It’s happening. The air feels crisp. Boots and scarves greet you at every turn. Suddenly an insatiable craving for anything mulled overtakes you.
That’s right, friends. The holidays are here – complete with lovely visions of nights spent sipping cider and building gingerbread houses by the fire with your rosy-cheeked cherubs.
Unfortunately, now that we’ve awakened from our post-Thanksgiving comas and found ourselves suddenly in December, things are also starting to get real. Santa Claus is coming to town, and he’s bringing the less warm ’n fuzzy aspects of the holiday season right along with him: family drama, financial worries, and just your garden-variety, soul-crushing stress from trying to do too much at once. Believe me, I’ve been there. And it’s only gotten trickier since giving birth to the sole grandchild on both sides of the family; we’re pulled in so many directions between Halloween and Christmas, it’s a miracle we make it to the New Year in one piece
But it doesn’t have to be all stress and exhaustion! The holiday season can be full and fun…and even fulfilling. All it takes is a few hard-and-fast holiday rules to help keep you and yours on track during what really is the most wonderful time of the year.
1. Honor your family’s schedule.
Special occasions call for flexibility. However, those occasions aren’t going to feel so special if your entire brood is sharing a major case of the grumps. I’m more than willing to take my son from one end of creation to the other for the sake of being festive, as long as our travels don’t interfere too much with mealtime and bedtime – his and ours. Help your family make the most of the holiday season by sticking to your regular rhythms as much as possible.You’ll have to be a bit more selective about where you spend your time, but those events that do make that cut are sure to be much more meaningful for your happy, well-rested little ones – and for you, too.
2. Give your gifts a theme.
Pair a heavy to-do list with a heavy to-buy list and you’ve got the makings of a holiday meltdown. Instead of spending hours wandering the mall or poring over websites looking for that perfect something for Grandma, focus this year’s gifts on a common theme – just be sure to add personalized touches so your loved ones know you’ve put some thought into what’s under the tree. For example, three years ago each of our relatives received a portrait of our son in a frame chosen especially for them. The year after that we carefully selected books for everyone on our list. Last year each set of grandparents got bottles of wine based on their favorite type of food, hand-picked by the owner of Once Upon a Vine, our favorite beer and wine shop.
3. Think outside the box.
I know Pinterest makes us all feel like complete failures if we don’t create custom wrapping paper made with pulp from the trees in our own backyards, but it’s time we let things like that go. Ditch the paper altogether and embrace the magic that is the gift bag. Why is it magic, you ask? Two reasons: 1) your gift gets an equally pretty presentation in one-quarter of the time, and 2) the recipient of your gift can actually use the bag again. Want to make it even easier? Find a simple, neutral gift bag, stock up, and use one for every gift you give. If you feel the need to jazz things up a bit, try adding fun ribbons, tags, or hand-stamped monograms (for those of you who can’t entirely free yourselves from the force that is Pinterest).
4. Prioritize experiences over stuff.
As much as your children think the quality of their lives depends solely on whether or not Santa delivers that most coveted item, what they do during the holidays will stick with them much longer than what they get. Create (or continue) family traditions that your kids can carry with them from year to year. Be it an Advent activity, a visit to a local retirement home, or even a tour of Richmond’s holiday lights – those memories will stick with your children a heck of a lot longer than anything you can wrap up in a box.(Besides, it’s best to leave the spoiling to the grandparents. They’re better at it than you’ll ever be.)
5. Schedule a just-us day.
Pick a day – any day between now and New Year’s Eve – and block it off as your family’s Just-Us Day.No outside obligations. No long-lost relatives. Just nuclear family time.This takes place in our house every December 23, starting with a Mcdonald’s breakfast and ending with my husband and i exchanging gifts after our son goes to bed.Whatever happens in between varies each year, but it’s always fun and (most importantly) relaxing. I know blocking out an entire day in the midst of all of those holiday commitments sounds daunting, but trust me on this one. It’s the perfect way to recharge before the madness really begins – or to recuperate once it’s all over.
6. Stock up at season’s end.
I’m not usually one to go nuts over a clearance sale, but i’ll make an exception come January when all the stores unload their remaining holiday stock. The holiday season comes with more trimmings and trappings than any other time of year, and it all can chip away at your budget if you’re not careful.Before you pack away this year’s decorations, stock up on what would typically be last minute items – cards, extra strands of lights, gift tags, even tape. Box them up with the rest of your seasonal doo-dads and you’ll have a nice surprise waiting for you when you bring the holiday cheer down out of the attic next December.
“Real Mom” Valerie Catrow lives in the Northside with her husband and young son. You can read about some of her experiences as a first-time mother in RVANews’ parenting column, Raising Richmond.