After one too many chaotic holidays, our family started following a few survival tactics to help us avoid the craziness that was leaving us stressed out, indebted, and frazzled. Over the years, these principles helped us learn how to maximize our holidays without all the stress!
Just Say No
Many of us power through the holidays, cramming in every single family activity, volunteer project, and social outing, at the expense of our sleep and sanity. Relying on caffeine and adrenaline to finish a task is okay once in a while but when we spend weeks on end in that kind of state, we prevent our bodies from recuperating naturally and our system can even deliver a mandatory shut-down by sending migraines, colds/flus, or even bouts of depression.
Whether it’s attending work events, volunteering at the kids’ school, or throwing that holiday party you’re so well known for, you only have so many hours in a day. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those activities, it’s asking for trouble when we try to do it all. Yes, even you.
When you say yes to that umpteenth millionth thing, ask yourself: is this mission-critical? Does it really matter? If no one is willing to step in and do a certain task in your absence, does that mean it wasn’t all that important? Missing that social function, telling your kids’ school teacher that you’re sorry you can’t help this year, or asking friends to step in and assist with your annual party is better than spending a week in bed because you overdid it. Take it from this Type A over-achiever, once you feel the relief of finally saying no to something, you may start saying it more often! Not being bogged down with an epic To Do list lends to a much more relaxing holiday — and life!
Less Stuff = Less Stress
Keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t just a problem for adults. Many of us pass this syndrome to our kids, too. What are we teaching them by flooding them with “stuff” during a time of year that is supposed to be about selfless behavior and peace on earth?
Many minimalists believe that the more stuff you add into your life, the more stress it brings with it. In our own experience, we feel that the more stuff we add into the holidays, the more it detracts from the real meaning of the season. With that philosophy in mind, we now give our kids one present of their choice — from Santa — and they typically receive a handful of smaller gifts from extended family. I fill our stockings with small fun and practical presents, too.
Although it doesn’t take long to open our few presents, we make Christmas morning a leisurely event by having everyone start with their stockings and then Dad hands out the presents one at a time. Taking a moment to watch each person open their presents has helped make our time of opening gifts more of a shared experience than a free-for-all. Our kids are happy to get the one thing they really wanted and our pocketbooks are happy to not have wasted a ton of money on toys they didn’t care much for anyway.
It goes without saying that planning ahead is the secret to being stress-free over the holidays. Here are a few of the tips we follow to help us enjoy the holidays:
A week before Christmas, do a big house clean so you only need to do quick wipe-downs and general tidying during the holiday. Of course, you could also ask for a pre-Christmas present in the form of a gift certificate from a maid service!
While cooking dinners the week before the holidays, double up the recipes so that you have ready-to-cook meals in the freezer for those extra-busy days. If cooking isn’t your forte, you may want to invest in a homemade meal service option just for this week. Often times, it’s less expensive than eating out.
Make an overnight breakfast strata on Christmas Eve so that you have a yummy breakfast ready to go and can enjoy the morning without worrying about feeding everyone (make sure to see my family’s delicious recipe at the end of this article).
There might not be much you can do about this now but I say it every year — buy presents all year long! I have a few dresser drawers dedicated to storing all the perfect gifts I find throughout the year which makes gift-giving much easier. Doing it this way helps me avoid having to buy less-than-perfect gifts just because I need to cross someone’s name off my list and also helps me save a great deal of money, too.
Everyone aims to send Christmas cards out in the first or second week of December. But that one year you sent them in January? Who cares!
An annual professional picture is a nice memento to have but that year when all you got was an iPhone snapshot complete with Christmas morning bed-head? No big deal!
The point I’m making is that most of our holiday stress is self-inflicted. Much of it could be alleviated with either better planning or more realistic expectations. In the event you’ve done all you could and still things didn’t go according to plan, just let it go!
Your kids won’t remember that year you didn’t send out a family Christmas card. Or the year you didn’t host a holiday party. But they may very well remember the marks that are left by stressed-out, disengaged parents who are so busy crossing off items from their oversized “to do” list that they forget to stop and check off the most important to-do of all: loving them through our laughter, our time, and our presence. When we learn to minimize our obligations (yes, it’s always a choice) and reduce the material stuff competing for our attention, the peace on earth comes a whole lot easier.
Rittenhouse Breakfast Strata
1 loaf French Bread, cut into 1” cubes
3 cups shredded white cheese (mozzarella, gouda, cheddar, etc)
1 L milk
¼ tsp each of salt and pepper
1 package bacon, diced and cooked
Scatter the cubed bread into a 8×13 pan.
Sprinkle 2/3 of the shredded cheese over the bread.
Beat the eggs, milk, and salt and pepper together in a bowl. Pour over the bread and cheese.
Scatter the cooked bacon over the milk mixture and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.
Cover. Refrigerate overnight. Uncover and bake at 350˚ F for 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.
Health Tip: To make this recipe gluten-free, replace the bread with another 6 eggs. It will cook up like a crustless quiche and still taste delicious!