Three years ago, I was so calm and relaxed, you'd never have guessed it was Christmas. I had a brand new baby, and we had just moved into a new house, but I was grounded with an overwhelming sense of peace. Now that another holiday season is bearing down on us, I think back to the reasons that time was so magical.
That year, we simply went into our backyard and picked out a crooked little tree that just screamed "Baby's First Christmas." I tied on some bows, and we invited our closest friends and relatives to share some Friendship Tea, sugar cookies, and prime rib (which my mother-in-law brought and prepared.) We opened gifts that I had ordered online weeks before. (They arrived gift-wrapped.) It was a low-cost Christmas spent in our unfurnished living room, but you would have been hard-pressed to find a merrier place that year.
When we renew our focus on the holiday spirit, the stress of the season begins to erode. This year, let us pledge to align our personal goals to reflect the goal of the holiday season as it has existed for centuries: to center on our spiritual awareness and connectedness in this spiritual time.
When professional organizers urge us to simplify, they ask us to eliminate our time-wasters. This year, let us find some time-wasters. Particularly during the busy holiday season, we moms too often feel that if we aren't busy doing something, we aren't being of value. In the upcoming days, consider the value of just lounging on the couch with your kids, of playing a board game with your son, of reading the Christmas Box or The Story of Hanukkah aloud in the evening, or of simply sitting around for awhile thinking about how lucky you are for the family and friends that are yours.
Meanwhile, take a close look at your self-made holiday to-do's. Is it necessary to bake enough goodies for the neighborhood, or are you okay with just whipping up the occasional batch of Rice Krispie Treats? Do you want to travel to a distant relative's house on Christmas Day or ask that they come to you? Keep in mind that the mere fact that you've always done something isn't always a good argument for continuing to do it.
This year, narrow your Christmas card list. Make it more personal. Follow the lead of Mitten Strings for God author Katrina Kenison and make your annual Christmas letter less about the accomplishments of your family members and more about the ways you have all connected with one another over the past year.
Meanwhile, reframe the way you perceive the task. Think of it not as a tedious chore that involves long hours of licking envelopes and signing your name, but as a way to illustrate your love for your family and friends and to reconnect with the people whom you may have contact with only once each year.
One last note: start early. That way, it's a relaxed process that only requires you to jot a note or two in the evening as you sit with your family. Also consider enlisting the help of your husband and the kids. Little ones love to help moisten envelopes or draw pictures for relatives. If you run out of time - or the motivation - to send cards, pick up the phone instead.
Once again, the best way to circumvent stress is to start early. Consider buying online. Many premier online retailers can save you time, energy, and cash, and many of them offer a gift-matching service and gift-wrapping at no extra charge.
For ideas, check out Momscape's " How to Pick the Perfect Gift for Anyone on Your List ," as well as " Gift Shopping for Busy Moms ." This year, Momscape is also featuring our Holiday Wish List 2000 so you - or your family members - can do a little online window shopping. Then we'll let them know via email what you've chosen. Think of it as a high-tech gift registry where the world is your boutique.
Parties can be as laid-back or as lavish as you like. Don't underestimate the power of a potluck. - guests love to feel like they're contributing to a meal. No time to deep clean? Speed clean and dim the lights. Keep a stash of things on hand for latecomers or unannounced guests.
Helping someone in need can relieve holiday stress and help you ward off the holiday blues that sometimes seep in this time of year.
Particularly during the holidays, opportunities abound. Just look in your local paper. On the Internet, Volunteermatch can set you up with an opportunity or idea with your specific skills in mind. For more ideas, see " How Moms Can Change the World ."
Be good to yourself.
If you don't sit back and enjoy all of the fa-la-las, they'll be over before you know it. Savor the season, and remember that you set the tone for your family. If you're frenzied and frantic, your family will be too, and your children will grow up thinking that's what the holidays are all about.
If you are feeling anxious this time of year, release your feelings into a journal . Maintain, or start, an exercise program to release those energy-boosting endorphins, and make sure you're eating for energy.
Read " Nine Simple Stress-Busters for Moms ," and spend some time on yourself. Invite your friends or your daughter's friends (or both) for an indulgent Spa Evening. Prepare some homemade facial scrubs and masks and let the stress of the season melt away.
In the end, it's important to decide what the Christmas season means to you. I know my favorite time of the season isn't opening gifts or filling goodie baskets or attending office parties. It's that three minutes it takes on Christmas Eve to sing "Silent Night" by candlelight. It's looking around to see all of my family and friends with their faces lit up just enough that I can see their eyes glisten. To me, that's Christmas. What is it to you?