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Thanksgiving weekend nearly always coincides with John’s November 28 birthday, a fact which makes his choice of pear pie over birthday cake both a welcome and easy change of traditional pace. Not this year. This year, he was able to take advantage of Black Friday sales to get all his birthday shopping done. (Reasons our marriage works #76.) We’ve already eaten through the turkey leftovers and we are still a full month away from Christmas.

What sort of Christmas Elf wizardry is this?

I’m guessing it is some kind of planetary alignment that causes this to happen once every seven years or so, but I’m calling this extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas the daylight savings of holidays, and plan to take full advantage of it.

Because, like I write about every single year, it is difficult to enjoy the magic of Christmas when you also must be the writer, producer, and creative director of the magic of Christmas. Let’s face it. I seem to have more mom-on-mom conversations about dreading the holidays than I do about looking forward to them. Maybe it was exactly this way for our parents, but it is a reality that is only getting worse with time.

Real Simple actually has a holiday prep checklist you can download here. Spoiler alert: the very last item on what appears to be at least 30 things to do is “Sit back and relax: enjoy your family and friends and relish the traditions you share.” Can we call flipping out once every 48 hours at our kids or spouse a tradition? Or must we simply resign ourselves to the fact that, like the actual eating of the Thanksgiving meal, the Christmas prep-time to enjoyment-time ratio is about 24:1.

I swear it doesn’t have to be like this.

But things aren’t going to happen on their own either.

A big part of it is changing my things-to-do attitude to a spirit of enjoyment. Can I be the first to admit that this is actually difficult for me? I’ve never been a procrastinator, but that doesn’t mean that prepping for major exams or tackling semester long projects wasn’t still a dark and very focused hole I went into and only managed to enjoy when grades came out.

If I’m ever going to truly appreciate the reason for the season, it is going to take a complete rewiring on my exceedingly Type A (and possibly OCD) brain.

But this, I believe, is possible with practice. And practice it, I will. I am also somewhat convinced that if I am going to be stressed out by a seemingly endless list of things that probably should get done, it serves me well to enter my hole and accept the stress early, and potentially prolong the enjoyment of the grade. So here’s how I plan to make use of my extra week of holiday prep this year.

Claire’s Christmas Checklist:

A Guide to Eminent Holiday Happiness

  1. Create and share my Christmas checklist on Quip with John, and avoid the impending burn out and resentment that used to happen before I chose to speak my husband’s language. Total time: 15 minutes.
  2. Hike the scary hidden ladder to the bonus attic and select the perfect (only) artificial Christmas tree, adorn it, add some wreaths and candles to the windows, and deck the halls with our one Sterilite box of Christmas decorations. Total time: 3 hours.
  3. Reserve Christmas picture books at the library. This was one of those little things I added last year and I’m so glad I did. I used this list for ideas and then found dozens more thanks to the electronic Dewey Decimal system. Total time: as long as I want.
  4. Get the bulk (if not all) of my Christmas shopping done on Cyber Monday. I cannot stress this one enough, and in my experience over the last 5 years, unless you have one very specific good deal item for Black Friday, the Cyber Monday sales are exactly as good as Black Friday. On top of sales, lack of crowds, and shopping in my PJ’s with coffee, another bonus: Ebates rebates go up to 10% cash back for most stores. Total time: TBD.
  5. Coordinate the calendar, and plan one fun family outing each week leading up to Christmas. The fact is, my kids are going to go bananas with or without any additional excitement leading up to the big day. But for us, putting something on the calendar each week (and not surprising them) gives them something to channel that excitement into. It also gives us some behavioral leverage when every single daily chore is filtered through undeveloped brains on Christmas crack. Nobody said memory-making cannot be effectively masked as bribery. (Or maybe “incentive” is a better word.) Total time: ongoing.

And that is pretty much it. I admit I only made one kind of Christmas cookie last year, despite all sorts of goals, and it turned out to be okay. We still do not have a “traditional” meal that we serve every year on Christmas, and that’s okay too (though stuffed mushrooms and Bloody Mary’s seem to make it on the menu every year without fail). This year my kids will likely be re-wearing their Christmas PJ’s from last year because they undoubtedly still fit, and purchasing the movie Elf was one of the better moments I’ve had in the middle of a summer on Ebay. I’m not sure it can be watched too many times.

For those of us fighting the commercial and consumer driven comparison-culture to do and buy and be everything for our kids in the name of Santa, I appreciate any and all stories from the motherhood trenches of things that are working. And I hope that you will join me in spending this extra prep-week productively, especially if it means getting to that “relax and enjoy” checkbox a little quicker.

Some Christmas Books that Do Not Disappoint

Even if you don’t have kids, do yourself a favor and get this.

My all time favorite Christmas book.

A gag gift one year at my parent’s house that I can’t un-remember. So many funny lines in this book.

Beating the Holiday Blues

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