Get Ready for the Holidays Without the Stress

Today is November 1st and the very first thing that came to my mind this morning was that the holiday season is just around the corner.  Now, I realize Halloween was yesterday but in case you didn’t notice, shopping malls had already begun decorating for Christmas two weeks ago!  So, I figured today was as good a day as any to write a post that hopefully will help my readers to anticipate the joy of the Season rather than the stress of it.


Gress Family Tree, 2009

Let’s be honest, stress is something YOU create.  It’s usually fueled by wondering who’s coming for dinner, what to make for dinner, whether to hit the stores on Black Friday or purchase online…or both.  Let’s not forget – when to buy the tree, writing the yearly “update” newsletter, addressing (& mailing) those holiday cards, purchasing (& wrapping) gifts, deciding which parties to attend (& buying a new outfit for each – shout out to all the ladies!), etc. I’m pooped just listing it all!

The thing is, there are ways to alleviate all that stress.  It’s just a matter of making the choice to plan a strategy and stick to it.  I don’t have all the answers but I do have some tips that I’ve followed through the years that I’m happy to share with you because after all, the Holidays are supposed to be fun and festive!

Tip #1 – Have a Strategy

It’s just like planning a wedding, a major charity event, or going grocery shopping.  Have a plan.  Take that list I created in the second paragraph above and formulate it.

Ask yourself what you are willing to do this Holiday season; don’t think you have to do anything!

For example, just because you have sent a letter detailing all your latest family news each year previous, doesn’t mean you have to this year.  In fact, I have a friend in San Antonio who sends her yearly letter out every Valentine’s Day.  She calls it her “Love Letter” to her family & friends.  Sure, with the advent of social networking, it’s easier these days to keep in touch but for some, the yearly letter is something they look forward to writing while their recipients actually do look forward to reading.  So, if you are going to send one this year but you find that your holidays are already scheduled to the max, then save your news for Valentine’s Day.

Have a strategy.

Tip #2 – Create a Schedule

Once you’ve figured out who’s expected to visit (or where you’re expected to go), what parties you plan to attend, that you are mailing Christmas cards, and what gifts you need to buy, create a schedule that will allow you to get everything done in a timely, non-stress-inducing fashion.

I usually begin writing my Holiday letter in the middle of November and plan to have it completed by Thanksgiving weekend. Notice, I don’t try to write it all in one day.  I might write the intro paragraph one morning with my coffee, spin a few sentences one evening before going to bed (usually when there’s nothing on TV to watch), and then finish it up at some point after the Turkey has been devoured and before Sunday afternoon football.  I also choose to never go shopping on Black Friday either so I at least don’t have to worry about wasting precious time then (precious time for me that is).

Another thing I try really hard to do, limit the number of parties I’ll attend each year.  There are always at least 2 “must attends” on the list but then I’ll limit it to 3 additional soirees, usually on a first-invite basis.  This gives me more flexibility to schedule gift wrapping as well as one or two holiday performances (this year, I aim to attend Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker performance).

Bottom line, schedule your “to-dos” so that you can get them “to-done” realistically.

Tip #3 – Realize You Don’t Have to Please Anyone But Yourself

It sounds selfish and for some, it might be, but the thing is, you have to do what’s going to help you to enjoy the meaning of the season, the festivities, all of it.  So, if that means that on your annual holiday trek to visit family, you just don’t have the time this year to visit Aunt Mabel and the rest of her brood who live another two hours away, then don’t.  Better yet, invite them to go see you wherever you may be or to meet at a neutral place that’s convenient to you both.


We have a standing rule in our house.  Each year we spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with one side of the family and schedule as much time as we can for the other side.  We do the reverse the following year.  It doesn’t matter if there is a birth or death in the family or if someone has recently joined our family in marriage, or whatever.  We go wherever we are “scheduled” to go each year because it’s the fair thing to do and it’s less stressful.  Our entire family (both sides) understand that and respect it.

We’ve also gotten to the point where we will invite anyone to come see us either wherever we may be or at a halfway point.  Of course, we already travel 15 hours to go “home” for Christmas and so we feel that since we’ve already trekked so far, it’s only fair that if others wish to see us that are another 2 or 3 hours away, we’ll ask them to compromise.  Most do and we thank them for their kindness in doing so.

Bottom line, set parameters with your expectations, be willing to compromise if needed, and communicate to everyone else just what you are willing to do, reminding them that your aim is to enjoy the holiday too.  Most folks will understand and work with you.  The ones that don’t, well then too bad.  That’s my opinion anyway.

Tip #4 – Take Some Time For YOU

What do you do to de-stress? OR what do you look forward to each holiday season?  Every now and then, take some time for YOU!  Whether that means a bubble bath with candles set to your favorite holiday tunes, a brisk walk in the park with the pooch, a mani (or pedi or both), a facial, or a nice delicious cup of Pumpkin Spice Latte at your nearby coffee house, just go do something that is for you.  If you have to schedule it in, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just do it!

The holidays are a time for getting together with loved ones, the sharing of delicious meals, singing of Christmas carols, giving of gifts, and most importantly, treasuring the meaning of the season.  Take some time to plan your strategy so that when you execute it, all you eperience is the joy of the Season…not the stress.


The Meaning of the Season from my personal collection, 2009

Cheers and blessings to you and yours this Holiday Season!

I close with one of my favorite scenes – “Santa’s Coming” – from one of my favorite holiday flicks, Elf, starring Will Ferrell.






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