Moms are responsible for so much this time of year. I have resolved to be more like my husband. Despite a long to-do list, he buzzes around the house humming carols and doing whatever he is inspired to accomplish. Christmas spirit oozes out of him, proving that once again, he is “the fun one.” Meanwhile, I’m sweating and screaming at the tangled Christmas lights as the turkey burns. May we all learn a lesson from him and let go of the things that Martha Stewart, Facebook and Pinterest have demanded. These are a few of the things I have done, and will continue to do, to make Christmas fun for everyone (not just dad and the kids).
1. Decorate Like Charlie Brown
One of my favorite memories was the Christmas that my parents didn’t bother to decorate. We didn’t have a Christmas tree and it was Christmas Eve. After my little brother went to sleep, my dad found a live Christmas Tree and we decorated it. Christmas morning was magical! Santa had brought the tree, the presents, and the stockings. The lesson here is that it’s never too late and there’s never too little. Put out the decorations you love and don’t worry about the rest. You have until Christmas morning to get them out. For some, it may be the nativity, or the stockings, for others, the tree. All the rest (garland, the Christmas village, table settings…) are bonus. It might be cool to save the nativity for Christmas morning. I know some that purposely don’t put out baby Jesus until Santa has arrived with all the presents, emphasizing the ultimate gift. And those things you never seem to get out, donate them. You don’t need to have them taking up space in your life.
2.Your Living Room is not Rockefeller Center
Let the kids decorate the tree. Pull that fake tree out of the attic, fluff the branches and get out the step stool. Gather your miniature helpers with a happy heart, knowing that your work is done. Don’t worry about all the ornaments being clumped into one area or the top of the tree looking funny. You can move it around later for company or pictures. If you have a toddler, you know it’s going to be a constant struggle anyway. Years from now you’ll have happy memories of a disaster tree because junior thought that ornaments were “balls” to be thrown.
One of my life goals is to be like my friend who keeps her Christmas tree in the garage, fully decorated. She simply removes the cover and carries it into the house. Someday, when my decorating doesn’t include wiping up pee around the toilet and removing lick marks from the sliding glass door, I’m going to have a Christmas wonderland in my home.
3. Give your House Christmas Measles
Instead of crawling on the roof to put up lights, potentially falling to your death in the name of Christmas spirit, buy the laser lights. All your neighbors are doing it. Take the easy route. You too can have measles on your home and everything will be decorated in 5 minutes! You can buy an inflatable if you want to get really fancy. Go on a drive around St Augustine and admire all the beautiful lights without the hassle.
4. The Family Picture Doesn’t Have To Show It’s A Wonderful Life
The best picture is probably not the one where everything looks perfect. That’s why we all love the crying Santa pictures. They are so much more fun than the standard smiling ones. Four years ago, I had one terrible picture of my family for the Christmas card. I used a simple editing program, printed the pictures for ten cents a piece and mailed them as postcards. My mother still has this picture up on the refrigerator. The better pictures didn’t make the cut.
5. Don’t Create a Christmas Lampoon by trying to do Everything
There are lots of events competing for your attention and money this year. You don’t need to do them all. What is the one thing that makes you feel like it’s really Christmas? Baking Cookies? A ride on the Holly Jolly Trolley? Walking Downtown for Nights of Lights? Watching Die Hard? Make sure you prioritize that one thing. You also need to find out what that one thing is for your spouse and for each of your kids. In my house, that’s still going to be six special things. That’s a lot to accomplish without attending everything that “sounds like fun.”
6. Make Buddy the Elf Work for You
I despise the effort I need to put forth in order to create the magic for Elf on a Shelf. However, I love the creepy looking thing when I hear the giddy laughs he elicits from my children. Many times our elf has been so “tired” he forgets to move. We don’t do Pinterest-like scenes and we don’t make a big mess that I’m going to have to clean up. I told the elf if he misbehaves, I’m sending him back to Santa. My kids love the idea that he can get in trouble. Our elf isn’t watching to see if they are good either. He’s just here to spread Christmas spirit. If elf on a shelf is too much for you, but like me, you have to do it, I give you full permission to write a note saying that he will not move every day, that he’s no longer going to make messes, and that he can be touched by mom (or kitchen tongs) if necessary. Make your own rules and don’t worry about what the other elves are doing!
