Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Preparing to Enjoy Holidays: Tips and Tricks

Don’t hate me. My Christmas presents are chosen and wrapped. 

Actually I've only wrapped the presents from my family to others, but I'll have the rest done before Thanksgiving. 

I'm not super-organized. I've just found a way to survive and enjoy my favorite holiday by preparing all year. 

The suggestions I share are things that work for me, some of which I definitely picked up from Lene Andersen and her excellent book, Chronic Christmas, which I recommend to everyone, not just those of us with chronic illnesses, as guidance toward a saner holiday season. I'm due for a reread myself this year.

Christmas is my choice, but it doesn't have to be yours.

1. Decide which, if any, holiday you want to make a big deal out of. 

If you are a grill-master, it might be Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the 4th of July. A chef would logically pick Thanksgiving. If creating a spook alley or a neighborhood egg hunt gives you joy, choose accordingly. Is there an ethnic holiday you want to share with your friends? That may be your best option.

2. Find low-key ways to celebrate the rest. 

Instead of decorating your living room for every holiday, just change the door wreath or yard flag. If you are crafty, there are plenty of ideas for teddy bears or rabbits you can dress for each holiday without stirring up the rest of the house. 

Or decorate only with your grandchildren's elementary school art, or not at all.

Marie Calendar will prepare your Thanksgiving, or you could make it a pot-luck and rotate who has to host. Village Inn makes great pies, but remember to reserve ahead of time. Most grocery stores have great catering options as will many local restaurants.

Unless you find true joy setting the table and washing dishes, use paper plates.

I enjoy the 4th of July each year very simply. My mom drives me up to the elementary school where we watch a neighborhood parade of bikes and old cars. We bring lawn chairs and sit in the shade talking to old neighbors for an hour or so.

In the evening, my aunt and uncle host a cookout. Sometimes they let me bring chips or soda.

At night, my son drives us to an empty parking lot where we watch distant fireworks with my sister and her kids.

In between, I usually insist on watching 1776 and listening to the NPR reading of the Declaration of Independence. That makes for a busy day. I will need to sleep most of the 5th because of all the socializing, but I'm not inviting a flare.

3. Decide what really matters. Eliminate the rest.

I collect nativities. I knit them too. There is enough Christmas stuff in my house to drape every room in tinsel. 

When I was well, I adorned each flat surface in the living room with a nativity and covered the dining room and kitchen in Santa stuff.

I also decorated two trees--one in snowflakes and mittens and the other with the religious ornaments I collect.

Now I put up one or two favorites nativities and decorate my "Jesus Tree." The rest of the house stays uncluttered. My husband appreciates the lack of mess.

I also have two special dishes that are traditional to my family. I make German Stollen for extended family during the week before Christmas and Yorkshire pudding with beef and gravy for Christmas Day. 

Those are my requirements for Christmas to be Christmas. Everything else can be simplified or skipped.

4. Prepare ahead.

I look for and make Christmas gifts all year. This spreads out the expense and labor and keeps me away from crowds and craziness. I buy clearance wrapping paper after Christmas and start wrapping a few things at a time. Because I put things I knit into an Etsy store, I have a photo record of gifts that are in my house and already paid for.

Everything can be purchased on line. If you don't enjoy the craziness of holiday shopping you don't have to do it.

Keep that in mind for grocery shopping for other holidays as well. The stores are crowded the evening before. Shop a few days in advance.

Lack of free time before the holidays while teaching got me in the habit, but it still works for me now that I have all free time, but no energy.

5. Pace yourself.

If you are cooking, make as much as possible in advance or stretch cooking throughout the day.

Always factor in the physical toll of socializing. If you will be putting forth the energy to be a gracious host, plan on that being your main holiday activity and try to have everything done ahead or by others.
I love decorating my Christmas tree. I live with my husband and two adult sons, so I'm the only one who cares that we have one. I have accepted that. It's fun me-time playing with sparkly things.

I've also accepted that with all the bending and reaching, it is an athletic endeavor that needs to be spread out. It usually takes three days. That could be a problem if I waited until mid December, but I start right after Thanksgiving and usually have the boxes back in storage by the end of November.

6. Accept and demand help.

Unless you are inviting friends over for chips and dip and an annual rewatch of Groundhog Day, any party is too much work for one person.

When someone asks what they can bring, assign something. Call close friends and family who don't ask how they can help and tell them how they can help.

My boys now knead and shape the double batch of stollen under my direction. When (if) they move out, I'll except my husband's offer for one of those big Kitchenaid mixers that take up so much counter space.

My menfolk haul boxes up and down stairs and takes care of Christmas lights outdoors and luminaras on Christmas Eve.

7. Accept reality.

No holiday lives up to movie magic. Focus on enjoying who and what you love. Let everything else go.


  1. Sure I do all those things. I mean I sort of do them. I like watching Sheryl do lots of them. We do not have two trees but we do often have a tree.

    My favorite holiday is also 4th of July. No parades, but we definitely sit in the back yard and listen to the 1812 Overture from our local symphony orchestra. Of course they play 5 miles away.

    1. I wonder if our community symphony would do that. I’d gladly take music over fireworks.

  2. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw you mentioning my book! Thank you so much for including me in your excellent list of tips to make the most of the holiday you choose (awesome suggestion!). <3

    1. You are the first blogger I found after my diagnosis. Your writing has been a great help to me.