Once more it’s the time of year some call “the most wonderful time of the year”, while others take the “bah humbug” approach. Rather than happy, calm or peaceful, for many it’s stressful, expensive, exhausting, lonely or disappointing.

It can take only one harried exchange to create a domino effect.  We can minimize our reactions by being organized, planning, and staying on target, but even so, being able to pass peace along to others does not happen just because we want it to or hope it will.  The reality is, the more you leave things to chance, the more likely the holiday season will become hectic and frustrating.

Tis the season… to be prepared

If you are making the choice to be the joyful, composed one, it requires planning, self-control and fiscal responsibility. Even if you have not been preparing throughout the year, there is still time to set your goals, keeping it simple, yet meaningful.

Unicentro Navidad

Plan shopping beforehand and consider alternative forms of gift giving to avoid stress and going over budget.

Set aside a day to plan and, if gift giving is part of your tradition, develop a written list of giftees and ideas, and for your convenience and sanity, make it ongoing for gift occasions throughout next year.  Be creative and realistic.  Remember the adage “it’s the thought that counts”; do you make it about money or acknowledgment and appreciation?

For some, making donations to a preferred charity can be effective and save time and energy.  If you are crafty, consider homemade gifts, or perhaps foods or artisan goods from the area.  Food gifts are almost always welcome, so have extras for unexpected moments or hostess gifts.  Gifts of your time and assistance may also be well received.  With age appropriate children, discuss receiving and giving various kinds of gifts, not just material things. It helps them understand it’s not all about “stuff”, teaches priority setting, budgeting funds and generosity of heart.

It’s also a good time to de-clutter toys and closets.  Donate items that are still useful.  Once prepared, shop with lists in hand and stick to them to avoid impulsive purchases or time consuming, stress-inducing distractions.  Experts tell us Tuesday and Wednesday are the least crowded days to shop.

Learn to say “no” and don’t take on too much.  Be mindful of all details in your rapidly filling calendar.  Assign a deadline to each action and stick to it.  Include sleep and rest in your schedule; you don’t want to become increasingly sleep deprived or sick, even if it means skipping some events or leaving others early.  Stay hydrated: drink enough water. Drinks containing caffeine or alcohol increase dehydration and fatigue.

Where and how do you want to spend your time? This time of year, the temptation may be greater to do things out of habit or to please someone else. Spend some quiet, honest moments to think about how and with whom you actually want to spend your time.  What are the “shoulds” and what are the more desirable activities?  For those you plan to phone or send notes to, get the mental clutter out of your head by listing the things you want to say or ask, so you don’t forget.

What is most meaningful to you and your family?  Do you want to follow family traditions or try something different?  What might you modify to create a more pleasant experience?  As life and family changes occur, it becomes appropriate, even necessary at times, to alter some traditions.  Just changing the timing of get-togethers can often make them more relaxing. This may be a family decision, but first decide what you prefer to advocate before making it a family consideration.

One downside of family gatherings is that not everyone has perfect families.  The best way to avert family turmoil is to relinquish your own expectations that they will meet idealized or longed-for needs. That may sound unsympathetic, but if you can let go of these expectations and hang on to your own sense of value and self-worth, you can more easily be tolerant or amused by others’ antics.  Be yourself, and realize that differences always exist. There is no need to explain or try to prove one way right and another way wrong; it only breeds unnecessary conflict.  Be your own beacon of calm, reason, and goodwill.

Do you want to “deck the halls”?  Check holiday decor and supplies on hand before buying anything new.  Will you entertain? Work out details and specifics before you send invitations.  Don’t obsess about pleasing everyone.  Remember it is also your party.  Lead by example.  Do things that keep you relaxed and able to enjoy time with your guests.  Smile and keep it simple.  Ask for help; you don’t have to do everything alone. If someone offers to bring something, let them.

Partner up for parties

Perhaps consider partnering with a friend to share expenses and responsibilities, and, if the mix of people is right, combine guests at one location. No one (except maybe yourself?) expects perfection, but everyone wants an enjoyable time, so be entertaining and able to enjoy yourself and your guests.  For some, a relaxing alternative could be to share dinner or brunch with friends or family at a local restaurant and enjoy each other’s company, a pleasant relaxed meal, and toasting the season together, with the goal to simply enjoy.

Plan and implement wisely, but do not plan every moment; leave some time for spontaneity, serendipity, and the inevitable surprises.  Take time to indulge in simple family food, classic holiday music and films, reading holiday stories together, and sharing your blessings.  The more you prepare and plan now, the more you can relax and enjoy later.  Focus on creating the gift of lasting and joyful memories.