Saturday, October 23, 2010

Advance planning - get a cup of tea, this is the long version

I'm convinced that part of being organized and prepared is a willingness to confront things before they reach crisis-mode.  For instance, taxes are easier to prepare if you've saved receipts and kept records throughout the year even though it is not so pleasant to think about taxes outside the month of March or April.  By doing so, it certainly makes that month in spring a bit less dreary.  If you wait until April 10 to start sorting paper, it is a crisis. But if you have spent a few minutes throughout the year making yourself think about that unpleasant thing called taxes, it is not enjoyable but it is rarely a crisis.  (Of course this is the IRS we're dealing with, so perhaps it is not the best example.)  I'm heading somewhere here, and I bet you've guessed it is not really about events which happen in April.  Are you ready?

Take a deep breath.

To really enjoy the month of December and not be a crazy lunatic who suddenly makes Scrooge look like a poster child for holiday spirit we must start thinking about Christmas now.  (Well, a few months ago ideally, but now will work just fine.)  Christmas can too easily become a crisis and that is so not the point of why we celebrate.

This post is for myself as much as it is for anyone else because my stash in the surprise closet is out-of-control and the ideas swirling around my head need to be put in order soon.  If I post about it I will remind myself what I need to do and I thought perhaps it might be useful to someone else as well.

I grew up with a very organized mother and my childhood memories of Christmas (actually the entire month of December) are idyllic.  I use that in the very best sense of the word.  It was a wonderfully happy time with us doing things together as a family and observing traditions which made the season meaningful.  When I had my own children I wanted them to have the same type of memories.  But with that desire I suddenly realized that I was now responsible for all that specialness.  There was one Christmas season when M. and B. were little that I spent the entire month suffering from insomnia.  (If you know me in real life, you know that this is very unusual.  Sleeping is something I do very well.)  I would lie awake making plans, checking things off mental lists, and worrying that I had forgotten something.  When I did sleep, I would have fitfull dreams about Christmas morning coming and I had forgotten about it and didn't have any gifts for anyone.  This is not the way to spend the month of December.  I had so many expectations that it was difficult to really enjoy it all.  All this also affected how I viewed my children.  I wanted them to be perfect as well, to complete my perfect little fantasy about the perfect Christmas holiday.

But they were children and, while wonderful, were decidedly not perfect.  I needed to learn to change my expectations of what would make a perfect Christmas.  We could still do special things, enjoy special traditions, and yes, open gifts, but it didn't have to be perfect to be enjoyable and a wonderful memory.  Someone could cry on Christmas and the holiday wouldn't be ruined.  (And we have yet to have a Christmas without tears of some sort... and when we do I'll probably wreck it by crying myself because that means my children are all grown-up.)

All this long-windedness to say, step number one is adjust your expectations.  Decide right now what days you are going to spend as a family.  Block them out on everyone's calendar NOW!  J. and I always sit down and decide when we are going to buy our tree and decorate it and put it on the calendar long before December actually hits.  It is also a good idea to block out other times just so the month doesn't get too crazy.  It's OK to say no to events.  It's OK to stay home.  This is also the time to decide if there is anything special you want to do as a family and plan when you are going to do it.  Look at holiday lights?  Put it on the calendar.  Christmas carol sing-a-long?  Quiet evening of playing games by the fire? Decorating Christmas cookies?  Plan for it now.  Then you won't get to December 20 and realize you never got around to what you really wanted to do.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it's painful to think about now.  But it's worth the sanity you will be saving yourself in December.)

Next, the other thing about Christmas that ratchets-up everyone's stress is gifts.  How many?  What to buy?  How to pay for it?  This was also something I had to readjust my thinking on.  I had the mistaken idea that every gift had to be the perfect (see a theme?) one for each person that somehow communicated to them how much I loved them and understood them.  Talk about pressure.  That's a lot to ask for a toy wrapped up in paper, and it certainly gave those presents far more importance than they deserved.  I needed to rethink the whole present-thing.  We still do presents... it's fun for everyone.  But these days, I try to communicate that the gifts are tokens.  I give people gifts because I love them, but the nature of my love is not tied to what the gift is.  I do not have to give the perfect gift to a child to let them know I love them.  It certainly takes the pressure off gift buying.

But if gifts are part of your Christmas tradition, they still need to be acquired.  This week I will be making a list of everyone's name and head into the surprise closet to take inventory.  I do collect gifts throughout the year and while I should have a running list, I don't.  Before I can start planning what I still need to get, I need to see what I have.  I have a feeling that at least a couple of children are completely taken care of, but I'm not sure who.  After I know what I have, I will make a list of what I need... for everything I will be buying or making... including extended family.  By having a master list (kept hidden very, very well), it helps keep the budget under control because there is no impulse buying.  I also try to make as much as possible.  All the shopping I have to do is usually done by Thanksgiving.  I hate stores to begin with, and stores in December are even worse.  I enjoy Advent so much more if I'm not also shopping.

The things I'm going to make are not usually done by Thanksgiving, but I know what I need to do and have purchased any supplies I need.  There are many evenings in December when I'm busy, busy, busy locked in my bedroom, but I enjoy that process.  I put on Christmas music, make some tea, and create things.  What's not to like?

So there you have it, advance Christmas planning.  If you've never done it before, I urge you to start now for this year.  It will make your Advent season so much more enjoyable.  You will be more relaxed, consequently your family will be more relaxed, and you all will be able to concentrate on the meaning for it all:  the birth of Jesus, Savior of the World.

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