1. You do not have to hand make/bake everything. Really, I promise. First of all, no one expects you to. Second of all, who has that kind of time? Decide on the few things you enjoy making, or those few events where you want to bake for, and focus on those. I hate baking cookies. They take so much time. For cookie exchanges I generally make a cookie bar so I can do it in a third of the time. Or I buy the dough pre made, or I make brownies or fudge. Or, like this year, I’m just not participating. It’s not that I will skip the events entirely, I just won’t bring or swap cookies. We don’t need them.
As far as homemade gifts, well, if I haven’t started it on it by December 1st, it’s probably not going to happen. I crochet. I sew. I thoroughly enjoy creating things for my family and friends, but I will not make myself stressed out or sick over it. I do try to make my “homemade” list in the summer and then start creating things. My sister moved to Chicago this summer and immediately upon the onset of cool weather requested more ear warmers. I started on those on our road trip in November. I do try to make bunches of things. The same gifts for all the teachers and Co-workers, etc. that way I can do a big batch.
2. Enjoy decorating. Don’t rush to get it up or feel the need to tear it down right away. I know commercial America keeps pushing Christmas back further and further. Hobby Lobby was all Christmas by the time Halloween was over. I even saw some people with lights out before Veterans Day. Growing up, we really stretched out the holidays. Both in the celebrating and the preparation. As we got older, sometimes we finished trimming the tree on Christmas Eve. We would never start before Thanksgiving. In fact, I don’t start anything Christmas until Advent starts. Luckily that is usually the Sunday right after Thanksgiving. I take my time decorating. I enjoy it.
I also enjoy having it up for a while. I am not one to year everything down on the 26th. I fact, I usually ring in the new year with my tree still up and my house still decorated. I keep the Christmas spirit going until Epiphany, or the father wise men arrived at the manger to celebrate. Epiphany is January 6th. On the 7th you’ll find me packing up my Christmas decorations for the next year. I know there are some valid reasons for breaking down the decor earlier, and that is fine. But do not rush if you don’t have to. Enjoy the quiet, extend the celebrations, admire your handiwork, Christmas isn’t over just because it’s the 26th.
3. Sending holiday cards. Christmas cards are usually the big stressors, particularly for military families as we do not get the luxury of seeing everyone every year. But does it really matter when they arrive? In 2009, I desperately wanted a picture of the 3 of us. We took that picture on Christmas Eve. I was in Germany, so those cards were Happy New Year’s cards. It was great. I’ve also done, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, we moved again cards. Plus, after Christmas the cards and printing are on sale. Some printing services will even address and mail them for you.
4. Don’t go crazy buying everyone you have ever met presents. Keep it easy and simple. People do not need more stuff. It’s true and we all know it. People do not need more stuff and things. Especially adults. Years ago, my in-laws decided on a Secret Santa. So now the 10 of us draw names. I do that among my siblings as well, last year we exchanges Kindle books. It allows us to celebrate without breaking the bank. Consider these options, or talk your family into just enjoying the visit instead of exchanging gifts. Remember the important parts of the holiday season.
5. Do not offer to plan, organize, or run every holiday party. Or even feel the need to attend them all. This is my downfall. Unit holiday parties, work parties, book clubs, coffees, school parties, holiday balls, where does the list end? First of all, I do NOT have to attend them all. Second of all, I absolutely do not have to volunteer to plan them, be in charge of the crafts, or commit to bringing the main dish. Some of them I will gladly attend and enjoy. Some of them I will buy something to bring and even fewer I will cook for. But this year, I will plan exactly none of them. They all existed before me and they will all continue after we leave. This year I will simply enjoy the celebrations.
6. Do spend the time to volunteer or donate. You will feel better. While it sometimes gets overwhelming, giving is the best part of the holiday season. I try to make volunteering a part of our family traditions. Sometimes it’s as simple as participating in a food drive. Last year friends of ours brought baked goods to the Border Patrol checkpoint near our installation. We also usually participate in the Operations Box or the Chaplain’s Angel Tree. My kids love shopping for gifts for other kids. Spend a little time giving back to the community in just a small way.
7. You still have the week between Christmas and Jan 1 to celebrate. This has been so helpful for me this year. We’re stationed at a retraining installation. So, with Holiday Block Leave (Exodus for us more seasoned spouses) looming, everyone is trying to squeeze all celebrations into the first two weeks of December. Since we are not traveling, nor are most of our friends, we have so much more time! I’m planning at least one get-together over that time frame. My family always spread out celebrations over the holidays, and it made everything more enjoyable.
8. Shop online and pay for the gift wrapping. This one is a given…unless you are super creative. But really, if I’m buying it from Amazon to send to my mother in Virginia, why in the world do I need to have it shipped to Arizona so I can wrap it and then suffer through the post office lines? Most places offer affordable gift wrapping and they do a nice job. It’s totally worth it, trust me.
9. Avoid lay away. Family and friends will understand and will also be really upset if you go into debt to buy them a present. I know Kmart and Wal-Mart really advertise lay away, but it not the smartest move for your budget. Instead, make some homemade, send a nice card, or simply explain that you won’t be able to exchange gifts this year. If anyone was paying attention to the government shutdown, they should realize that even our paychecks are not guaranteed.
To help for next year, plan ahead. This year, we tried a new technique. The first week of the year, we put $1 in a special account. The second week, $2 and so forth. When it’s all said and done there will be over $1,300 in that account. You could also try divide you’re spending from this holiday season by 24 and start an allotment or special savings. You can also add in the expenses of traveling if you plan to do so next year.
10. Enjoy the time with whomever you are with. Don’t be rushing, don’t be stressing over the next event. Don’t keep looking for the negatives. All too soon, the holidays will be over and you want good memories. Really, don’t fret over the pictures, the food, the dishes, the state of your house, just ENJOY! Keep things simple, cherish the memories being made, remember those who are not home with their families and relax. Persevere military spouse style. We are in this together.