After laying down my last women's magazine telling me how to be less stressed during the holidays, I'm even more confused and stressed than ever. On one page I'm told to take time for myself and indulge in a lovely spa bath. That sounds great, but I can hardly find time for a shower on a slow day in June let alone take a spa bath the week before Christmas. As I turn the page, I'm told to give all my friends and family homemade ornaments to which I have lovingly glued 500 beads, each the size of a grain of sand. Okay, I'll admit I'm not a rocket scientist, but I am baffled when I try to imagine how I could accomplish these two things even if I didn't have an ever growing list of Christmas preparation tasks. Hmmm… Maybe I could lay in my spa bath carefully gluing on beads to ornaments throughout the night.
Oh, it gets better. As I read on, there are articles telling me how not to gain weight at Christmas parties. Isn't that like telling a three-year-old to not get dirty while making mud pies? Oh! But it gets better. They then tell you to eat a meal before you go to the party. What? Is that some kind of new diet where you lose weight by eating two meals in the evening instead of one? If it is, then I'm all for it. Who eats four carrot sticks and five pieces of celery at home and then arrives at a party where they have pecan pie, five different types of fudge, 10 dozen cookies and egg nog and says, "Oh no, I really couldn't eat a thing. I'm sooooo full."? Excuse Me! Doesn't anyone live in the real world any more?
I think to top it all off (and the part I like the best) is after they tell us how to get rid of stress and not gain weight, they give us 10 pages of recipes for Christmas cookies made with real butter and cream that are decorated so elaborately in the pictures that it probably took a trained kitchen staff of 10 a week to make one cookie.
If you are like me and can't stand that kind of stress, try some of these Christmas ideas from www.LivingOnADime.com to help you have a relaxed and Merry Christmas.
Don't over-spend - It may be tempting to fixate yourself on the sparkling look in little Johnny's eye when he sees that $300 play car under the tree. Advertising people are really good at feeding many parents' fantasies of their children thinking that mom and dad are the peaches and cream for shelling out the cash and looking fondly back on the moment for the rest of their lives. The reality of it though is that most kids have lost all interest in that particular toy long before the credit cards are paid off.
When we were growing up, my mom pulled out all of the stops at Christmas to make it as wonderful for us as she possibly could. The funny thing is that now that we are grown, the things we remember the most fondly are mom's red Jell-O salad (made with red hots - yummy!) and sitting together and reading the Christmas story before opening our presents. I can't remember what presents I received, but I always look back on the Christmas story.
Do a few things well - Instead of trying to do everything and ending up depressed with how it all turns out, focus your energy on a couple of things that are the most important to you. You may be tempted to extravagantly decorate every room in your house, but if you don't have the time or energy, focus on one room, like a living or family room. If your entire house is beautiful but you have to go see a therapist when it's all over, the romantic mystique will be lost. Trust me, I know about this one from personal experience.
Limit activities - Think of the holiday season as triage for activities. Don't commit to do too many things. One or two parties during the holiday season will make you get all tingly in that "It's a Wonderful Life" kind of way. One or two parties a week may send you over the edge, especially if you have kids. (Refer to my therapist comments above.)
This also applies to all of those appealing looking activities around town like Victorian Christmas events, Christmas celebrations at the zoo or winter carnivals. One or two can be a lot of fun, but too many will ruin the fun.
Limit cookie baking - Don't try to make 15 different kinds of cookies like Martha. She may look like she is super woman, but did you know she has a lot of people that help her? How much help do you get with your baking? I mean real help, not your five-year-old who makes everything twice as difficult for you. This is great for grandma, but you have to see your daughter every day and grandma can send her back when the house is sufficiently covered in flour. Again, pick your two or three top favorite cookies to bake and celebrate the fact that you had few enough priorities that you remembered to put the sugar in them.
Everything doesn't have to be homemade - I know that we advocate making your own stuff, but Marie Callendar's makes some great pies that you can pass off as homemade if you want to soothe your guilty Martha Stewart conscience. In 20 years, your kids will look fondly back on it as the best pie they ever had. But seriously, if you are making things homemade just to save money, remember that some things like candies and pies are often more expensive to make homemade, especially if you cut your finger while slicing the apples. Don't ask me how I know, just trust me on this one.
These aren't the only things you can do to reduce your stress, but if you stick to doing a few things well, you can truly relax and enjoy the season with your family. In the end, they would rather have fond memories of their time with you than memories of how strung out mom was after she burned the cookies.
Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are the authors of Dining On A Dime: 1,000 Money Saving Recipes and Tips. (formerly Not Just Beans) Dining On A Dime will help you shop smarter, by cooking simpler meals and by making your own basic cleaning products and beauty aids. For free tips and recipes, visit LivingOnADime.com/
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