded once-a-year exercise. Yes, folks, stress at Christmas is a real 21st century disorder.
Look at Christmas from different angles. These angles are the stress generators for many. Stress at Christmas comes from:
Why don’t we look at each of them; then we’ll offer five tips to diminish stress at Christmas.
For most people, gift shopping is probably the # 1 stress inducer during the holidays. First, there’s spending the money, second, spending the money and third, spending the money.
Seriously, even if we create a gift-giving budget, how many of us stick to it? We walk into a store and we see merchandise that is visually appealing and then we think, maybe I could buy that one instead of the sweater on my list. It’s $10.00 more, but what the heck.
Gift shopping, of course, is not just about spending money. It’s about spending time as well: time sitting in traffic on the way to the stores, time looking for an empty parking slot, time sifting through items to find the right size and color, time lining up at the checkout counter and time standing at the gift-wrapping service desk. By the time you put all your gifts in the trunk, you need more time to get out of the parking maze and make your way home – factor in two or more traffic jams.
Helpful Tips for Gift-Shopping
- July-August: get as many feelers as you can from people you give gifts to. Pay attention to their comments. Create a list of recipients. Beside their names, put two to four possible gifts with a dollar amount. You’re not buying them four gifts, you’re buying only one, but have some back-up plans in case they end up buying the item themselves or someone else will.
- September-October: Spread out your gift-buying sprees. Spend four weekends in September to buy 25% of the gifts in your list, the next four weekends in October for the other 25% and so on. This way, you don’t blow all your money in one shopping spree. Leave room in your budget for other expenses.
- November: Spend the next 25% on your list. When December comes, you’ll only have 25% to buy more.
- If it isn’t considered tacky, and it’s obvious that your recipients prefer cash, buy them gift certificates instead (physical gift certificates or digital gift certificates will be appreciated).
- By December 15th: all your gifts shall have been bought and gift-wrapped.
To decorate or not to decorate. If there are kids in your family, you can’t get away with NOT decorating. So it’s either using last year’s decorations or buying new ones. To tree or not to tree is another decision, to go plastic or fresh is yet another.
Helpful tips for Decorating
- By November 15, decide what your decorating plans are. Start with the exterior. Do you want lights, reindeers, icicles? Set a budget.
- For the inside of the house: where will you put the Christmas tree, what kind of tree do you want (Balsam, Douglas, Noble, Fraser or Scotch Pine) and how tall should it be?
- Decide on a theme for the Christmas tree: mix-match (most people just put a combination while others choose a specific theme: flowers, ribbons, animals, native art, angels, music, etc)
- Go over last year’s decorations and see what can be discarded (get rid of frayed cords and wires, broken glass and sharp objects) and which can be recycled.
- Decide what other parts of the house will need to be decorated: windows, fireplace, basement, patio, dining room, sun room.
Next to shopping, cooking ranks up there as part of the stress at Christmas. Even self-declared cooking aficionados will be stressed, especially when they’re cooking from sunset to sundown during the few weeks preceding Christmas. A menu is indispensable; without it, you waste time and money making last minute meal decisions. If you can’t bear the thought of doing all the cooking, you may (a) ask family members to pitch in, (b) plan pot luck dinners and lunches, (c) cater, or (d) buy frozen and prepared dishes.
Helpful Tips for Cooking
- Like we said, a menu is indispensable. Make a list of the meals you have to prepare. Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day breakfast, Christmas day lunch or Christmas day dinner.
- Make a separate list of “just in case” meals. We’re talking about people who will be dropping by without notice, or you’re asked to contribute a dish during any of the 113 office lunches and tea times at work. If you work in a large company with several departments, make that 150 office lunches, snacks and coffee breaks.
- People tend to do bulk shopping during Christmas. Make sure your fridge and freezer have sufficient space. Also, have a lot of freezer bags handy. If you buy a pack of 24 chicken thighs for example, you’ll want to separate them in individual bags of 3 or 4 thighs so you don’t end up thawing all 24 and not knowing what to do with them.
- Plan your dessert list as well. Desserts are time consuming to prepare. There are good quality frozen or prepared desserts sold by specialty stores.
- Make a list of ways you can recycle leftovers. Turkey can be converted into turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, etc.
Hosting is just as stressful. Christmas is a time for renewing family ties and friendships and demonstrating your generosity but without careful planning, hosting can contribute to stress at Christmas.
Helpful Tips for Hosting
- It isn’t fair for family members to expect you to host all the family gatherings during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. If there are members who can take turns hosting, make and agree on a schedule.
- When December comes, go through your house and decide what changes you can make to make your guests’ stay comfortable. If they will be spending the night, make sure the rooms are clean and ready. Prepare extra linens and towels. Check that the toilets work.
- Create a menu and purchase all non-perishable ingredients by early December.
- If there will be children, set aside some plastic tumblers and plates. Provide entertainment (video movies, games, books, puzzles)
- Wash all buffet dishes, fondue equipment and special silver and crystal in advance (like two weeks before the lunch or dinner). This way you don’t spend hours prepping them and you can use that extra time to check that your house, pets and good cheer are all set to go.