Many Decembers ago, I overheard my mom say to a friend, “Christmas every 12 months is too much — it would be better if it came every other year.”
Little me sat perfectly still, absolutely horrified.
I mean, I knew that parents wielded vast power, but could the woman actually cancel Christmas?
Decades later, I get it.
Before I had kids, the November and December holidays were a fun distraction from the daily drill. But once my little guys arrived, our holidays morphed into an entirely new production. My twin boys (now 15) were 8 months at their first Christmas and 20 months by their second; for both holiday seasons, they were still in the “euphoric to play in a box” stage.
But by their third Christmas, I — my husband is innocent — careened right off the parenting cliff. With each passing year, I created bigger and more spectacular holidays. A train had to go around the tree; “White Christmas” was in town and we had to see the matinee; and would Santa please build one of those slide-bunkbed things for the boys’ room? (Santa would, but he wasn’t happy.)
Nobody should be surprised about what happened next.
Yep, I raised a kid who says — with a dreamy smile on his face — “I love the entire season.”
I once asked, “The entire season?”
“You know,” he said, “like homemade hot chocolate every morning. Drives at night to see the lights on the houses — with hot apple cider! Lights on our house, too! Chopping down the tree! And sometimes snow! And those cookies you make! And all the presents on Christmas morning with cinnamon rolls after!”
And, oh brother, he hugs himself.
I know what you’re thinking: This lady created her own problem.
And you’re right.
So last year, I got my caboose in gear and started prepping in September. December was so much easier that it got me thinking: How cool would it be if I gave myself a full year to prep?
Here’s my Christmas plan for 2019.
You know how holiday decorating can be overwhelming if you haven’t organized, culled and cleaned from the previous holiday? Or how some of us just shove everything into the basement? I’m making a firm resolution to kick off 2019 by tidying ornaments, wrapping paper and other decor from the December festivities. I’ll make three piles: keep, donate and trash. Anything I adore but don’t have room to keep? I’ll take a photo and send it on its way.
Then comes the fun part.
One winter evening, I’ll pour a glass of chard and write a list detailing the holiday tasks I loved the previous year (Christmas cards, baking, etc.), and add a handful of Martha Stewart-on-espresso ideas I want to try (Santa’s feet sticking out of the chimney and so forth).
Note to self: You’re allowed two or three over-the-top holiday decorations, desserts or what have you — not 52.
Then I’ll get out an old-school calendar and write everything down in month- and weekend-appropriate spots. I’ll call these tasks my “holidates.”
This will be the month to come up with a holiday savings plan. I abhor complicated ways of doing anything, so I’ll merely set up a savings account connected to my checking account and commit to adding $100 to it each month.
I plan to look for something I can pull out of my monthly budget (this year I canceled a quarterly extermination service and started using a cheaper DIY product, stashing the difference in my Christmas savings fund). And then I’ll hunt through the house for toys the kids have outgrown and movies we’ve tired of, and list them on the Nextdoor neighborhood forum.
Another idea I love but haven’t tried: taking up a new hobby early in the year so that fall can be a time to create homemade gifts such as knitted scarves, sugar scrubs, bath bombs or a drawing of a loved one’s pet.
This will be the month I’ll begin taking note of which toys, games and clothes my kids mention in passing. At home, I do this on Microsoft’s OneNote program. If we’re out and about, I use my phone’s notepad.
I’ll also use March to buy holiday gift cards for my sons’ piano and theater teachers. By buying cards at Panera Bread, Quick Mart or Ulta Beauty in March, I eliminate one more to-do from December’s errands and transfer the expense out of that otherwise pricey month. (I also like to buy gift cards at Kroger to score gas points.)
April is when garage-sale signs burst out of the ground next to the daffodils and tulips. I’ll hit at least two sales each Saturday. I once came upon a toy aircraft carrier the size of a 3-year-old for $5. Years later, my son still loves that find. I’ve scored brand-new items never out of the box that didn’t work for a bride’s decor or, say, a perfume someone wouldn’t wear. I’ll also pick up Christmas decor and dishes for a song. And I’ll keep notes on what I bought, where I stashed it, and whether it needs to be cleaned or repaired.
Over weekends in May, I’ll make homemade vanilla to give to the bakers in my life. It’s not difficult, and the sliced vanilla beans don’t need more than two months to soak in the vodka, but it’s one more task I’ve transferred out of the holiday frenzy.
In addition to garage-sale and thrift-shop visits, I’ll pick up gift cards for special co-workers. OneNote reminds me that I gave Panera cards last year, so this December I’ll switch it up.
Midsummer is my window for getting serious about my kids’ gift lists. I’ll buy a gift or two for my sons in July — and every month until December — thereby moving the costs out of the holiday month.
In August, I’ll focus on buying gifts for my four nieces and one nephew. They all live far away, so I’ll buy the gift cards they love. (I’ll mail them with cookies in December.)
This will also be the month to scout items for my kids’ stockings. As the purchases arrive from online retailers (or the trunk of my car), I’ll wrap and store them in the boys’ stockings (which I keep on hangers year-round in the master closet).
I also plan to look at our 2 mil- lion photos from the past year — the kids on vacation, playing piano, goofing around — and put the most holiday-card-ready ones into a file labeled “Christmas 2019.”
The beginning of fall will be my time to order gifts for the few adults in my family who still adore the gift exchange. I’ll check out some Oprah magazines from our library and peruse her Favorite Things lists. (You can find lists online, too.) This past year, Oprah suggested the most beautiful pink marbled mugs ($12), which I gave to three women in our family with a note that read, “Let’s think of each other when we have our morning coffee.”
Halloween is relatively easy to pull off, so October will be my month for sizing up the gifts I’ve bought at garage sales and so on. If an item needs mending or cleaning, my husband will be on it.
Holiday photo cards will be a breeze to complete in October, especially because I chose the photos in August. I’ll create the cards on Costco.com ($13.99 for 50), and when they arrive, I’ll write notes and prep them to be mailed after Thanksgiving. (I’ll keep them in the master closet with the other holiday items.)
Because baking is my knitting, I plan to make holiday cookies in October and hide bagged cookies on lower freezer shelves.
I’ll get the decorations out the weekend after Thanksgiving, allowing for a full month’s Christmas display. Every year, I put on Christmas music, unpack the decor and insist the kids help me decorate, which includes erecting our artificial tree (he’s a fossil, but he’s family).
I plan to complete all gift-buying before Thanksgiving (although I’ll still price-compare electronics on Cyber Monday). The week after Thanksgiving, I’ll mail gifts to family members in other states.
This will be the payoff month; time to take a yoga class, walk the dog and exhale.
Here’s the thing: Anyone who has put together a wedding knows that special events require at least a year to bring them to life. So why do we insist on cobbling together an enormous holiday in a month’s time?
No wonder my mom wanted to strike the event from our calendar.
If you decide to execute a similar plan, I think you’ll be in awe at what you can pull together one calendar square at a time. But come December, remember: Ignore the mean voice in your head that prods, “Excuse me? Christmas is, like, four weeks away. Aren’t you supposed to be stressed and sweaty by now? Surely you’ve forgotten something?”
Do not add tasks to your list simply because you’re not sweaty. That tranquil feeling is your new holiday normal. So take a breath, Google the Easiest Ever Eggnog (then pour one), and watch “The Grinch” with the kids.
A merry December to you and yours.
Wendy Irvine is a travel writer living in Atlanta with her family. She writes the Jellyfish in July blog. Follow her on Twitter @JellyfishinJuly.