When did the most wonderful time of the year also become the most stressful time of the year?

I’m going to guess it was around the same time my name changed to “Mom.” Because the holidays aren’t just about me and my husband anymore—they’re about our children. And with that comes responsibility. (And lots of it.)

Even as I sit writing this, my to-do list is winking at me out of the corner of my eye. Taunting me, getting longer by the minute. And it’s making me a little bit breathless.

The tree is up, the wreath is on the door, Michael Buble is crooning “Santa Baby” from the speaker in the corner and it’s Christmas! I want to enjoy it!

But on top of the usual, not insubstantial business of running our everyday lives (which, incidentally, doesn’t come to a stop this time of year), December brings with it a whole new set of obligations.

Order the turkey, organize teacher gifts, collect non-perishables for the charity drive, find/make Christmas concert outfits, pre-buy Secret Santa gifts for the office, get the tree up, plan the menu, get show tickets, think up new and creative things for the Elf on the Shelf to do, wrap approximately 1,343 gifts before Christmas Eve, bake All Of The Things, not completely lose your mind and so on.

And—oh!—don’t forget: make it all magical.

Around Christmas time my brain feels like my childhood imaginings of Santa’s Workshop: elves working overtime and machines whirring frantically—so much crashing and banging it’s hard to think straight.

My own mother did it for many years, never letting on how much hard work it was to produce the holiday traditions and memories that would live on in the hearts of her children. And now it’s my turn. I just wish someone had told me how hard it is. How demanding it can be.

Except maybe I don’t wish that. Maybe I’m grateful for all those years of blissful ignorance, when the magic of Christmas just happened before my eyes.

Because of it, Christmas in my mind is a time of wonder. A time of believing in the good, caring about others and expecting the impossible. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. And because of that, I know what I want it to feel like for my children: exactly the same.

But I do have to stop and ask myself—does the magic have to come to an end for me just because I’m the one making it happen? Or am I entitled to a little sprinkling of that magic as well?

I like to think I am.

5 ways to keep the stress low and the magic abundant this holiday season

1. Giving myself the gift of intention

Before I get swept away in the wave of all the things that need to be done this Christmas, I’m asking myself the question, “Why?”

Why am I doing this? Is it because it’s expected and it’s what we always do, or is it because it’s really going to make for a happier holiday season?

If it’s going to make me more stressed out than happy I’m relegating it to a different pile and letting it go. If it’s going to make my children smile from ear to ear and give them something precious to tuck away in their memory banks, then heck, I’ll stay up late and get it done. ✔️

2. Clearing the halls before I deck them

This isn’t always possible, but I’ve planned to get as much of “normal life” done as early as possible in the month. Meeting work deadlines, renewing car licenses, paying bills, scheduling appointments. These things are in my calendar for the first half of the month and after they’re done I’ll be able to focus on Christmas, and maybe even enjoy the holidays a little bit.

3. Project Christmas

It sounds somewhat joy-less, but in our house we’re attempting to project manage Christmas a bit this year.

Between my husband and I we’ve drawn up a timetable scheduling in when things need to be or can be done, and who will do them. That way there are no stressful surprises waiting down the road just when we think we’re able to settle down on the couch with our metaphorical cups of eggnog. Already it’s working—the tree went up last weekend without a single argument!

4. Balancing yes’s with some no’s—and asking for help

Tis the season to celebrate, after all, so I want to enjoy myself. I want to open my home to friends and family, but I also want to hold onto my sanity. So I’m going to invite the people, but I’m going to ask the people to bring a plate of entrees.

I’m going to say “yes” to invitations until I need to say “no”. And when I do, I will feel no guilt. I do not need to be at every single party of the season.

5. “Happy over perfect” will be my motto

Most importantly, now that I’m a mom, Christmas is about my little ones.

I know for sure that they would prefer a happy mama who sings Jingle Bells with them while we bake together in the kitchen, flour in our hair and chocolate smudges on the floor, rather than a Pinterest-perfect Christmas.

What Christmas feels like on the inside of our home is so much more important than what it looks like from the outside. And that’s where I circle back again to intention. If it makes Christmas more magical for them, it’s worth it and then some. If it doesn’t, I’m choosing to let it go.

This Christmas, I wish the same for you.

A version of this post was published December 8, 2017. It has been updated.

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