The workload of a wife and mother more than doubles during December. In addition to all of her normal duties, she may add writing Christmas cards or letters, decorating the house, additional cooking and entertaining, shopping for and wrapping gifts, attending music rehearsals and programs, arranging for special clothes or photography sessions, hosting overnight guests, and many other special tasks to her schedule. I once estimated that I added 60–80 hours of work during December to my regular homemaking and homeschooling responsibilities. No wonder I breathed a sigh of relief when school routines returned in January!
This year, determine that you won’t fall into the too-much-of-everything trap. Discuss with your family members what they feel are the most important things you do during the holidays.1 You may find that a tradition you’ve maintained for years is no longer especially important to any of you. Change is okay.
Try to narrow down your list to just three activities. What would you really miss if you didn’t do it this year? Decorating? Baking? Would you rather stay home more instead of running around to lots of programs, concerts, and community events? Would you rather donate time or money to a local charity than spend lots of both while shopping in the crowds? Maybe you would rather give a birthday present to Jesus by purchasing a goat or steer or chickens for a poor family in a developing country.2
Browse through these ideas to simplify your season.
Before the Holidays
- Set a budget. Seek creative ways to stick to it.3
- Cards. If you send cards or letters, send them before Thanksgiving. Your children can address them as part of English class.
- Gift exchange alternatives. Large extended family but small budget? Draw names for an exchange or limit gifts to a certain amount. Or decide to enjoy a big family outing together instead of gifts. Or do a white elephant exchange. Each person brings any odd item, beautifully wrapped. Draw names to see who selects first. The next person may “steal” anyone’s opened gift or select from the unopened gifts. A teen boy may get Grandma’s canning jars, and Mom may get aftershave—it’s all part of the fun.
- Wrap it up. Wrap gifts as soon as possible after you purchase them. Use them as decorations, placing them in small groups throughout the house.
- Work ahead. Bake and freeze goodies ahead of time. Do your deep cleaning in November. Iron tablecloths and hang them in your closet.
- Baking. Ask each family member to select one favorite treat and then only prepare those instead of endless platters of sweets. Tip: If you have a large family, don’t allow them to consult with each other on their choices. I caught my boys plotting to be sure they each selected a different cookie so there would be more sweets!
- Hospitality. Hosting a get-together? Plan these events well in advance: How many guests? Consider including friends with no local family. Select your menu and service style: Appetizers? A meal? A cookie exchange? A buffet? Any entertainment such as singing carols or sledding?
- House guests. Hosting house guests? Plan where everyone will sleep in advance, and check for bedding and towels.4
- Meals. Plan menus and do as much advance preparation as possible.5
- Relax. If you have a newborn, have just moved, or are remodeling, go easy on yourself. Let someone else do the traditional open house this year.
During the Holidays
- Adjust your homeschool schedule. Cut your homeschool studies to a minimum and use December to teach hospitality skills. Instead of doing all of the planning yourself, involve your children. Ask them where guests should sleep, what foods to serve, etc. These are important life skills.
- Toys. Put away excess toys. Rotate them back in when the luster of new toys has worn off.
- Give yourself permission to relax. Put your feet up for a few minutes. Take a break from the busyness. Feed the ducks at a local pond. Drive to see the lights in other neighborhoods. Sing carols to your neighbors. Take time to enjoy the moment. Don’t miss the cute things your little ones do or say because you are too busy hurrying on to the next task.
- Ask for help and then accept it. If someone offers to bring dessert, let her.
- Emotions. Give yourself permission to grieve if you need to. Many people have difficult memories of past Christmases; talk with a trusted friend and spend time with the Lord.
- Music. Play joyful Christmas music. Play the radio, play the CD, or play the piano—just play.
- Remember the Reason for the Season. Use an Advent calendar to count off the days with your children. Find one that tells the Christmas story. Our boys liked to reread all of the previous days as well as the new one each night.
- Gift opening. Consider a new twist on gift giving: Each person delivers his gift to the person he bought it for and stays to watch while the recipient opens it. The anticipation on the giver’s face and the joyful “thanks!” from the recipient makes gift-opening time a joy instead of a scramble.
After the Holidays
- Write thank-you notes. When you receive a gift, jot it down on a list so later you won’t have to rely on your memory for who gave you what.
- Evaluate what went well and what you’d like to change for next year. File your ideas under Christmas 2012.
- Reorganize. Find homes for all of the gifts that found their way into your home. Decide whether to keep, give away, or discard duplicates and items you will never use. Shop the sales for storage bins to hold Christmas decorations.
- Plan ahead. Set a budget for next year and begin contributing to your Christmas fund now. Begin purchasing gifts for next year. List them in a notebook or computer file so you remember what you’ve purchased.
- Protect your memory keepers. Place holiday photos in albums or burn onto CDs. Send hard or electronic copies to others as backups.
- Get organized. Enter birthdays and anniversaries for the coming year into your planner.
- Get healthy. Freeze or trash the sweets and get back to a healthy diet as soon as possible. Everyone will feel better!
- Summarize the previous year. As you prepare for the New Year, Doug Phillips of Vision Forum (www.visionforum.com) suggests that you evaluate the past year. Some suggested questions include: Where did you go? What did you read? What household projects did you accomplish? Which children lost teeth? What Scriptures did your family memorize? Which loved ones died during the past year? How did we bless others in the past year? Add any other questions you wish. Then write special letters of thankfulness to those who have invested in your life during the past year. End the year on a note of gratitude.
Above all, focus on the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even if you have boundless energy, don’t get sidetracked by projects that take you away from the Person of Jesus Christ. All of our seasonal activities should point back to the joy of the Incarnate Child.
© 2012 by Marcia K. Washburn, who homeschooled five sons for nineteen years. Visit www.marciawashburn.com to read more articles, sign up for her newsletter, and learn about her books.
1I say “holidays” to include both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many of the same strategies work for both.
2See www.samaritanspurse.org and click on Gift Catalog.
3Request Marcia’s free article, No Debts, No Regrets Holiday Celebrations at email@example.com
4For tips, request Marcia’s free article, Cramped Hospitality, at firstname.lastname@example.org
5See Homemade Convenience Foods for great ways to have meals on the table in less than 15 minutes. Available at www.marciawashburn.com.
Marcia Washburn is mother of five homeschool graduates. Visit www.MarciaWashburn.com for books, articles, and to sign up for her newsletter.