It’s January. Someone, somewhere, just hung up a “348 Days Til Christmas Sign,” but you’re over it. Sure, the holidays can be wonderful; they can also be overwhelming. So what if you start planning now to avoid feeling like this a year from now? Here are some ideas to make next winter as easy as figgy pudding:
1 | Float the idea of changing the way you gift
If you’re feeling tapped out, emotionally and/or financially, jump on that feeling to start a conversation with your friends, family, and coworkers about how things can change next year.
On my husband’s side of the family, we draw names in November and are each responsible for one gift for one person. It’s so much cheaper and easier than the alternative. But if even a gift exchange is enough to give you hives, what about deciding on a charity together and donating?
Do a cookie exchange or, better yet, a soup/casserole/quiche exchange to relieve yourselves of cooking on some of those busy December evenings. You don’t have to decide now, but getting the ball rolling may get others thinking too.
2 | Talk to your kids about giving as well as getting
Our daughter has a November birthday, so the last three months of the year seem to be a festival of gifts and treats. Make January your month to divest. Give away the things your little ones have outgrown to smaller kids and those in need. You’ll have less stuff when the holidays roll around next year, and you’ll have started a tradition that’s good for the heart. Here are ten excellent ideas of who might benefit from your donations.
3 | Research some low-key traditions and pencil them in
In Holland, the feast of St. Nicholas (known to the Dutch as Sinterklaas) is celebrated on December 5 and 6 with people writing each other funny poems. I loved this holiday when I lived in Amsterdam and brought it back with me: I’ve invited the same group of friends over for almost the last decade and you can hear us laughing at our dumb poetry for miles.
It’s honestly my favorite December event, and it’s incredibly simple. More info on Sint here, including a nod to the controversial (read: racist) presence of Zwarte Pieten during the festivities.
4 | Make it your New Year’s resolution to learn a craft that you can turn into gifts next year
According to this informative article in the Atlantic, beginning in the late 1700s in New York, people made gifts for one another during the winter season. It was only in the early to mid-1800s that the dawn of the children’s toy, book, and magazine industries made it easy for parents to buy, not make, their Christmas gifts. How much fun would it be to go back to that tradition?
Knitting, woodwork, perfecting a chimmichurri recipe or your Nana’s famous caramels — if you spend the next 11 months working on a skill, you’ll be ready to go by December. So as not to overwhelm yourself, you might focus on one big project (a wooden dollhouse for your little one) or something manageable for a particular group of your usual gift recipients (habanero salsa for all your coworkers).
5 | Load up your holiday bin before you pack it up
This may seem obvious, but packing new candles with the menorah or kinara or Advent wreath (hey, look at that — we all use candles!) means you don’t have to worry about it next year. You have to put the box in the basement, garage, or dusty-corner-behind-the-bed anyway, it may as well be ready to go when you pull it back out next year.
There’s nothing worse than waiting until the last minute to decorate and then realizing your dog ate the garland last year. (Okay, so there are probably worse things, but it’s up there.)
6 | While you’re at it, tuck away “The Polar Express” with your ornaments
Putting those seasonal books and toys out of reach until next year will make them more special and give an added boost to the magic of the season. Of course, this isn’t hard and fast. There’s no reason your seven-year-old can’t play with a dreidel in July if he really wants to, but keeping it out of sight until it’s asked for is a good way to keep him from getting bored by it come February.
7 | Make your schedule and back it up as much as you need
Did your cards go out late this year? That box to your nephews a little thrown together? Plan ahead so you won’t run out of time again. If you’re responsible for the company holiday party, pick the date now and let the higher-ups know. If you think you might want a moms’ night out before people leave town, pencil it in.
You don’t have to tell everyone what’s going to be happening a year from now, but if you have it in your own calendar you can let them know in, say, late October and be sure they’ll get it in the books themselves. I’m a luddite and still like my paper day planner, but here’s a great resource for choosing a digital calendar if you’re slightly more hip than I am.
8 | Estimate your children’s sizes in a year, then hit the outlets
I bought my daughter a gorgeous Fair Isle sweater a couple of years ago for about eight bucks. It was two sizes too big, but by the time we gave it to her the next year it fit fine with the sleeves rolled up. This year, it’s perfect.
I live in a warm climate so our winter gear has a very short shelf life, but wherever you live, tartan-plaid and dreidel sweaters never get a long run. If you buy them now, you’ll probably save 75 percent, which means feeling slightly less bad when they’re underutilized.
9 | Speaking of sales, buy an artificial tree
If they haven’t run out, your local big box or hardware store will be having a big time sale on these bad boys. Sure, the pine smell is lovely, and picking out a tree with your family can be magical. You know what else is magical? Having one less thing to do next December, and not spending three weeks in January sweeping pine needles out of every crevice of your house.
10 | Start your shopping list now
Maybe it feels a little soon to tell Santa what you want in 11 months. Here’s the thing: by the time the holidays roll around, I usually can’t think of anything that I want, so I tell my husband not to get me anything. He doesn’t listen, he gets me things, and then in January I realize I’ve kind of been coveting my friend’s perfume and could really use some six-pound weights.
Much better to start keeping track of your wish list early. Bonus: you’ve got a birthday coming up at some point too. Sure, the holidays may have their downsides, but getting the perfect gift from someone you love? That’s always in season.