Holiday Tips: image of our family at Christmas tree farm.

9 Holiday Tips for Making the End of 2017 Merry and Bright (Because Hello, it’s almost here!)

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Quick, grab something to write on. Fetch your favorite pen too. And if you’re prone to stress-induced anxiety, maybe find a paper bag to breathe into when the hyperventilating begins.

Because according to this super cute site, the days between now and Christmas 2017 are going zoom-zoom-zoom!

I know you haven’t even brined, spatchcocked, or stuffed your turkey yet, but fear not! There are a number of things you can do to make your holidays–Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas–more pleasant. Maybe even more relaxed.

Holiday Tip #1: Set the Mood

  • Play Christmas music. Some of you all are already doing this—You know who you are (Sarah Eshleman over at The View from Goosehill, I read your confession on your Facebook Author page).
  • Utilize an advent activity. For children, this can be a cute advent calendar, or even a simple paper chain, and you tear off one link a day until Christmas morning. For adults wanting to create a mood of spiritual anticipation, consider working through an Advent text. My Grace and Such friend, Diane Karchner, came out with one such book this week: Waiting on Tiptoes. Her book provides a month of advent season readings.
  • Candles = cozy: Light candles, set out a reed diffuser, or utilize a wax warmer to infuse your home with the scents of the season. In Morgantown, Best Virginia, I adore Penn and Company wax melts and room sprays, specifically “Sleigh Ride” and “Holiday Baking.”
  • Haul out the holly. Of course, you’re going to bring out all your favorite wreaths and ornaments to deck your halls, but if you feel your holiday ambiance needs freshening, poke around over on Pinterest. That’s how I learned a trick to make my house look like a CandyLand Fantasy Cottage. Buy a ton of pingpong balls, I got mine on Amazon. Carefully use a sharp knife to cut a little slit in each ball. Slip a ball over every other light on a multi-colored light strand. Or like me, every third light. The effect is enchanting.
  • Cut it out down. For the last few years, we have selected and cut down our own Christmas tree from a local tree farm. It is a lovely tradition that I highly recommend (FYI: The featured image for this post is from one such outing.).

Holiday Tip #2: Let It Go 

One of the best gifts you can give yourself is the gift of letting go. Of a tradition (or two or three) that is time-consuming and/or stresses you out. Here are some examples of holiday activities you may want to consider relinquishing.

  • Sending out Christmas cards. When the kids were much younger, this tradition, smack-dab in the middle of a super busy season, was simply too much for me. So one year I didn’t do it and guess what? No one even noticed. With that said, if you love sending cards, and I know some folks do (Hello, Barbie Jackson!), go for it.
  • Baking 12 kinds of Christmas cookies. I used to do this. Then come April, there would still be dozens of cookies hanging around. Any more, I bake one or two kinds of cookies, whatever kind the family requests on my “holiday survey.”
  • Buying presents for pert near everyone. Years ago, as the chief present-buyer, I decided to limit gift-giving to our immediate family: Tony Bear, me, the kids, and our parents. This greatly decreased my holiday stress.

Holiday Tip #3: Holiday Survey Says

To save time, money, effort, and your sanity, a few months before the holidays, ask the members of your family two questions:

  • What 3-5 Thanksgiving foods are your absolute favorites? And Christmas (or Hanukkah) foods?
  • At Christmas-time or Hanukkah, what 3-5 family traditions are most important to you?

I used to change up my Thanksgiving menu every year. A week later I would be left holding, I mean, eating, the leftovers. Now, I simply serve my loved ones exactly what they ask for.

Ditto with family traditions. Tony Bear loves the Feast of the Seven Fishes. I love candlelight Christmas Eve service. Every year before we hit the hay on Christmas Eve, our kids read the Christmas story from the Bible, all snuggled together on one bed. For now, those particular activities are non-negotiable.

Holidays are times of great expectations, of making wishes come true. With clear communication, you can create warm and fuzzy memories for years to come.

Holiday Tip #4: Establish a Christmas Kitty

If you’ve read my blog for a while now, you’ll know I’m a big Dave Ramsey fan. He’s the Financial Peace dude.

After Tony Bear and I went through the Financial Peace program, one of the budget categories we established was “GIFTS.” The funds in this budget “envelope” come in handy all year long–for birthdays, graduation, holidays, etc..

But you don’t need to go through the Financial Peace program to start a holiday kitty. Just hide an envelope in your sock drawer and tuck $20 into it every week. In a year, you’ll have over $1,000 saved.

Now, I totally get that this counsel is skinning the rump for the 2017 holiday season, but don’t throw it out with the crumpled gift wrap. Commit now to a 2018 Christmas kitty.

Holiday Tip #5: The sky is not the limit. 

Set a spending limit per person. You may remember I suggested this tactic in this post about finances earlier in the year.

To avoid an exceedingly gluttonous present-opening-palooza, inform your family members early in the year that there will be a spending cap of $100/person. Or $50. Or $150.  Pick an amount that corresponds with your family budget.

Obviously this is not a conversation you’ll have with toddlers. But when your kids are older, knowing there is a dollar-amount limit will help them make reasonable requests with their Christmas lists.

Holiday Tip #6: Consider a Hand-Crafted Holiday

Since Tony Bear fondly remembers this tradition from his childhood, we gave it a go in 2015. It was super fun!

We ended up with things like embroidered tea towels, homemade Nutella and almond butter, a hat-rack for Junior-Man’s fedoras.

In our experience, exchanging homemade gifts keeps costs low which is a welcome bonus if your budget is tight.

Holiday Tip #7: Listen closely

An easy way to forage gift ideas is to simply pay attention. Listen intently during conversations with loved ones. Key in on statements such as, “I wish I had a ___.” Or, “I’ve always wanted a ___.” And, “I really like your ___. Where’d you get it?”

If you can’t immediately purchase the item, be sure to make a note of the person and the potential present.

This practice, and the next one, can be done all year around, but with more than a month to go, you still have time.

 Holiday Tip #8: Look Around

When you enter someone’s home or office, be observant. By looking around, you may be able to tell their favorite color. Or their hobby. What kind of books they like. Or the fact that they love baking-scent candles (That would be me!).

By paying attention to a person’s environment, you can pick up clues on what to give them when it’s time.

Holiday Tip #9: Make a list…two of them

First List: Utilizing all the info you gathered by being observant, write down what you plan to buy each person that you shop for. In my opinion, this list is 90% of the work of holiday shopping. However, I also recommend a second list.

Second List: On a piece of paper, draw several columns, 6-8 maybe. At the top of each column, write a shopping destination—physical or cyber. As much as I love online shopping (because I can do it in my pajamas and because of free shipping), I think it’s really important to buy local. From talented artisans and small businesses. In each column of your by-location list, note the items you will purchase there.

With my by-location list (and a large peppermint mocha latte), I can usually knock out my holiday gift shopping fairly quickly. After I have hunted and gathered gift items locally, I turn to websites such as ETSY. And Sephora. And Amazon.

When I come home from shopping, I like to sit with my gift-giving list and highlight the items I purchased. All the neon yellow lines make me feel very productive.

So there you have it, how I do the holidays. I hope one or more of these tips will make your holidays more merry with less stress.


What about you? Do you have any handy dandy tips for making the holidays easier or more fun?

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