The holidays can be a stressful, exhausting time of year full of tasks, extra spending, obligations, and mess. That wasn't working for us so we used the mindset of preparedness to plan ahead and prepare for Christmas. Now we have less stress and more memories which is the ultimate goal, isn't it? Here are the ways we prepare for Christmas that can help you have the most low stress and meaningful Christmas yet.
Save for Christmas Year Round
We all know Christmas comes in December each year and we all know that with it comes extra spending on gifts and holiday fun. To prevent the holiday spending from sneaking up on us every year (and putting strain on our budget in December) we opened a sub savings account (also known as a sinking fund) at our bank and automatically deposit a set amount into it each month. We gauge about how much we want to spend per person each year and divide the total for our family by 12 to determine the amount we want to put in each month. For example $100 per person x 6 people in your family=$600 for gifts each year. Divide that by 12 and you need to put away $50 each month to save up. You could deposit a certain amount per paycheck or weekly if that works better for you. Just make sure you are setting aside money for Christmas every month all year long.
Have Gift Categories
Having categories for gifts has simplified Christmas shopping so much for us. The want,
need, wear, read idea didn't totally work for our family so we came up with different categories that make sense for our family and lifestyle.
Read: We get a read aloud book or collection of stories for younger kids or chapter/how to book for older kids and adults to read to themselves.
Want: Something the person has really been wanting and talking about for months.
Do/Craft: We like to have an activity or craft that will keep hands busy during winter months when we are inside more.
New to try: We either get a new tool/game/food/experience to try or new clothing or outfit depending on the year and which seems more relevant at that time.
Guess Gift: This is an unlabeled gift under the tree and after it is opened the kids have to think of who the gift would be best suited for and give it to that person. We try and make it obvious like a gymnastics leotard for our only kid who takes gymnastics because our kids are all little and just learning the skill of thinking of others. We hope that this activity will foster and develop that skill.
Stocking: We try and keep this pretty simple with just candy, a few small things they need like hair ties or tights, a small gift or two like a locket or small game or puzzle.
One Simple List
To keep track of Christmas gifts and activities I have one simple list I keep on my phone in Notes. I list the year at the top and each family members with all the gift categories. When I have ideas for a category I add it to the list. This allows me to plan ideas all during the year. Once I've purchased an item for that category I check off the category. If I have an idea I want to do for next Christmas I just add the up coming year at the top of my list and start planning for next Christmas a year in advance. I keep all the Christmases, past, present, and future (I had to use a Charles Dickens reference) in one list so I can remember what I did last year and what I want to do next year all in the same place. If we have traditions or activities we want to do I just add them to the bottom of the list.
Shop Months Early
By having the simple, continuous list it is so easy to be ready to shop early. Like Prime Day in June early. Or after Christmas clearance early. You can take advantage of sales all year round because you already know what you are looking for: A book, something they really want, a hands on activity/craft, something new to try, an obvious guess gift and some stocking stuffers. Having simple categories not only makes shopping less overwhelming but it makes it easier to keep track when you are shopping early instead of trying to remember how much you spent on each person, or making sure they got the same number of gifts or size of gifts you can just stick with the categories and everyone is happy. I try and have my Christmas shopping done by October because October is one of the busies months of the year for us so we just use Black Friday for things we've been needing or birthday gifts.
Prep Christmas Day In November
By having shopping done early it is easy to be done with all your Christmas preparations early. I try and wrap all the gifts the week after Thanksgiving. You could wrap them as you buy them but I like to wait and do it all at once. That way I can lay everything out and visually take stock of what I have and remember any last minute details I may have overlooked ie buying a child a knitting loom set but forgot to buy yarn. By having everything ready for Christmas morning before December even starts I can save my time and energy for important thinks like making memories and enjoying festivities.
Enjoy the Meaning of the Season
I try and have all the stressful parts of the holidays done before December. For me that is shopping, wrapping, deep cleaning, decorating and planning activities. What stresses you out at the holidays might be different from my list so you make your own list and get that done early (you are on your own when it comes to stressful relatives though, sorry). To make sure we get the most out of our holiday season we have an advent calendar of Christmas activities we want to do in December. It can be things like build gingerbread house or something as simple as drinking hot chocolate by candle light. We also have a book of Christmas stories we read almost every night during December that focuses on the true meaning of Christmas (you now the ones, the stories that make you cry every time because they are just so sweet).
We don't stress about giving out gifts to friends and family or doing neighbor gifts, teacher gifts, etc. We try and keep our focus on meaningful giving and helping someone in need and if neighbor gifts happen that year great, but if not we don't stress. If gift giving is your love language and you find that appalling, sorry. For us we just aren't big gift people and don't see the hype. We appreciate meaningful gifts and enjoy giving meaningful gifts but giving someone body lotion out of obligation just isn't really our thing so we decided not to stress about it. It gift giving is your love language and that's important to you by all means give all the gifts.
We keep our focus on Jesus Christ, remembering Him, trying to be more like Him, and emulating Him by giving to others in need. We do Secret Santa for someone in need or going through a hard time every year, even when we were poor college students, as part of trying to emulate Christ (which is somewhat ironic because we don't do Santa with our kids though we have explained the concept to them). Giving to others in meaningful ways doesn't have to be expensive, it can be using your skills or even just a handwritten letter. By having this focus Christmas really has become a cozy, memorable time where we focus on uplifting others and there by feel uplifted. Start preparing ahead this year for next Christmas to make it the most meaningful and memorable yet.