Monday, December 29, 2008

Conquering the Christmas Chaos: My Battle Plan for Next Year

So the advent season went like this: we got back from Illinois late on Sunday, Nov. 30. I spent the next few days recovering from our trip, unpacking, doing laundry and whatnot. And then all of as udden I looked at the calendar and Christmas was 3 weeks away. I had wanted to do an advent devotional each night; reading scriptures about the foretelling of the messiah and singing a hymn, but hadn’t figured out what we were going to do yet and we were already a week behind. I hadn’t started Christmas shopping, baking, Christmas cards, or decorating. We needed to buy our tree, the kids had all kinds of rehearsals coming up for school and church concerts and plays. Karis and Gloria both had reports I had to help them with. I needed to get things in the mail quick, organize a picture-taking time for a family picture, bake for Grandparents, teachers, and neighbors. All three older kids had school Christmas parties that we needed to make food for, as well as a work Christmas party. To top it off, Chris had a project going on that kept him working late many nights and even one Saturday. Furthermore, the toddlers got sick with a stomach flu, fever, diarrhea thing a few days before Christmas. Isaiah had a temperature of 104 on Christmas Eve.

Let’s just say, it felt a bit hectic. Then there was the night that we needed to leave the house for Gloria’s school concert at 4:45, but when I went to get the baby up from her nap a few minutes before, she was covered in diarrhea; literally covered. It was in her socks and up to her chin. Gloria was supposed to be there by 5:15 because the concert started at 5:30. I think we slipped her in about 5:25. At least she made it.

I did end up pulling everything off in the end, somehow, accept for what I felt like was the most important thing of all, the advent devotional. When push came to shove, that was the thing that got left out, with the exception of maybe two or three nights where we did manage to get the family together to sing and read.

While the season is still fresh in my mind, I am coming up with a battle plan for next year. I am not going to let Christmas get the best of me! In hindsight, it is quite ridiculous to try to accomplish everything in 3 weeks and wonder why I felt overwhelmed and relieved when it was over. Not next year! I am absolutely determined that next season things are going to be so well planned, that even if people are sick for most of the month of December, I will still not become harried. Plus, we will be traveling to Illinois, so it will be especially important that I am organized and make time to pack. Here’s the plan:

1) Christmas cards:

My goal is that before Thanksgiving I’d like to have my letter written (didn’t do one this year), the picture taken, notes written in cards and all the envelopes addressed, stamped and ready to go. I will probably hold off on mailing them as I think it’s fun to receive them closer to Christmas. It’s insane to think that I will have time for any of that in the 3 ½ weeks between Christmas and Thanksgiving. There’s so much I can’t do ahead of time, like attend all those school/church plays, that the things that CAN be done ahead of time, must be.

2) Gifts:

Before Thanksgiving, I’d like to have a list of everyone I need to buy for and what I intend to get them, along with half of the gifts purchased and wrapped. The reason I say half and not all is that for some, I am waiting for sales and I do want to have at least one Saturday where I go shopping with Mom and sisters. This year about 90% of my gifts were purchased online anyway, which takes almost no time, so I don’t feel the need to have absolutely everything done ahead of time. Anything I’m going to get from Amazon I do think I’ll do ahead of time, because they don’t have sales, their prices are just always low and they always have free shipping, so no point in waiting. Other sites that offer discounts and free shipping close to Christmas, I might wait on.

3) Baking:

This is what I had the hardest time finding time for this year. I think what I’m going to try to do next year is bake some cookies and fudge in November, wrap it really well, and try to freeze until the middle of December. If I could get some of the gingerbread men and sugar cookie cutouts done ahead of time, that would mean I could just pull them out and decorate them as needed. This would be a huge help when it comes time for gifts for grandmothers, teachers and neighbors.

4) Mark that calendar:

In November, I am going to go through my calendar and set aside a whole day where I am going to do nothing but put up Christmas decorations. This year it went like this: I had a few minutes one day so started pulling out boxes from the attic, about 1/5th of the decorations got put up before it was time to start making dinner. After dinner a few more got put up and the next day a few more. There were half-opened boxes lying around the living room for days; along with packing peanuts everywhere that the babies were constantly getting into. Ornaments were lying around but I need to get those Christmas lights on the tree first. The lights never did get put up outside. Chaos would be a good word but I’m determined not to have chaos next year. Buying the Christmas tree was hurriedly squeezed in one afternoon between play practice and visiting my folks in Monument. One problem this year was that we did not have one single Saturday that wasn’t completely filled up. Next year, I am determined to find time somewhere to dedicate solely to getting the tree as a family; another time, for getting the decorations up in a leisurely, enjoyable fashion. Anything that tries to come up during that time we’ll have to decline. The same will have to go for laundry and packing days for our trip.

If anyone else has some tips on making the season more relaxed, I welcome them!


Betsy said...

