Have Yourself a Low-Stress Holiday Season

Here’s a picture of a peacock with some recycled Christmas trees. No jingle bells here…yet.


“You’re already holiday shopping, so…”

Dear PayPal: It’s November 1st. We’re not even done with Allhallowtide and Veteran’s Day is November 11th (Observed Friday the 10th.) Thanksgiving comes on Thursday, November 23rd. I gather, PayPal, that the holiday shopping to which you refer is linked to the winter holidays, mainly Hanukkah (December 12-20) and Christmas, December 25th. If I’m doing any holiday shopping, I don’t need your pressure, PayPal. It’s not like I don’t know what I want to do or purchase already.

Okay, so maybe I’m not original in ranting about holiday shopping being shoved in my face the moment the trick-or-treaters are tucked in bed. But it bugs me every year. Fortunately these days I’m better able to shrug off my irritation because I focus on my own experience, rather than let myself be driven by others’ agendas.

If you get stressed by this stuff, you can minimize that stress, too. Here are my thoughts:

Avoidance is my favorite holiday habit

Stream or pre-record television shows so you can avoid commercials–It’s possible to not see more than a few seconds of commercials this season. You can make it so that when someone mentions a cute or clever one, you won’t know what they’re talking about. They’ll surely be delighted to share it with you on their phone–bonding time!

Online ads–especially video pop-ups–are annoying no matter what the subject. Turn them off so quickly so that you don’t even see what they’re about.

Shopping Malls–Stay away until you’re ready to buy. I know it’s local business sacrilege not to shop at bricks-and-mortar stores, but few mall businesses are truly local. Just how many times can a person bear to listen to Baby, It’s Cold Outside anyway? I feel sad for the folks who have to work in malls and have to hear holiday music 65 days of the year.

Radio–My son used to want to listen to holiday music all year round. It led us to make a rule that no one could play them where other people would have to endure them before the day after Thanksgiving. That still feels early for me, but I try to be flexible. Listen to podcasts, your own digital music, or audiobooks until you’re ready.

Planning is peace

Take control of your own holiday experience. Experiences are what make memories–not toys and gift cards and cashmere scarves.

Some folks, like my mother-in-law, are holiday purists. They don’t even begin to think about Christmas until December 1st, or even later. People like her tend to be extremely organized and their houses are tidy and always ready to be decorated at a moment’s notice.  I think that’s lovely, and definitely doable, for some. But if I did that I would be a frantic mess, consumed with decorating and shopping, and I would get no work done whatever.

For years and years I’ve relied on FlyLady’s Holiday Control Journal to organize my winter holiday season. The menu/ingredients/setting elements are good for Thanksgiving, too. She gives you a place to write down everything from traditions you love or hate to recipes, gift ordering and mailing, to travel plans.

It may seem counter-intuitive to want to avoid the glutted commercialism of the holidays, yet start planning them in November. But it’s not, really. I can’t say I’m fully ready for Christmas by December 1st, as FlyLady suggests, but it’s nice to have a start and a plan. That way, I can better enjoy the religious and spiritual celebration of Christmas-to-come: Advent.

Make lists–Whenever you start, make many lists, and keep them in one place.

Budget–Give yourself a break. You’ll have your regular bills and expenses along with holiday gifts and celebrations. Set a number and stick to it. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Spending the winter/spring paying off the excesses of holiday delirium isn’t worth it.

Shopping and Giving

Pick dedicated times to shop–Make your list before you go, and don’t impulse buy. I like to go to local craft festivals, and shop Small Business Saturday. I’ll also make one big mall trip for the things I haven’t been able to find online. Set aside an hour or two to do your online shopping, and do it early enough to avoid rush charges. Make sure you have a very good idea of what you want to purchase to minimize frustration.

Food–I have moved to buying food or floral gifts for at least half the people on my list, particular folks over thirty. We all have enough stuff, and if you know their dietary preferences and limitations, the gifts can be very personalized and useful. That’s the best kind of gift, I think.

Cards–I love the tradition of holiday cards. We get fewer and fewer every year, which I think is rather sad. If you have a long list and a computer and printer, spend 10 bucks on printer labels if you want to minimize addressing time. I always, always buy next year’ cards after the holidays and put them away.

Giving is good–Think about scheduling charitable gifts throughout the year. The need isn’t just at the holidays. Make the giving personal by picking up a Salvation Army angel or buying something for Toys for Tots or sponsoring a family if you have the budget.

Experience the season

Start new traditions, or revisit old ones–So many holiday events are both fun and free or low-cost. Choral concerts, plays, pageants. It’s a delight now to watch kids performing when mine aren’t up on stage and I’m not worrying they’re going to fall off a riser or pick their nose. One of our favorite traditions is to drive through the Christmas lights at an area fairgrounds and then go to dinner. Even though our son is almost out of high school, we still love the time together and joke about the time I accidentally drove through the display going the wrong way.

