Christmas is coming. It still feels like there’s plenty of time but if you really sit down and think about it, it’s going to be here before we know it. That time from back to school until Christmas always seems so hectic to me and it seems to get busier and busier the closer we get to the big day. So, I learned years ago that it’s best to start thinking about what needs to be done early. I know, often we see those holiday displays in stores and think “no! it’s just too soon!” but taking advantage of a few of the quieter moments now can mean less craziness then. And who doesn’t want to just revel in as much of the holiday loveliness as possible?
Here’s what I start doing well in advance to prepare for Christmas:
- Make lists and set your budget. Once you have written your lists, start plugging them into your calendar to spread them out over time and make them more manageable. I maintain lists for each person I want to give gifts to and start writing down ideas whenever I think of them (or whenever they hint about something!). I also create lists for each holiday occasion that we celebrate: St. Nicholas Eve/Day, Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Epiphany and so on. On each list, I write down all the traditions that go along and what items are needed for each. For example, I make sure that I put in my calendar to find the St. Nicholas book, our Christmas elf village, and the special Santa letter writing paper well before December 5th. I make sure that I write down to check the candles for the Advent wreath and ensure that we have plenty of matches on hand before Advent starts. Don’t forget to look for those tasks that you can delegate to others.
- Check your local websites, tourism boards, and Facebook pages that share local events and start adding any of those you plan to attend to your calendar now. You don’t want to find that you are overbooked or perhaps have planned too many for one week and overstimulated the kids!
- Get holiday cards and begin addressing and signing them. I usually buy mine (if I don’t make handmade) during the after Christmas sales the year before so I get them at a bargain. I have an address file in my computer that can be printed out onto labels. This makes it easy to address the envelopes and to keep up with any last minute changes when someone moves. But on the inside of the cards, I like to add a personal touch with my own handwriting. By starting early and doing a few a day, I can have them done in plenty of time without any last minute rush. Making your own cards? Start in January and make 1 or 2 a month (depending on how many total you need) or set them up assembly line fashion and bang them out in an afternoon while listening to Christmas carols.
- Want to send out a holiday newsletter? Keep a notebook handy and take time every month to write down the significant events that have occurred then so you don’t waste time trying to remember it all in December. I also keep a file folder on my computer desktop and each month as we take photos that I think I might want to include in the newsletter, I add those to it so they are all in one spot when needed.
- Pick up a variety of gift cards. These will come in handy for last minute gifts, ones for those who pop in with a gift and you don’t have one to give in return, or for those hard to buy for people like teachers, mail carriers, and so on. You can also be on the lookout for generic gifts that will work in these situations if you prefer not to use gift cards.
- Shop for or make gifts. I like to shop all year round. When I go to summer festivals, I keep an eye out for artisans who make unique pieces that I know my family would love. I also keep a file on my computer when I come across great online shops that I could order from – especially for my family who live far away. When making gifts, I try to spread it out through the year and do a little bit each month.
- Put up the Christmas lights. Yes it’s early. But it’s so much easier to get the lights put up before it gets snowy and icy so we put them up early and we simply don’t turn them on until the appropriate time. If you have any elaborate outdoor decorations that require stakes in the ground, you might want to put those in now before the ground freezes too!
- Shop for non-perishable and freezer items. You’ve already made your lists so start adding some of the ingredients you will need for holiday baking and meals to your grocery lists. Take advantage of sales on these items and stock up as needed. Add a few items each week so as not to place too much of a burden on your budget all at once.
- Start your holiday baking. You can bake many cookies, squares, and other items now and put them in the freezer until needed. Plan one or two marathon days of baking or schedule in a little every week or two until it’s done. Think about doubling or tripling recipes so as to have some on hand for unexpected guests or to give as last minute gifts.
- Think about those things that are always your last minute “oops I forgot to take care of this” chores during the holidays. Maybe it’s buying tape for wrapping gifts, maybe it’s having enough batteries on hand for electronic toys, or maybe you always leave shopping for stocking stuffers as an afterthought. Whatever they are, plan for them now. Next time you’re going shopping, add tape and batteries to the list. Or write it into your calendar for the beginning of December. Set aside an afternoon in November to take care of those stocking stuffers (if you find it a chore and that’s why you procrastinate on it, turn it into something fun by treating yourself to lunch first).
And here’s a bonus suggestion – as you are thinking about your plans for Christmas, think also about what you can give up. Prioritize so that you can focus on what really matters the most. For example, one year, when going through our holiday schedule we realized there was just too much on it. As we began to discuss it as a family, we realized that we only went to the Santa Claus parade because it was “the thing to do” and that we really didn’t care for parades that much. On the other hand, we all felt that going to the Bethlehem Live event (where the story of Jesus’ birth is acted out with live people and animals) was non-negotiable and highly meaningful to all of us.
Consider things like: do you really need 8 side dishes for Christmas dinner? Do you really need to make 14 kinds of cookies? Do you really enjoy gift wrapping or would you prefer to go someplace that offers free wrapping and have it done for you? Instead of madly shopping for gifts for the women in your social group, could you all plan to spend time together doing something fun instead?