Waking up first thing on Christmas morning, running to see what Santa left us; going over to my grandparents for Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas lunch; yummy cheese fondue on Christmas Eve; these are my memories and family traditions of the holidays when I was growing up. Life was simple. Life was good. And I was oblivious to everything my mother did for our family (on our tight budget).
As I got older, I attempted my first Thanksgiving gathering and realized how much work it really took. As years passed, I was invited to more and more holiday parties. I was amazed by the hostesses and their perfect homes. I always wondered their secrets. How did they seem to have everything so together? How did they seem to be having so much fun at their own party, while looking truly stress-free?
I finally found the secret behind many of these people's ability to manage the holiday season, and do it with such style and grace. While it seems as though these parties are just thrown together (or at least that is what the host always says), it actually takes an immense amount of planning. Even if you are not the Martha Stewart hostess of your social circle, planning is the key to surviving and flourishing during the holiday season.
I think I knew a long time ago that I needed to be more of a planner, and boy did I try to. With all of my effort, I was still a mess and running out to buy last minute gifts every year. My best of intentions constantly seemed to just fall flat. But then one day I was reading Simplify Your Life: Get Organized and Stay That Way by Marcia Ramsland, and she opened my eyes to a better way to do things. She seemed to have the secret to a stress-free holiday season. I highly recommend this book for Ramsland's methods and specific devotionals.
For me the Eight-Week Holiday Calendar begins the day after Halloween. Follow Ramsland's four steps and three phases, and you will be amazed how much more enjoyable your holiday season will be.
Step 1: Fill in all the important dates like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, etc
Step 2: Write in holiday celebrations that you plan to attend
Step 3: Highlight vacation days for kids and parents
Step 4: Number the weeks in your personal calendar as a countdown
These four steps help to get the basic planning down in writing. After that is done, it is much easier to plan all the other stuff that needs to be done.
Phase 1: Gift Shopping and Wrapping
Phase 2: Decorations, Cards and Mailing
Phase 3: Celebrations, Cooking and Cleaning
Going phase by phase, scheduling each one of these tasks into the Eight-Week Holiday Calendar will help to give order to the crazy holiday season. I know it might sound a little funny to schedule gift wrapping and cleaning, but it's amazing how much more seems to get accomplished when things are scheduled and written down.
This calendar is not written in stone. Life is constantly changing, and we need to be able to adapt for sanity, if nothing else. Also, it is not necessary that the eight week calendar is beautiful either. My calendar is hand written in the back of my paper planner, and I love it. I like using pencil for my holiday planner because I am constantly rearranging and rescheduling. Here is an example of a recent year's holiday calendar. It may not be pretty, but it's very user friendly.
I like to have the eight week Christmas calendar close by. The back of my daily planner seems to fit perfectly into my life. This way, when a new event comes up, I actually know if I am available or not.
After using this calendar, I actually sent out personalized Christmas cards for the first time in over 10 years. This may not be a big deal for some people, but I gotta admit I was really proud of myself. Like with most calendars, things come up and changes needed to occur, but for once, it was easy to adapt because I had everything I needed to do directly in front of me.
Marcia Ramsland has many other great ideas, and even came out with a book specifically for the holiday season, Simplify your holidays, a Christmas planner to use year after year. Check out her advice for organizing gift giving, menu planning and even stress reducing tips.
With the tools that I have learned, I am thankfully able to enjoy the holidays more than I even thought possible. And it is very important that we remember the reason for the season. It is not a time to try and keep up with "the Jones", but a time for friends, family and faith. It is a time to be thankful for everything we have. It is a time to gather and enjoy each other. It is a time to love and to Thank God!
Dear Lord, I never would have believed it was possible to survive the holiday season without a complete and total breakdown, but now I know it's possible. Thank you for the leading me to find the answers and to never give up hope.