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Joy-Filled and Frazzle-Free: This Holiday, Don’t Do It All

Photo by Sean Locke / Stocksy United
Photo by Sean Locke / Stocksy
By  Anna Sachse

For me, the onset of the holiday season always signifies cozy sweaters, steaming mugs of tea, and an Everest-sized list of (supposedly) cheer-filled tasks that I will undoubtedly fail to surmount: a thousand-and-one ornament crafts I can do with my kids, churning out 27 pans of English toffee for co-worker gifts, fitting in a few special holiday rituals (Tickets to the Nutcracker matinee! A ride on the Polar Express! Snowshoeing with toddlers!), devising the world’s best/most unique holiday card, making a pinecone-squirrel nativity scene centerpiece, and ho-ho-ho-ho so much more.

It all sounds so fun—right around October 15. But by December 15, the mad dash to fit it all in while continuing to, you know, work and shower and feed my children something other than banana peels for dinner can really take the fa-la-la-la-la out of my sails. Big-Gulp-sized eggnog lattes and Pinterest benders can only get you so far.

So this year I’ve decided to give myself an early holiday gift: permission to not do it all.

My thinking here is that maybe a little less glitter in the mix will allow the things I can do to really sparkle. Holding my daughters’ little hands and sharing their wonder while we look at someone else’s elaborate Christmas-lights display, or toasting with spiced cider as we make our own wrapping paper (it involves paper and paint, people, that’s it) for gifts entirely bought online—these moments of joyful togetherness are what the holiday spirit is really all about.

Because I’m a generous gal, I’d like to give you the same gift: You really don’t have to do it all. I know that’s easier said than done, so here are a few “You can (not) do it!” golden rules:

1. Take short cuts.

Example: Making a gingerbread house entirely from scratch is an amazing holiday experience (check out this how-to). For a simple homemade gift, use Crayola Air-Dry Clay instead of attempting your own temperamental salt dough. Even easier? Visit a nearby paint-your-own-pottery shop: A serving bowl with my younger daughter’s footprints on the bottom was a big hit with her grandparents last year.

2. Strip down.

When it comes to special events, that is. Holiday parties, those Nutcracker tickets, the tree-lighting ceremonies, visiting Santa, sledding that requires a schlep to the mountains … it all adds up. My advice is to pick three to commit to—and really relish them. If you happen to do more, fantastic!

3. Think minimalist.

Projects with your kiddos don’t have to be fancy or complicated to be fun. For instance, I just made paper snowflakes for the first time with my 4-year-old. While I got all Edward Scissorhands with mine, she simply folded circles into quarters and cut off the corners. The results were more like damaged snowballs than delicate flakes, but she was awestruck every time she unfolded one. She could have done it for hours. A blizzard of those charmers taped to the windows and walls will make things feel festive in no-time, no boughs of holly required.

4. Be picky.

Focus your energy on what you really love. If you love to bake, get everyone aproned up and have at it with the homemade sugar cookies and peppermint-bark brownies—and then order all your presents off Amazon. If you’re more of the crafty type, invite your kids to help you make gifts like Real Simple’s homemade bath salts or pretty pots for house plants—and toast your work with store-bought cookies from a tin.

5. I can’t think of any clever way to say this, so I’ll be blunt: Don’t stress about your holiday card.

You don’t even have to send one at all. If you do want to send one, it can be late—many of my friends end up sending “Happy New Year!” cards, or even Valentine’s cards with the same family photos you’d see at Christmas. If you really want to do it, enlist the help of a service like TinyPrints or Shutterfly and know that the more expensive versions won’t automatically entail a more prominent spot on other folk’s fridges. And don’t overthink the images. Last year my husband and I let my then 3-year-old take a picture of us for our card with my phone—it’s blurry, off-center, and I think neither of us showered that day. It was also absolutely perfect.

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