Well, it’s almost Christmas. How’s it going?
If you tried to answer that and found you could produce only a strange clicking sound and not actual words, I understand and hear you loud and clear. Back in November I encouraged you to assess conditions, take an honest look at your life and plan your holidays accordingly. I know that was a hard assignment, as it requires having a firm grasp on reality, something even the strongest of us can lose when the holidays are nigh. It’s time to take another look and reassess conditions. Maybe your circumstances have changed in the past couple of weeks. Or perhaps, now that we’re neck deep in December, you have a clearer sense of what you can or cannot do in these waning hours before Christmas. Here are a few tips to help get you through.
If you haven’t decorated yet, don’t. Those bags and bags of gumdrops you bought to make miniature Christmas trees as a centerpiece? That mile of glittery ribbon just waiting to be wrapped around your banister and the rest of the house? What’s that? You forgot to buy the gumdrops and the ribbon?
Rather than add them to the shopping list, just cross them off your to-do list. Let them go and any of the other things you wanted to do but, for whatever reason, didn’t. In our home we’re dealing with a few health issues, and this year the list of what I’m not doing for Christmas prep is longer than my to-do list. “Not this year” I keep telling myself, and no one in my family has missed the wreaths and candles in every window or anything else I’m skipping this season.
Put the kids to work. Are you holed up alone wrapping presents with an aching back and a double case of carpal tunnel? This is wrong for so many reasons.Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, try to involve your children.
I understand it’s simpler to jam things out when they’re sleeping and that in some (OK, most) cases, it’s more work to have “help,” but if you have a square to spare, it’s so so worth it. Put on some music and take a look at your recruits. If you have a child who can fold paper and remove tape from a dispenser, put her or him to work wrapping. It’s a great way to spend one-on-one time with a child during a very busy season, and most children love to help and feel so proud to contribute. It’s fun to know what the other children are receiving and to be trusted with secrets.
Do you have food needing to be made? Pull up a stool and invite a pourer or stirrer to hop to it. If your children are older, consider delegating some of the cooking or baking.
Lower your standards. If you’re inclined to follow my suggestion about putting your children to work, you probably already have lowered your standards. Now where else can you let things go?
On my mother’s side, wrapping presents well is a core family value. With her and all her sisters, the paper is always lovely and the (real) ribbons or other adornments are, without fail, perfectly beautiful. This is the standard set for the next generation, and we uphold it with varying degrees of success. One cousin was having an especially stressful Christmas when her girls were very young and didn’t get any of their presents wrapped until the last minute, when she realized she just couldn’t do it. Instead she hid the presents around the house, and the girls had a scavenger hunt to find them one by one, which they loved.
Double check your grocery list. If you need to make that “one last trip” to the store, take a moment to look over your recipes and make sure you have all the ingredients you need. This is the perfect time to reassess the menu. Remember, nothing is set in stone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start swapping items on your list or cross them off altogether.
Those homemade cinnamon rolls you’ll need to roll out on Christmas Eve? I bet a couple of cans of refrigerated ones will do. That three-layer torte you’re planning to — oh, wait, that’s me and yeah, I’m scratching that off my list right now. I’ll try that recipe some Christmas when I don’t have a concussion.
Clean. You thought I said to lower your standards! I did, but if you’re physically capable, push yourself to tidy things up, put things away and give rooms a quick dusting and a thorough sweeping or vacuuming. Don’t obsess and get lost in a room for hours. Clean up, pick up and then relax.
Pull out the candles. Whether they are traditional or battery operated, it doesn’t matter; they don’t even need to match. Scatter them around the room in which you’re gathering.
When my children were younger, I would work myself into a lather every Christmas Eve arranging the presents, setting out the stockings and doing last-minute cleaning. Ho! Ho! Blech. Now I do the cleaning and wrapping earlier (if only by one day), and my husband keeps me company while I set out the stockings and do the last little touches. The next morning we go downstairs first to plug in the tree, light the candles and turn on music before calling the children to come.
Through the years I’ve ruthlessly edited what we give, do and eat to create a more peaceful and truly merry time for us all.