1. Right now, decide what you aren’t going to do. Get out your list. What can be deleted? What’s on that list that you’d love to do, but you realize it’s going to just cause you more stress? If you are operating under the premise that there’s still time to finish the shopping, wrap everything beautifully, have holiday lunches with friends, ship things on time, make 10 kinds of Christmas cookies and fill the stockings on the 24th with love, you’re delusional. Trim the list.
2. If you haven’t done your Christmas cards yet, put them aside until the 26th. Make them New Year’s Day cards instead. People will be just as glad to get them, and your world will be calmer. Also, if you wait, you might be more inclined to write a family letter or jot down some personal notes than if you push it now.
3. Christmas lights: If they aren’t up, they aren’t going up. Pack them away. A wreath on the door is plenty. Candles around the house, a garland on a mantel or staircase, and a pretty centerpiece on the table is enough. Simplify.
4. When you’re out shopping, buy one small, extra, generic present. A pretty scented candle, a gorgeous ornament, a new Christmas CD. The key is to make it something you’d like for yourself. Wrap it up, with paper and ribbon. Keep it handy. If someone gives you a gift that you didn’t expect, you have one to give in return. And if that unexpected gift doesn’t come, the candle or ornament or CD is yours. Merry Christmas!
5. Friends are beloved, and are flexible. Make a promise to do something together during the year instead of buying each other gifts. Go to a play, see an art exhibit, do something you both ordinarily would have trouble fitting in. That’s your Christmas present to one another.
6. Find and charge the cameras. All of them. Don’t leave this for the last minute.
7. Five days out, clean the house, even if you think you don’t have time. Take the time. Don’t go overboard – just do all the things that make you feel good about your home. It’ll be easy to maintain and you won’t have a last-minute crunch. Christmas is a time of photographs and visitors, and if the house is in order you won’t feel as harried.
8. Set a final gift shopping deadline, and then honor it. If you can, make it the 22nd or 23rd. Do not venture into the stores after that date. Prioritize so that you take care of the most important people on your list first.
9. On the 24th: Set the Christmas Day table the day before. I’m serious. Wipe the table, put the tablecloth down. Wash and put out the plates, silverware, crystal, serving bowls and serving pieces. Make it beautiful. Then go eat Christmas Eve dinner in the kitchen, and know that a major task for tomorrow is finished. I do this every year and I swear it takes away more than its share of stress.
10. On your final-day grocery list, make sure you add reindeer food and cookies for Santa, and a bag of red- and green-wrapped Hershey’s Kisses: They fill out the toes in the Christmas stockings beautifully. If you have a late night of bike-building or doll-house decorating ahead of you, make sure there’s enough coffee and aspirin in the house to do the trick.
And one to grow on: Pack this year’s to-do lists away with the decorations for next year. Add any notes that you don’t want to forget, and then file them away in the first box you’ll open. (For us, it’s the box with the wreath or the box with the Christmas cards). You won’t believe the head start it can give you next year.