1. Clean the house, but only to the extent necessary.
I don’t mean scrubbing from top to bottom, like a winter form of spring cleaning, although, if you can do that, go for it. But clutter can get in the way of enjoying days that are meant for celebration. You may not have time to reorganize your kitchen cabinets, but you can probably find a box in which to put items you won’t be using again until after the holidays. While going through the closet switch-out from one season’s clothes to another, you have the perfect opportunity to get rid of clothing you don’t wear—and take it to a thrift store so that someone else can use it.
Clean by priority, choosing first the most important rooms, such as the living room or family room, or other parts of the house you like to decorate and spend time in this time of year. If my living/dining room is all spruced up for the holidays, it’s an easy bet that the office or my study or the guest bedroom is harboring extra stuff and will be in slight disarray for the next few weeks. But I can choose to let that go and concentrate on the few important spaces.
2. Clear the calendar according to your true priorities.
Your life is already full, yes? Your schedule is, at least part of the time, already nearly impossible. So you won’t be able to add holiday visits, shopping, cooking, letter-writing, decorating, volunteering, or movie-watching unless other activities are removed from the calendar. You may have to get ruthless—and you may have to put some pressure on other family members to do their own deleting. As a family you’ll probably have to discuss what can be missed for a month or two. Perhaps regular chores can be absorbed into the cleaning house agenda. Perhaps normal times with friends and family will be skipped for the sake of holiday visits. Perhaps regular TV watching, movie going, and Web surfing will need to be sacrificed for a few evenings of watching holiday movies or baking or decorating together.
Also, dare to turn down some invitations. You are not obligated to attend every party, no matter who does the inviting. If it’s a huge event, not many people will miss you anyway. If it’s connected to work or another organization, it’s fair to say that you have family commitments and leave it at that.
3. Choose carefully what goes on the To-Do list.
I make the same mistake too many years. I decide that this is the year I will:
- Send Christmas cards to absolutely every person whose address I still possess.
- Try 20 new holiday recipes.
- Buy gifts more slowly and attentively so that I actually enjoy the process.
- Decorate better than I ever have before.
- Throw the best party I’ve ever conceived.
- Make more holiday visits, especially to people who are housebound or who would especially appreciate the company.
- Do a walking tour of downtown to see the lights.
- Do a driving tour along the lake or through a forest preserve.
- Read every Christmas book I own.
- Watch every Christmas movie I own.
- Go on at least three dates with my husband.
I have already defeated myself with a list like this. This year I may still try to aim for three or four big goals, but I will do so one at a time, according to importance. And I won’t fret and try to force all of it to happen. Maybe this year the cooking will take slot one and the visiting slot two. Maybe I don’t need to throw a party, and how many people send me cards, anyway? Am I trying to keep up a tradition that’s not even a tradition anymore? Instead of a gigantic Christmas mailing, would it be more worthwhile, in terms of relationships, to commit to writing one or two letters a week for the entire year, beginning with people on that Christmas card list whom I still have some relationship with? And make them not just cards with a line or two, but real letters that people would enjoy reading? And I’m actually more drawn to the drive through the country—I don’t have to walk the city. Maybe I’ll watch my three favorite Christmas movies and not worry about the rest. For a list person like me, that’s almost heresy. My husband and I already have a weekly date, so it won’t be difficult to make one of them fancier for the holiday rather than devise three extra-special couple events.
4. Celebrate what you love the most.
This is the time to pay attention to your heart. If celebrating the holidays is a long, arduous, and unhappy chore, then give it up until you understand what you really love. What do Advent and Christmas mean to that deepest, truest part of you? What aspects of this season give you energy rather than drain it? What is calling out for your love, and to what activities is your heart drawn? On Wednesday, I’ll say more about getting in touch with your heart and soul.