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It’s the MOST…WONDERFUL…TIIIIME of the year! 🎵🎶🎵
For much of December, that sentiment rings true for me. I love belting out holiday tunes, putting up the tree, and decorating the mantle. I love lighting the menorah, having our solstice dance party, and pairing up with my mom to make the best cut-out sugar cookies that have ever existed (two words: almond extract).
But there are also those moments where Mike and I turn to each with the same questions that plagued us last December. How much do we usually spend on teacher gifts? Are we going to send out a card?!? (This year it was around December 10th when we decided to move that task from the “could-do” to the “won’t-do” list). Should I make an egg bake for Christmas breakfast? Two years in a row, I’ve decided yes, I want an egg bake to balance out the sweetness of the cinnamon rolls and fruit salad; two years in a row we’ve gotten home late on Christmas Eve, I realize there’s no time to throw one together, and we opt for scrambled eggs instead.
There’s nothing wrong with scrambled eggs, but we have them all the time. They’re not special, and I want Christmas breakfast to be different than our daily fare. The problem of not getting the egg bake ready, or forgetting how much to spend on teacher gifts, or realizing we’ve waited too long to start putting a card together, is that we only do all this stuff once a year. With all that’s happened in 2021 (pandemic and more pandemic! adding a baby to our family! Nate starting kindergarten!), how in the world do we expect ourselves to remember how the holidays went down in December 2020?
Reflecting on 2021
So this year, I decided to prepare a gift for myself that I will “open” in late 2022 when it’s time to kick off the holiday season. On the evening of the 25th, after we’d opened presents and feasted and decorated gingerbread houses, I grabbed a notebook, flipped to a fresh sheet of paper, and wrote across the top “Christmas reflections.” Then I started jotting down everything that came to mind. This list is obviously very specific to my family, so I’m not going to write down everything, but here’s a sample:
- Gingerbread kit — get bigger, higher-quality kit with more candy variety; buy supplemental candy early, e.g. mini candy canes? This is our main activity Christmas afternoon and the kids love it, so worth putting more money and effort here.
- Christmas napkins and tablecloth — stored in one of the totes in the basement and couldn’t manage to get downstairs to find them Christmas morning with all the other stuff going on; next year, set the table Christmas Eve!
- MSCW method — worked well as a way to focus our efforts and get less overwhelmed = more marital/family harmony
- Christmas Day activities — don’t need to plan so many! Save snowflake chains, garlands, etc. for January and February when winter doldrums set in.
- Wrapping paper — ran out and had a last-minute scramble. Learned most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable because of glossy coating — invest in reusable gift bags? (Note: I just went down an internet rabbit hole and found this awesome list of suggestions to try out for next year.)
You get the idea. This debriefing exercise helped me figure out what went great, what didn’t, and what just plain didn’t happen.
In that last category, I had this romantic vision of a fire burning in our fireplace all Christmas Day and even picked up extra firewood for that purpose. Fast forward to Christmas morning. The kids were of course eager to open presents, then I needed to get cracking on breakfast, then the kids were clamoring for our help breaking open geodes and assembling a soccer rebounder, then there was excitement about gingerbread houses, then there was a scramble to get the table cleared off for a late lunch, etc. And all the while the baby still needed to be nursed, changed, and kept from eating wrapping paper. In the few moments I could have stopped to build a fire, it wasn’t worth it since we weren’t hanging out in the living room anyway.
So next year, will I get my vision of a crackling fire? It depends. We’ll have a toddler who may or may not listen when we say “No, no!” as he launches himself toward danger. We’ll still have new toys to assemble, crack open, or otherwise troubleshoot. We’ll still have meals to prepare. But this reflection exercise made me realize I can at least maximize the possibility by having a better plan. For example, I’m thinking that after presents, we can set up our big folding table in the living room for gingerbread houses; that way, we could enjoy a fire at the same time (and bonus, we’ll then have the dining room table open for meals).
Give yourself the gift of reflection and planning for next year! Here are some questions to jump start your thinking:
- How did decorating go? Did you decorate inside, outside, or both? All over the house or just in certain places? Are there decorations that just stayed in your storage bins? (Guilty.) Get rid of them to start fresh next year. As an aspiring semi-minimalist, my goal is to fit all Christmas- and Hanukkah-related stuff in two plastic bins.
- What types of outings did you do? Concerts, festivals, performances, light displays? Which were worth it? Did the day and time of day work for your family or would you schedule it differently next year? Are there adults-only events you’d like to go to that require lining up a babysitter? (That last one is directed at me. There’s a European-style Christmas market in St. Paul I would have loved to peruse with Mike, but I wasn’t up for trying to savor a glass of mulled wine with someone tugging on my sleeve that he’s hungry.)
- How did you decorate your Christmas tree? Do you need to replace any lights? Did you start any ornament-related traditions? Did your kids fight over whose ornaments go where? (Mine don’t yet have enough of their own ornaments to care, but growing up I remember my mom devising a system where my brother, sister, and I took turns getting the prime real estate at the center of the tree.)
- How do you feel about your gift-giving? Did you have the right amount of stuff for the kids? Too much? Was the present-opening process fun? (We take turns opening gifts one at a time and thanking the giver, and it makes the whole thing feel a bit calmer and more meaningful.) Who did you buy for outside your family, e.g. friends or teachers, and how much did you spend? How was the overall shopping process? (Supply chain issues might make you answer “HA!” in response to that question. We didn’t have too much trouble, but that’s likely because officesupply.com may not be the most conventional place to buy gifts for a 5-year-old. 😆) Any lessons learned?
- What types of cookies and other holiday treats did you make? Any new favorites? Any you’ve been making for awhile but realize no one would miss if you didn’t?
- What types of Christmas projects and activities did you do? Paper snowflakes, DIY ornaments, homemade gifts, donations or service projects, Advent calendars? Which of these did you enjoy? Are there preparations you could do earlier in the season to make them less stressful? There’s no rule homemade gifts can’t be made in September.
- How was Christmas Day? Highlights? Rough patches? If you hosted or spent the day at home with just your immediate family like we did, consider all the different aspects — food, ambiance if you hosted (music/fire in fireplace/candles, etc.), activities and when they took place, etc.
Remember that this reflection is not just about adding or maintaining activities, but also subtracting things that add work and stress without adequate pay-off. You want your December to be filled with merry-making and meaning, and that requires curating your to-do list accordingly.
Hope you find this exercise as helpful as I did. If you have any tips or tricks you learned this holiday season, please share them in the comments below!