Yes, you read that right…I am posting about Christmas in July. But that this is not that kind of post. I am not here to point out that there are only 169 shopping days until Christmas, that some stores are already stocking their shelves with holiday decor, or that you still haven’t put away all of your decorations from last year.
My goal is not to stress anyone out about Christmas; it is the exact opposite. I do want you to start thinking about Christmas early, but not so that you can make it bigger and better and busier than ever before. It’s so that you can actually enjoy the holiday this year. I want you to have a stress-free, joyful and meaningful Christmas.
I started developing this website last October, and I didn’t actually launch it until February. There were a few reasons why it took me so long, but one of the big ones was “THE HOLIDAYS,” as we've come to refer to the season that begins the instant the last piece of Halloween candy is handed out and stretches through the second week of January.
One of the things I told myself as I waded through last year's holiday madness was that I wanted to use this blog as a tool to help myself and others have a fun and peaceful holiday season this year instead of an over-scheduled and exhausting one.
The thing is, I love Christmas. I love the gifts and the decorations and the gingerbread houses and the Christmas carols and the giving and the worship and the excitement on my girls' faces. But I rarely get to enjoy all of those things the way I really want to. I don’t want to miss out on experiencing joy because I’m too distracted and tired from wrapping and cooking and dashing to Target for last-minute things.
My goal for this Christmas is to have all of the bells and whistles of the holidays out of the way well before December arrives so that I can spend the month of December enjoying time with my family, making memories, being generous to others, and focusing on the true reasons for the season.
Are you with me?
If so, I’m going to give you a few projects to work on NOW so that you can reach December feeling like Buddy the Elf instead of the Grinch.
Things to do in summer to prepare for a stress-free Christmas:
1) Spend some time reflecting on Christmases past.
Make two lists: one list of your favorite things about Christmas, and one list of your least favorite things.
Everybody will have different things they love and don’t love about the holidays. The key right now is to get it written out. Here are some questions to get you started.
- What were your favorite Christmas memories last year?
- What was the most stressful part of Christmas last year?
- What did you wish you’d done that you didn’t get a chance to do?
- What do you wish you hadn’t done?
If there are things you flat out don't like to do over the holidays, then consider not doing them at all this year. There's no rule that says you must send out a holiday card or decorate your front porch or bake 12 dozen cookies. If it doesn't need to be done and you don't like doing it, then give it the ax.
You’ll probably find that a lot of things could go on both lists. For instance, one of my favorite things about Christmas is designing a Christmas card with a photo of my girls. However, one of my least favorite things about Christmas is scrambling to get the photo taken and the card printed so I can get them mailed out in time.
- Do you love throwing a holiday party, but hate how stressed out you feel trying to get it together?
- Do you love supporting charities and gift drives, but hate feeling financially and time-strapped and not able to give as much as you want?
- Do you love baking or making handmade gifts, but find you don't have the time because of all of your other obligations?
The things that fall into both categories are where you need to concentrate your efforts.
2) Start planning ahead.
If something is important to you, I want you to make sure you can find the time to do it AND enjoy it instead of having the joy sucked out of the task because of the hustle and bustle.
Put a star next to the things that you want to make a priority, but often get rushed through or put to the back burner. Jot down some ideas for how you can take steps now or over the next few months to make those things less stressful.
For instance, maybe you can schedule a family photo session over the summer or in early fall, so it's one less thing to think about when the holidays roll around. If you really want to host an event or gather together with friends, start thinking about dates now, and have people pencil it in before schedules get too busy.
Homemade gifts are one of the things that I always plan to do for the holidays, but never actually do. A few years ago I took up knitting, and planned on knitting lots of gifts that year. I knitted zero gifts. My problem is that I wait too long to start these projects, and then I run out of time as the holidays creep closer and closer.
If you have no desire to make anything homemade, that's more than fine. But if you love the idea of making some gifts for friends, family or teachers, now is the time to formulate a plan. Nobody wants to be frantically knitting or sewing or beading or jarring or printing or painting on the days leading up to Christmas.
You don't have to be Martha Stewart to make handmade gifts. Take the kids to a pottery place and create a handmade platter for a grandparent. Or, if you love giving photo gifts, start organizing your pictures now or take some fun summer photos to put in a photo calendar or other photo gift.
Another way to plan ahead is to start setting aside funds that you can use for gifts, charity, and holiday activities so that you don't feel stretched so thin in November and December. It's also a good idea to set a budget now, before you get caught up in the whirlwind of the season. For more ideas about Christmas budgeting and planning for all of those incidental, non-gift-related costs (like postage stamps for cards), read my post on setting a Christmas budget.
3) Make some headway on your gift list, even if you don't actually start shopping.
If you already have a Christmas shopping routine in place that works for you, by all means keep it. But I personally have a hard time figuring out when and how to shop for Christmas. The things that always sneak up on me are the little gifts…gifts for teachers, a gift card for the bus driver, white elephant gifts, or hostess gifts for someone who’s having a party.
It doesn’t just kill me time-wise, but it kills my budget. So starting this month, I’m going to begin stockpiling the little gifts. I’ll grab a gift card here and there when I’m in the checkout lane or buy a cute hostess gift or a funny white elephant gift if I see something while I’m out and about.
Look for gift card promotions (like a free $5 card when you buy a $20 one) or gas points incentives at grocery stores. Buying a few low cost cards here and there will give you a great stockpile for last-minute holiday giving without shelling out money all at once when you’re already low on cash in December.
July is also a great month for gift shopping because there are usually great sales going on. Hit up the sales to buy toys for your own kids and/or charitable toy drives. It’s so much easier to be generous when you already have toys ready to give away rather than when you feel overspent during the holidays.
In addition, if you're on vacation this month you may have the opportunity to visit some unique gift stores or to pick up local artisan or food gifts. It's always fun to shop on vacation when you're feeling relaxed.
If you have kids in school, remember that in August and September you’ll probably be inundated with “back to school” purchases, so now is a great time to make some headway on your Christmas list.