Be kind–Be the person not shaken by stress. A lot of nerves will be frayed, and children will be crying, and parents will be embarrassed and drivers will be rude. Be understanding. Be friendly. Be empathetic. Be kind. That’s a very special kind of gift.

Do it your way–It’s your holiday. Celebrate it, or don’t. It’s always okay to say no. If someone puts an expectation on you, it’s their expectation. You can always say, “No, but is there some other way I can help?” Or, “Yes, I’d be delighted.” Your holiday. Your choice.


What are your ideas for having a low-stress holiday season? I know I’m always looking for new ones–can’t wait to hear yours!



12 thoughts on “Have Yourself a Low-Stress Holiday Season”

  1. Priscilla says:

    We keep our decorated tree in an empty closet all year and pull it out at Christmas time. It takes all of 90 seconds to pull out the tree and plug it in, and I no longer worry about falling off the ladder when trying to hang ornaments on the top branches. (Falling off ladders, yeah that’s a thing for me.) A greeting card display and Christmas music round out our holiday “decor.” Keeping it this simple means low decorating stress.

    I have cards and wrapping (DIY style, because I’m that irritating person who crafts EVERYthing) planned out well in advance so I don’t stay up nights stressing about ideas. I have Christmas 2018 wrapping already planned . . . no really, I do!

    Everyone knows I give inexpensive gifts, so there’s no stress about going overboard on spending. My strategy is a smaller budget but the most clever and thoughtful and non-cluttering gifts I can find or make for each recipient. You will recoil in horror, but I start making gifts in the spring. I just don’t have time to cram all the gift making and buying into December. But by starting early, I don’t get time-stressed.

    By keeping the budget low, Dear Husband and I can give a bigger donation to one of the wonderful charities in our area. It has become a tradition in our family to sit and chat in December about where our holiday donation will go.

    Another tradition in our family is our Christmas meal of lasagna, veggies, garlic bread, and chocolate cheesecake. It’s the only time of the year we have this particular menu, so it’s a special treat we greet with cheer, no need to ever change our simple dinner when we like it so much. We don’t stress over the cooking because by now we can make Christmas dinner with our eyes closed.

    Wow, that was my LONGEST response ever to one of your posts, Laura. (Christmas gets me kinda EXCITED; can ya tell?!) Thanks if you read this far!

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      Priscilla, this all sounds absolutely wonderful, and very peaceful. I especially like the Christmas lasagna–and chocolate cheesecake! *swoons*

      Making gifts and wrapping is so labor intensive. Of course you have to start in the spring. And the 2018 cards and wrapping? You are a true overachiever!

  2. Debbie says:

    AMEN to everything you mentioned…on a side note..I worked in a bookstore for 8 years during 8 holiday seasons..after two weeks you don’t even hear those Christmas Carols anymore, just saying…😉

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      I’m so relieved for retail workers everywhere, Debbie!

  3. skyecaitlin says:

    What a lovely peacock! After many, many years of living a frenzied holiday season, I have learned to be laid back completely. My family is not in my state, and I will just take it moment by moment.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      That’s a #lifegoal achieved, Skye. I hope your moments are full and happy. 💜

  4. jtellison says:

    I love Christmas, but I’m one of those that refuses to start until Dec 1. This year, because of a holiday party I’m hosting. I am going to get the tree done the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we can enjoy it longer. I have a date on my calendar to order my cards — I still send a ton, because, like you, feel the niceties must be observed. But I don’t stress. It’s different when you don’t have kids, and you’re not the house the family descends upon.

    1. skyecaitlin says:

      JT. great idea; Having kids who are grown and my family and in-laws, the holidays were very stressful: I had to please my husband’s family who were Baptists and we are Catholics; I also had to keep up with my Grandmother’s Orthodox calendar, and it seemed that everyone was on edge.. I hope you have a lovely holiday!!!

    2. Laura Benedict says:

      I so admire how organized you are, hon. Your house is always blessedly peaceful. 💜

  5. Cindy Gunnin says:

    I banished the urge to replace my Halloween wtich with Santa, but just barely. My thing is I’d really like to decorate all winter with snowmen and old world Santas, but I don’t really stress over the holidays. Thor & I figured out a long time ago that giving each other gifts was kind of weird since the money came from the same place either way. Instead, we make a list of things we want and shop together for them. Since our friends and family are far away, we’ll have their shopping done first so we can send it and then we’ll have something simple for the holiday. I love the holiday, but other than when I’m actually baking, I don’t stress about it. And I love Christmas baking more than other parts of the holiday. I just make sure I bake it and then give it away.

    We’ve also done an Angel Tree type giving thing every year since we met. We have great fun hunting down the things the recipients ask for, but keeping it within budget constraints. It makes shopping fun, knowing that some child is getting exactly what they wanted even though their family can’t get it for them.

    1. Laura Benedict says:

      I LOVE the idea of decorating with snowmen all winter long, Cindy. I say go for it!

      The Angel Tree projects are my favorite. It really is fun to get kids things you know they want.

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