Hey Les, I too felt this way about Christmas this year and I don't even have five kids. For me it was work, being on call, and managing the rest of the family stuff. I had presents I wanted to ship out and baking to do as well. As for me, I think one of my main problems was the Christmas present thing and wrapping them. It took me like 4 days after Christmas to recover. I'm planning on doing what my mom early and all year. She would pick up stocking stuffers etc during the year. Which as a kid if I had thought about the fact that her shopping was done before December even started....I would have disappointed because my sister and I always made huge lists with the Sears catalog in hand a few days before Christmas.

The only thing I can say maybe you could tone down what you are going to do in general. Like Christmas Cards or all that baking. Sounds like a ton to do Les and totally time consuming. You are a great mom/person/wife etc and I don't know that people would think twice if they didn't get quite the perfect stuff from you. : )

Leslie said...

Hey Bets,

You are an amazing woman too! I was just thinking how hard it would be to be working during this time of year.

As far as toning it down goes, I know what you mean, except I realized this year I actually like doing all those things. I love writing short notes in everyone's cards; people I never write to any other time of the year. I like decorating cookies and baking for other people. I just don't like it if it's cramming it into the half hour before I have to leave to be somewhere. That's why I am going to try to see if it will work to still do some of that fun, memory making stuff: cards, cookies, crafts, if I start in November. But you're right, if I don't get to it all, and it's not perfect who cares. I'm so over that! (5 kids does that to you.)

And I love your Mom's shopping all year idea! Wrapping all year isn't a bad idea either.

Rebecca Nugent said...

Hey, Leslie. The last three Christmases, with the exception of this one, were completely exhausting, and Nick and I ended up with the flu all three times. Being in Nashville at the time, we would drive from Nashville to Cincinnati and stay the night (we had a baby with us), and then travel the rest of the way to Pittsburgh. We'd stay there a few days with my parents, and then drive to South Bend, IN to visit Nick's dad and family. We'd stay there a few days, and drive down to Bton for a few days, which was on our way back to Nashville. Somewhere between South Bend and Bton, either one of us or both of us would start to get sick. So, this year, we decided to cut down all of our traveling. We are closer to my parents now, since we live in N. Virginia, so we just make the four hour drive north, stay a few days, and come back home.

From now on, Nick's mom (who is in Michigan) gets Thanksgiving, my parents get Christmas, and Nick's dad gets Easter. I know that this is not exactly the predicament you have/had, but I hope that next year can become much more relaxing and feel more like a holiday as it did for us by cutting out some things!

Happy New Year!

Julie said...

I was just like you, Leslie. I loved doing all the special Christmas things and didn't want to leave any out but priority #1 for me was always NOT being stressed out and cranky. So I tried to be super organized and it did help. I would buy gifts at the after Christmas sales for the next year (believe it or not!) All summer I would pick up things for people and now do most of the long distance people on-line and have them shipped directly. I would try to keep up with the wrapping as gifts came once Dec. arrived and not ever let them pile up and have to wrap a huge bunch on Christmas Eve! I try to have the cookie dough ready and frozen ahead. One thing I let go of was homemade gifts for teachers, etc. I would get a poinsetta at Home Depot or a gift certificate at StarBucks or a Christmas decoration/candle on sale after Christmas - something easy that you could get on sale.
I wish we had made certain tasks into traditions, like getting your Christmas tree the Sat. after thanksgiving or taking it down on New Year's Day and then everybody expects and looks forward to it and you HAVE to do it. I think that would help.
I always had to enclose a "form" letter in Christmas cards and add a few sentences on the bottom. I usually bought my Christmas cards for the next year at the sales after Christmas really cheap. That helped to have them ready to go when I found a slot of time to do them. (If I had to go to the store to buy them the slot of time would be gone!) I've heard of families that take their Christmas card picture on Thanksgiving Day each year. Great idea!!
Keep a list of ideas and things you want to do differently somewhere you can find... maybe computers will help with this. I didn't always see my suggestions until it was too late and had forgotten them.
Decorations: I used to have the boxes organized as "early" so I knew which ones to grab out for the early decorations (outdoor wreaths, mantle decorations, etc.) I don't always get them all out each year - maybe that's ok. Ex: my Dicken's village - I don't have a good place to display it.
This year I was determined not to get upset if things didn't get done as I felt they should. I'm trying to not be such a Christmas perfectionist! Prayer is the biggest help... each day to help you prioritize and not be cranky. And God somehow gives the "miracle" of a few blessed moments with the family to concentrate on the true meaning of the season. All of us (Moms) know what a miracle that truly is to for that to happen!

Julie said...

Oh, one more thing... I have always been determined to have all of my shopping (grocery & Christmas) done several days before so that I don't have to spend time in the stores the last few days before Christmas... that is so depressing to me when you want to be home doing fun, meaningful things with the family. This year I had to shop at the last minute and it sounded like it would be fun but it was a nightmere! This means I had to be super organized with my grocery lists, etc. But to me it is so worth it!

Leslie said...

Thanks Julie, you gave me so many good ideas. I like how you said forget the homemade gifts for teachers and buy something for them instead. That is definitely what I'm going to do for sure next year.