So much cooking to do! Where will we fit everyone? All the mess! Will Aunt Sally and Cousin George resolve their differences or will we all walk on pins and needles? How do I keep that many people entertained? The children will destroy our (fill in the blank with anything nice or expensive you own)!
Preparing for these gatherings in advance will save you a lot of pain and may even garner you some praise. At the very least, your sanity will be preserved and you will be able to do exactly what you’re supposed to do during the holidays—enjoy them.
These tips will help you prepare for the holidays anywhere.
In your heart
These reminders will keep your internal peace that will allow you to survive any chaos that surrounds you during the hectic holiday season.
Take time to reflect. Pause for ten minutes to be still each day. Set the alarm a few minutes early and enjoy the sunrise or a cup of hot chocolate. Ten minutes of peace in the morning will set the tone for the rest of the day, and you’ll be able to carry that with you wherever you are.
Remember the season. Throughout the day, remind yourself of the true reason for the holiday. If it’s Thanksgiving, take time to give thanks for all the blessings you have. Find new ones each day. If it’s Christmas, remember all that Christ did during His life and after His death, and try to find time to focus on the values that matter most.
Write it down. Each day, write down five things that make you happy, that you are grateful for, that made your day better. Post them on your fridge where you can see them easily, or on a computer monitor, a bulletin board, wherever.
Away from the home
There are plusses to not having to worry about your dirty house and all you have to do when you’re gone for the holidays, but more stresses can be added when you realize you’re 1,000 miles from home, it’s Sunday morning, and your children only have dirty t-shirts and blue jeans to wear to church.
Make a list and check it twice. Keep a list of all the things that need to be taken with you on the trip, whether it’s across town or across the country. Begin making the list a week in advance (more or less, depending on the extent of the trip) so that you can add to it as you remember new necessities. Write them down immediately, including everything from batteries for the camera to church shoes. Save the lists so you can make sure everything gets packed home again and you don’t have a midnight crisis involving a crying child and a missing favorite stuffed animal after you return.
Don’t forget the snacks. Long car trips in cramped spaces and shuffling between flights that no longer provide free food can tax anyone’s spirits. In order to keep everyone happy, make sure you bring food along, and make sure it’s healthy. Peanut brittle the neighbors brought over last night may sound like an easy fix, but filling up on junk food will just make everyone feel worse in the end.
Bring entertainment. Our family has survived marathon car trips every year for as long as I can remember, and one thing is key: books on tape/CD/mp3 players, or whatever it is these days.
In your home
All the relatives are in one compact space and their happiness is your responsibility. Your decorating and housekeeping skills are on display. Stressful? I think so.
Delegate, delegate, delegate. No, seriously, delegate. That’s what Moses’ father-in-law told him when he got overwhelmed. And you’re not being held to higher standards than a prophet. Don’t try to do it all. Assign people to bring various dishes, if it’s a one-evening event, or to be in charge of different meals, if it’s a multi-day stay. For the longer gatherings, assign different people to be in charge of an activity each day, and divide up the cleaning as well. It will make your life easier and your family will surely be willing to help.
Cook ahead. Stick to the tried-and-true recipes you know so you don’t have to deal with any surprises, and pick ones that can be at least partially made ahead and put in the freezer. For my family’s week-long holiday gatherings, my aunt would bring all her meat pre-cooked and divided into freezer bags by meal. My mom mixed up her biscuit recipe beforehand so all she had to do was add water. Chop everything a day or two ahead and put it in storage bags in the fridge so it’s easier and quicker to dump together the day of. Slow cookers are another great option.
No matter where you end up for the holidays, follow these rules for everyone’s sanity and satisfaction.
Don’t expect perfection. Things will go wrong. Accidents and awkward moments happen. They are the yeast to the cinnamon roll that is a family reunion. Or at least the raisins and nuts that can only make the cinnamon roll better. Just laugh and move on, and it will become a fun story for future family reunions.
Under-schedule. Let people have time to relax and read a book, take a nap, go on an outing with a smaller group, or take a walk. Between the family home evenings, dinner events and movie nights with A Christmas Story, allow time for spontaneous games of Scrabble and talks between a young niece and an aunt with lots of good boy advice to share.
Give via games. One of the most stressful parts of the holidays can be the gifts. What to get for your mother-in-law who says she doesn’t want anything (but you know will be upset if you get her nothing)? How to avoid the dreaded re-gifting fiasco when you can’t remember who it was that gave you that dreadful gravy pot that clashes with everything you own? Make gift-giving lighthearted this season. Have a fun gag gift, white elephant-style celebration. Draw names and make it a secret Santa event. Or choose to move the gift-giving to more privacy, so there’s not a temptation to see which child can give mom and dad the better, most expensive gift and get a bigger inheritance.
Following these tips will help prepare you for the holidays and allow you to enjoy them without fear. Check out another great holiday prep article, "Enjoyable Holiday Gatherings," here.
How do you make your holiday gatherings (or just the season in general) stress-free? Leave a comment below or share your ideas on our Facebook page.