Holiday Survival Guide Part 2 — Busy, Busy, Busy . . .

This time of the year is packed with activity.  From parties with friends to various church and community activities, to decorating the house, to shopping for or making gifts, there seems to be no end to the to do list.

Out of everything we’re going to talk about in this series, the sheer busy-ness of this time of year is probably the most daunting.  There is so much to do outside of our normal, every day busy-ness that it can be completely overwhelming.  My solution?  I’m picky about what I choose to do.  Just like when I’m choosing which Christmas treats I’m going to indulge in, when I’m choosing which Holiday activities to attend, the extent to which I’m going to decorate, and how many gifts I’m going to buy vs how many gifts will be homemade, I’m extremely choosy.  There have been years where I made huge baskets of Christmas cookies for everyone on my list, attended every party, every church event, and helped my mother with the decorations.  While I enjoyed each activity, by the time Christmas Day came, I was so tired from all of the preparation, that I couldn’t fully enjoy the holiday.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things about how to stay sane during this very hectic season.  Once I discovered that I actually don’t enjoy making seven varieties of cookies in quantities large enough to give a cookie basket to everyone on my list, I stopped making so many cookies.  Instead, I make a limited selection of cookies that I know are particular favorites of my friends.  Then, I fill out the baskets with homemade candy because, as it turns out, I love making candy.  That way, I can still give some homemade treats as gifts without turning into an exhausted, grumpy ball of nerves.  My other trick is to start early.  If I know I’m going to bake cookies for three people and crochet gifts for two more people, then I’ll start the crochet projects in September, and I’ll start baking and freezing cookies in November.  It makes the whole process much less stressful.

What’s that you say?  You have the gifts covered?  Ok, that’s great!  How about the myriad of activities happening this time of year?  There are so many parties, caroling events, family gatherings, etc. that it can be easy to have something to do every day from Thanksgiving through New Year without stopping.  Again, the key is to pick and choose what you’re going to do rather than try to do everything.  Start by marking activities you are obligated to go to on your calendar.  If your entire family gets together to go carling every year and you would deeply hurt your Aunt Mary by not showing up this year, then go caroling with your family.  Once you’ve marked the obligatory events, you can see where there’s room to play with your schedule.  Look at the invitations and compare those with the empty spaces you have, then fill your calendar with events that you love and leave off the events you aren’t all that attached to.  If you can’t imagine Christmas without going to The Nutcracker, but have no emotional attachment to the White Elephant gift swap your book club throws every year, then skip the gift swap and go see The Nutcracker.  

Finally, there’s the decorating.  Have you noticed that decorating actually takes forever?  I love a fully decorated house — it’s beautiful and so much fun, but it also takes so long to do all that decorating that some years, I wonder if it’s really worth it.  Most years, I think the decorations are worth the effort.  That beautifully decorated tree, the lights, the cozy Christmas stuffed animals, and the festive wreathes all over the house just make it feel like Christmas.  When I was little, my grandmother did the decorating, and she made the house into a truly magical place at Christmas.  There was one huge, gorgeous tree in the living room, and then smaller trees in all the other rooms, each decorated to fit the theme of that room.  Cookies adorned the trees in the kitchen and dining room, delicate lace and candle lights for the guest room.  There was a Christmas village, a light-up carousel, and another tree in the bay window, and so many other little details that I’ll be here all day if I listed them all.  To this day, I’ve never seen decorations that rival Muzzy’s handiwork.

When Muzzy was no longer able to do the decorating, my mom and I took over.  We’ve never been able to replicate the wonderland that Muzzy made every year, but we do our best.  This year, however, we both decided that we’re taking a year off from the major decorating.  We still have some small Christmas trees in the bay window, but we’re not doing the big tree and other little touches.  We’ve had a busy and stressful year, and just don’t feel like going all out on the decorations.  We’d rather spend time with friends and family and focus on Christmas itself rather than on its garnishes.

One note that I think is important here, though, is that the decision not to decorate was agreed on by my whole family.  We all agreed that we didn’t want to do much in the way of decorations this year.  If there had been something that any one of us just couldn’t do Christmas without, it would be part of the sparse decorations we have put up.

Of course, these aren’t hard and fast rules.  They’ll look a little different for everyone, and they’ll probably evolve over the years as your priorities change.  I have found, however, that they are a good baseline from which to navigate the busiest time of the year.

Catherine Hall

About Catherine Hall

Catherine lives in Bangor, Maine with her family. She gained her appreciation for food and cooking from her grandmother and learned most of her technical knowledge from watching the Food Network. When not in the kitchen, Catherine can be found outdoors attempting to grow vegetables (not always successfully), practicing yoga, and taking Capoeira classes in downtown Bangor. Catherine can also be found walking around town with her Guiding Eyes guide dog, Caleb.