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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christmas without the stress

The seasonal rush to Christmas began, in case you missed it, on Friday with the retailers traditional holiday kick-off. This seems to mark the beginning of what, for most of us, is the annual headlong slide into a frenzy of shopping, decorating, cooking, and family cheer-making , eventually leading to chaos, exhaustion and post-pardon my bah humbug but is it January yet attitude.

In an effort to get started on the right foot this year we’ve come up with a short list of dos and don’ts designed to ease your family into the season and perhaps even enjoy the holidays for a change. So pour a second cup of your favorite brew and start your holiday planning. The way we figure it, you’re already 2 days ahead of schedule.

First: start making a list, in fact, make several lists. They should include:

  • gift list
  • food list/menu
  • family to-do list
  • house cleaning
  • decorating
  • social schedule

One reason to make lists of course is that, eventually, you can ignore them and just improvise, this in itself, can provide you with a sense of accomplishment.

The gift list is a no-brainer, you know who’s on the list and who’s not so now perhaps is the time to make those calls to friends and relatives and suggest drawing names or redirected giving to favorite charities in lieu of exchanging gifts.

Once your list is manageable, schedule shopping excursions and keep them early and short. Combine gift shopping with a trip to the grocer or hairdresser. Have lunch with some friends or perhaps take the kids to a movie as part of an afternoon in the mall. This will keep you focused, on time and more importantly, prevent that all too common hazard, the “shop till you drop” syndrome. Ten minutes extra in the drugstore browsing for stocking stuffers now is far better than a late night run on the 23rd of December.

By the second weekend in December, you should have 90 % of the gifts stashed safely at home and ready for wrapping. Gift-wrapping, for most of us, is a chore but only because we wait until the last minute. If you have your gifts ready to go, wrapping can be a very “Christmassy” thing to do and quite relaxing. Now and then take an hour off from household chores: cleaning, stocking the pantry and running the kids back and forth to practice, fix a cup of tea, turn on your favorite “how to” maven and follow along with some of the more elaborate wrapping tips that seem to proliferate at this time of year. Now you’ve given yourself the best gift of the season, a little r and r.

Assign tasks for each member of the family, they need to be involved in the spirit of the season as well. Kids old enough to explore the house can bring out the decorations and decide which special items they want to display. Team little ones with older children to create a sense of responsibility in the older child and a sense of involvement for the younger. Older teens and adults take charge of the heavier decorating, outdoor ladder stuff and, of course, electrical details and finally, everyone should join in on the final “light it up” night with some Christmas treats and a little family time out from the day-to-day bustle.

While you’re on the go with last minute preparations, or shopping for the Christmas dinner drop the teens off at the post office. They can stand in line to mail the gifts while you spend your time choosing the right wine or picking out the turkey. Kids are good at standing in line, that’s why they have iPods.

Now is the time to begin planning your holiday cookery. If you’re making treats for the family or as gifts, week 2 is a great time to get started. Organize a day around baking, candy making or preparing those special foods that are part of your family’s tradition. If you’re firing up the oven, it's best to bake everything now and refrigerate it rather than bake batches here and there. This early in the season, your family will delight in the warm, seasonal smells emanating from the kitchen.

While you’re cooking regular meals, make double and freeze for that last hectic week before the 25th when you just don’t feel like ending each day with a stint in the kitchen.

Week 3 is a great time to entertain a few guests or attend some gatherings if they’re on the schedule. More importantly, it is easy to do because now you have all the shopping done, gifts are wrapped, the baking is nearly complete and your home is dressed out in all it’s festive glory. Your friends and neighbors will wonder how on earth you did it.

Christmas week and you’ve done it; no last minute frenzy, no hurried gift-wrapping or trips to the post office. The decorating, done and everyone has had a chance to get in on the act not to mention the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. In fact, with the extra time at hand you could plan a family outing, perhaps a visit and some time donated to a local charity. Nothing can do more for your sense of well being at this time of year than giving back a little of your good fortune.

So, as you ponder the season ahead, remind yourself that the holidays are meant to be enjoyed with family and friends. Don’t over anticipate and above all, keep it simple.

Greener Magazine


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