Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Sanity in 10 Easy Steps

Following our Thanksgiving travel, I've had some time to ruminate on the 2010 holiday season, and wanted to share my thoughts on how to up the sanity and actual cheer this holiday season, while minimizing the tinsel (and/or menorah) induced craziness.   Friends, here is my official 2010 guide to holiday bliss:

10.  You know what?  You don't have to do everything.  You don't have to do anything! You don't have to send holiday cards, you don't have to throw or attend any parties, and you don't have to cook anything you don't feel like cooking.  The original idea behind all of these holiday-related traditions was to bring/spread joy.  When things start feeling like obligations instead of joy-enhancing activities, that is the time to scratch them off the list.  Choose to do just one, or even none, and let yourself off the hook.  You'll be surprised how quickly the holiday spirit washes over you.

9.  No matter your religion, none of the winter holidays are truly about gifts.  Why not simplify your list?  This year, my family has instituted a kind of (non)Secret (Jewish)Santa system where each of the adults is only giving to one other adult instead of everyone trying to buy for everyone.  I used this Secret Santa Random Name Generator website to orchestrate our gift exchange.  Not only are the randomly-generated pairs going to help us get to know our brother-in-laws better: I pulled my sister's hubby, for example, and most years I get "them" something with my sister in mind ;)... now I have to really think about what he would like for himself, and that's kinda cool; on top of that unintended perk, all of our holiday budget and time pressure was just instantly minimized as well.  Everyone is happy, and what better way to start the holiday season?

8. Declare December to be One Pot Dinner month.  Everyone seems to be busier this month, and it's not the time to turn into the Weeknight Gourmet.  Bring on the Quickie Indian nights!  Better yet, have a big yummy salad for dinner at least once a week; it'll combat the effects of all the office treats and candy, and is ready in five minutes flat.  Buy some good bread to go alongside and you're done.  Look for more easy dinner ideas here as the month continues; I've got loads.

7.  Consider buying your gifts handmade on Etsy.com.  Not only will you support small businesses run by amazing craftspeople (like my lovely cousin Allison or talented friend Amy) instead of big corporations, you can also complete all (or almost all) of your shopping from the comfort of your couch, with a dirty martini in hand, on one blissfully Silent Night... no parking or battling the mall crowds... just put on your favorite holiday tunes and point and click your way to shopping nirvana. 

6.  Speaking of holiday tunes, nothing grounds me or lifts my spirit like music.  There are all kinds of amazing playlists to checkout and download on iTunes... the husband and I used these playlists to come up with our own comprised completely of Motown and Reggae holiday tunes a few years ago.  We burned copies for gifts and they were a huge hit.  Another option?  Stream holiday music from Pandora.com on your laptop... it's a great way to discover new music, boost your mood, and get in a holiday frame of mind.

5.  When/if you fly with a toddler: dig deep for patience, remember to stay on the same team with your partner, dress the whole family in clothes and shoes that will be easy on the security experience (no belts is helpful, and, yes, they make a 19-month-old take off his shoes for security lest he be a tiny shoe bomber in training... sigh), hydrate, fortify yourself with snacks, and pack a plane bag loaded for bear (changes of clothes for all, snacks, drinks, coloring stuff, favorite books, and in our case, a certain Thomas the Tank Engine DVD was worth its weight in gold).  If possible, don't fly Southwest.  The cattle call system is not, I repeat NOT, toddler-friendly.  Also, when flying in general, try to remember that everyone around you is just another human being trying to get somewhere, as infuriating as each and every one of them may be (I'm talking to you, man shoving that ridiculous bag in the overhead bin... check the damn thing!!!).

4. Two words: Trader Joe's.  They have fantastic (and fantastically affordable) dips, cheeses and charcuterie, not to mention great wine, beer and bubbly.  TJ's is one-stop shopping for a budget-friendly, low-stress holiday soiree.  Forget the stuffy dinner party and do SMJ's favorite: dinner of appetizers! And don't forget: you can't go wrong with pigs-in-a-blanket and deviled eggs (the sleeper hits of any appetizer party).

3.  Kill 'em with kindness.  This time of year is hell for customer service people of all stripes.  From the airline ticket agent to the checkout gal, they've all pretty much had it.  Maybe you have too, but why not be the person who smiles, is polite, and makes their day a little better?  Kindness is contagious.  Just sayin'.

2.  Keep it all in perspective, people.  While in St. Louis, we took little J to the fabulous train room at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  While there, I spied a woman so dead-set on getting a Christmas card photo of her perfectly costumed and coiffed girls, that I don't think those little gals even got a chance to look at the trains.  Boo.  Let's try not to get so wrapped up in holiday perfection that we forget what really matters.  Like having fun. 

1.  Make time to exercise.  This is truly my number one piece of advice.  Exercise is everything.  A run or a yoga class can turn your whole day/week/month around, and now is the time of year when we are most apt to let exercise fall by the wayside in favor of holiday chores and parties and the kind of laziness that just naturally sets in as the year reaches its darkest point.  Do yourself a favor and just continually move that run or walk to the top of the list.  Endorphins=sanity, pure and simple.  This I know for sure.

What is your secret for holiday sanity?  Please share!


  1. great post SMJ. All good advice that I will take to heart. It is a bit easier for me this year having time off (maternity leave) during the holidays and having a little one that loves to sleep in her car seat so shopping excursions in the middle of the week to uncrowded malls have been quite pleasant. I feel like our social calendar has taken a bit of a dive and I am ok with that. Cozzying up at home with the fam is what it is all about this holiday season.

    I will be sure to slip away to yoga and go for a quick jog to keep my spirits even higher and start trying to get rid of the baby weight that remains.

    Thanks for the travel tips too.

    I hope to make this holiday season truly enjoyable and memorable sans the craziness.

    Love you all and Happy Holidays- truly enjoy.


  2. So wonderful! I take to heart #10, #7, #6, and #2.

    Your posts are so good that they are worth a re-read when times get tough, to help re-center oneself.

    Happy Holidays to you and your amazing family! We love you guys.