7. Celebrate Christmas like Ebenezer Scrooge
Do not spend more money than you have. An empty bank account will produce more stress than everything else combined. No one, especially not your sweet children, want you to go into debt in order to buy them a tchotchke. Grin and bear the slight disappointment your kids feel on Christmas morning when they don’t get the Lego Death Star. I promise, in the long run, it will make them better people. Focus on purchasing for your immediate family within your means. If you have a little money left, consider extended family and close friends. Create a budget and stick to it. You can give a present in the future when you have a little more money. They will appreciate a little gift in January when no one else is giving anything. This is a common problem. There’s even a tongue in cheek tool this year to help you determine how much to spend on friends based on your Facebook interactions.
8. It’s Fun to Be a Bad Santa
At our house we wrap everything. We put tons of joke presents under the tree. This makes it fun, without spending a single dollar. If the tree looks a little bare come Christmas morning, no problem! You can fix it! My mother grew up on a farm. One year, everyone teased her about having the biggest present under the tree. When she opened it, she discovered it was a watermelon. They all laughed and a family legend was born. Make this year the Christmas you start a bad Santa family tradition. We wrap rocks, half eaten boxes of food and things that were purchased and already used earlier in the month. If you have a family where everyone picks out their own gifts, make it fun by switching up the boxes. Can you squeeze that new parka into a box meant for a t-shirt? Spoiler alert: you can. It is really fun when you don’t know what you are opening and the laughter brings exactly the joy we all hope for on Christmas day.
9. Learn how to Re-gift and you’ll feel Love Actually
Re-gifting will save you time and money. It will also bring great joy if you do it right. The gift has completed its purpose the moment you received it. You don’t disgrace the giver by not keeping it. A gift is an outward expression of appreciation and love. Those qualities are not wrapped within the object itself. The key to re-gifting is remembering where each gift originated and giving the object to someone who will appreciate it. I’ve been guilty of giving away a gift I adore, because I know someone else will love it more. If something is a silly obligatory present, save it for a white elephant party or donate it to your favorite thrift store. If someone close to you gives you a wildly inappropriate gift out of obligation, save it, and give it back to them next year. Stop the cycle and get a laugh when they recognize it.
10. Make Sure that you Know the Santa Clause
Santa comes with a few rules in our house so that my children don’t have unrealistic expectations. Santa outsources production of most electronics to China, his priority is needy children, and he gives gifts as an example of love and sacrifice. Items like tablets, computers, and phones are difficult for him to get and cost him more. That’s why there aren’t any pictures of his toy sack filled with these particular items. He also has lots of other, less fortunate, children to take care of, so my kids know not to be greedy. We have a specific dollar maximum that they can request for a big present so that Santa can give other children food and clothing. To keep the focus in the right place, they understand that Santa is giving gifts because he is Jesus’ friend. He is giving because he wants to share with others the sacrificial love that this season is all about.
11. Don’t turn into a Gremlin Christmas Morning
Do not stay up past midnight on Christmas Eve indulging on cookies and coffee, trying to finish all the last minute tasks. Three years ago, when my son found me in a sea of wrapping paper and presents, I was forced to explain that I help Santa out with wrapping gifts so he has time for other things. Santa comes on Christmas night to put the presents under the tree and taste the cookies we leave for him. The kids know that all the packages arriving and the things in the closet are from Santa. I don’t have to try and hide what I’m doing. Try your best to get some sleep. Christmas morning should feel happy like those Folgers coffee commercials that make me cry. Don’t spend the morning as a vicious, sleep walking beast.
12. Plan a Simple Feast for the Perfect Christmas Story
Christmas dinner doesn’t need to be a burden. Prepare something that is easy and everyone loves. I usually make a roast, with microwaved veggies and a box of mac and cheese. I serve pomegranate or cranberry sauce to make it special. It feels right with very little effort. For even less trouble, invite friends and family for a potluck. Do a white elephant gift exchange and sing Christmas Carols. If all else fails, get Chinese. My Jewish friend has taught me that Chinese food and a trip to the movies is a wonderful tradition. It worked for the family in ‘A Christmas Story,’ it will work for you too.
After a few years of trying to make everything perfect, I’ve discovered that the best memories are the ones that you don’t have control over. Love pours through the cracks of our imperfections. Take a note from the Grinch, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe it means a little bit more”. Love and joy from our home to yours this Christmas season. Let this be the year you find your own perfect day. If you have Christmas tips for stressed out moms, please share them! I would love to incorporate a few more tricks into our Christmas celebrations.