The holidays should be the most joyous time of the year, because families that are scattered across the country typically use this as a time to come together over a weekend or even a week to connect with each other and give thanks for their blessings. But there is a lot of stress during the holiday season as well. People get together who haven’t seen each other for many months and the reunions can be awkward. Kids and grandkids descend upon a house that at all other times of the year is nice and quiet. Food has to be cooked. Decorations have to be made. Just the right gifts have to be bought and wrapped. People have to be entertained!
Here are a few tips to help you reduce stress during the holidays
- Set a budget for gift giving
You do not want to go into debt over the holiday season by purchasing extravagant gifts for family and friends. It’s easy to put such gifts on a credit card and pay for them over time, but if you are unable to pay off your balance at the end of a month you face interest charges that could potentially double the cost of the gifts you give.
Hand-made gifts can be inexpensive and are more personal than store-bought gifts. The same thing goes for hand-made cards.
“Cutting back” on gift giving can be difficult if you have already “set the standard” over a few years of what you give to people, trying to top yourself (or your siblings) each year. Gift giving should not be a competition.
- Plan your gift giving throughout the year
Gifts that have an extra meaning for the receiver can be special. They let people know that you are thinking of them not just at holiday time but throughout the year. If you’ve gone somewhere on vacation, pick up T-shirts from that location. (“My sister went to London and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”) If you’re visiting a beach, pick up shells and pack them away carefully so that you can give them as a gift later.
- Finish gift purchases as early as possible
While it can be a lot of fun to go to packed stores on Christmas Eve, just to see the bustle of people, it’s not quite as fun if you’re looking for last minute gifts. You may not think it but trying to find gifts with only 24 hours to go can really increase your stress level.
So try to purchase – or make – all your gifts before December even arrives. Wrap them up and store them in a closet until the big day. If you are mailing gifts to others, it’s a very good idea to send them before the arrival of December as well. All mail and package delivery services are swamped over the holidays.
- Consider gift cards
If you don’t know the interests of the people you’re purchasing gifts for – relatives you only see once a year, for example – gift cards are the easiest and quickest gift to give. They allow people to purchase what they want, so they, in essence, do get “just the right gift.”
If you do purchase gift cards, make sure that they do not expire and that the user is not charged a fee if the card is not used over the course of time.
- Use bags and newspaper for wrapping
It takes time to wrap packages. Consider having your packages gift-wrapped at the store where you purchase them. At many locations, such as Barnes & Noble, the gift-wrappers are volunteers for a particular charity. You pay nothing for the gift-wrapping but your donations go to help a cause.
Gift bags are very easy – simply pop the gift into a bag and fold over the top and you’re done. That gives you more time to get on with your day.
If you prefer to wrap your own gifts, and you have a newspaper subscription, consider using “the funny pages” to wrap your gifts. Recycling used newspapers helps the environment!
- Plan your entertaining
Do members of your family alternate the hosting of holiday get-togethers?
Advance planning of these events is all-important to reduce your stress level so you can actually enjoy the events themselves.
Part of planning is good communication.
- Delegate who does what for each event
Depending on the meal you’ll be serving, ask other family members to bring the side dishes and desserts, so that you need only cook the main meal, whether turkey, pork roast, ham, or whatever you choose to serve.
Have plenty of sturdy containers for all the left-over food, and label them carefully. Left-overs always taste better the next day because the flavors have had time to “steep”, so don’t be afraid to serve the same meal for lunch and dinner again!
Ask someone in advance to take photos of the gathering, so that you will always have memories of it. Check in advance with each person, however. Some people simply don’t like their photo taken – and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable or stressed out. But point out the desire to have memories of the event that kids and grandkids can look at over the course of time and enjoy, and ask that they overcome their dislike for at least one photo!
- Clean up as you go
There’s nothing more daunting that coming into the kitchen after a good meal to find a stack of dishes waiting for you in the sink. If you rinse dishes and wash them as soon as you are done with them, instead of letting them pile up, you’ll have more time at the end of the evening to spend with family and friends, and there will be no urgency lurking in the back of your mind that eventually you’ll have to go into the kitchen and face all those dishes! You may not realize it but that is stress as well, which can hamper your enjoyment of the day.
- Remember the reason for the gathering
The holidays are a time for families to get together and enjoy themselves, and develop good memories that will last forever. Keep a sense of humor and remember to enjoy yourself!