In no particular order, these are things that have made this Christmas season much more enjoyable for us than in years past:
- Decide on a Christmas budget before you spend a bunch of money. Get it all in cash, and when the money is gone, you're done Christmas shopping. This will save you stress and remorse at the end of January when the credit card bill shows up.
- Be realistic about your list of people to buy for. Stop succumbing to an unreasonable sense of obligation to buy a gift for everyone you know. Even within the family draw names and if the budget is really tight, just buy for the kids. 'Cause let's be realistic, if there's something an adult really wants or needs, they just go buy it for themselves anyway.
- Shop early and plan your purchases. Don't just show up at the store and browse. That just leads to frustration and overspending. Especially watch out for the stocking stuffers, which can really bust your budget if you're not careful. Ever read Little House on the Prairie? Those girls were beside themselves with pleasure just to get a stick of candy and a pretty cake in their stocking.
- Try to remind yourself everyday that Christmas is about the gift of the Savior. Repeating this mantra while you're in Walmart for the 5th time trying to refrain from buying that thing that "is perfect for so and so", even though it's not in your budget, will help you spend less and cut your stress level.
- Avoid working in retail if you can. Christmas shoppers are among the crankiest people around. Who wants to be around that all day? For me, not having a ton of photo orders hanging over my head the whole month of December has been awesome.
- Bake some treats. You don't have to make "neighbor treats" for 50 of your closest friends, just enjoy the smells and the memories the treats bring for you. Let your kids help, snitch some of the dough, eat the spoils till you make yourself sick. Only then, if there are some left and you can refrain from thinking, "if I give some to so and so, then I better give some to these other people", put a few goodie bags together for those you love the best. If you find yourself making 4 batches of 6 different kinds of treats and worrying if it'll be enough, let me refer you to the beginning of this post by Dan's friend Doug, author of Open Mic Day.
- Listen to Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" CD. His voice is so warm and smooth and the classic carols will make you smile. Reminds you of what Christmas is all about. Plus he sings "O Tannenbaum" in German, how can you resist that?
- Sit and watch the Christmas tree in the dark. Dan maintains that you can't "watch" the Christmas tree if you don't have blinking lights, but I still love to sit in the dark and reflect on Christmases past and think of how glorious it must have been to see the star and the angels on the night of Christ's birth.
- Limit your social commitments. A lot of holiday stress is caused by all the parties and plays and performances we "have" to go to. Choose just a couple things to attend, using the question, "will this bring my family together and help me feel the Christmas spirit" as your guide.
- If your kids are Santa obsessed and have present lust, don't put the gifts under the tree until a day or two before Christmas. Jesus doesn't stand a chance of being the center of Christmas for little kids when there's a pile of presents taunting and tempting them from under the tree for 3 or 4 weeks straight.
- Read LOTS of Christmas books with your kids. We solved our "no presents under the tree" dilemma (let's face it, wrapped packages under the tree are festive) by starting a new tradition two years ago. I get a bunch of Christmas books, mostly from the library, that primarily center on the Christmas story or on kindness and giving, wrap them all up and put them under the tree. Then each night in December the girls get to open one book to read before bed. They love it and it has really helped to keep us all centered on the reason for the season.
- If at all possible, try to have a baby (or a grandchild) born around Christmas. It alters the nature of your anticipation and shifts your focus from commercialism and "stuff" to the miracle of new life. And that is what Christmas celebrates. The new life that Jesus Christ has made available to all of us.
OK, that's more than 10, but brevity has never been one of my finer qualities. If your Christmas season is going well, tell us why. If you can't wait until it's over, tell us what you'd like to do different next year to make it more enjoyable.