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Preparing for the Holiday Season with Your Family

By Emily Mall

Posted on November 6, 2023

A familiy exchanging gifts around a Christmas tree
A familiy exchanging gifts around a Christmas tree
A familiy exchanging gifts around a Christmas tree

The weekend before Halloween, stores like Target have already turned over their seasonal aisles from scary costumes and giant bags of candy to Christmas tree ornaments and rolls of wrapping paper. It’s equal parts impressive and daunting.

Every year, we expect the holiday season to be a time of joy, togetherness, and celebration. It's a cozy time when families come together to create cherished memories, exchange gifts, and share delicious meals. However, preparing for the holiday season can be a hectic and stressful endeavor, especially if you're not organized, if you are doing everything yourself, or if you are someone who feels the pressure of being responsible for everyone’s happiness.

North Shore Pediatric Therapy says: “It is crucial to recognize your expectations for the holidays and identify helpful communication strategies to make time with family the ideal picture of perfection.”

I don’t know about trying to achieve the “ideal picture of perfection,” but I do want to achieve a fun, stress-free holiday season. Thus, in the same spirit of holiday preparation and readiness as retail stores, Dan and I decided to talk about the upcoming holiday season earlier than we have in the past. I even put up the holiday decorations in our home already. 😀

Planning Ahead

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Before the holiday season kicks off, we decided to discuss our holiday season goals and expectations at our November MFP (Monthly Family Party): 

Here’s how it went: 

  1. We started out by letting the kids grab some of their Halloween candy. 

  2. We let the kids know that we were going to talk about upcoming holiday plans, and if they needed to talk about anything else, that was fine, too. 

  3. We asked them a few questions:

    • What do you like to eat or not eat on Thanksgiving? We all shared how we don’t really like turkey, and agreed to not have it this year. The kids said they really don’t like the “stuffing” part, either. Our youngest volunteered to make mashed potatoes and cornbread. 

    • What did you get for Christmas last year? The kids could only remember one present, and a few of the holiday candies they got in their stockings. This was interesting information.

    • Do you have any ideas of what you’d like to do on Christmas? Both of the kids agreed they liked hanging out and doing things with us, like playing games and spending the day together.

    • Do you have any ideas of what you’d like to do after Christmas until you go back to school? The kids shrugged. I expressed how uncomfortable I am when we don’t have plans for the stretch of time between Christmas and when they go back to school. With nothing scheduled, the break tends to drag on like an unscheduled summer vacation, the house gets turned upside down, and the kids end up on screens more than anything else. Instead, we decided that maybe we’d fly or take a road trip and head south this year. Over the next few weeks of November, we’d all do some Google searching to see if there is anything we’d like to do and or see, and discuss it at our December MFP and finalize our plans. Including the kids in planning has worked really well in the past. They’ve even created powerpoints to show their findings and convince the family to choose their ideas!

We’ve found that the more the kids get involved in holiday preparation and planning, the more excited and involved they are, and the less whining or complaining.

Create a Holiday Calendar 

Make a list of important dates, including when you plan to decorate, send out holiday cards, host gatherings, and engage in festive activities. Having a holiday calendar will help you stay organized and ensure that you don't miss anything important.

Preparation and planning for the holiday season ahead of time also gives extended family members a heads up on your plans. Once you know what is important to you and your immediate family, it becomes easier to make decisions with extended family. If their plans don’t align with yours, that’s okay! You can agree to do something together with them at a different time that works for you both, or even promise to do something special next year together.

Budget Wisely

The holiday season can be expensive, so establish a budget for gifts, decorations, and festivities. Sticking to a budget will help you avoid financial stress and overspending. This is also a great topic to discuss with your family at your MFP. Give everyone a budget, or share what the budget is this year with them. Let your kids know what to expect this holiday season.

A lot of parents experience anxiety about their kids heading back to school and feeling embarrassed because they didn’t receive a massive amount of gifts, celebrate the holidays like everyone else, or get the most popular toy that year. Dare to be different, and don’t pass on that anxiety to your kids. 

Your kids can tell stories about their awesome family trip instead of bragging about their Xbox. They can talk about meeting their baby cousin for the first time instead of listing all the toys they got (they probably won’t remember them anyways around this time next year). When they get back to school, they can tell everyone how they learned how to make pie with their grandma, stayed up until 1am on New Year’s Eve, went to see the light show at the zoo, or made something special for their family members. 

As parents, we set the tone and model to our kids that it’s okay to be different, and it’s okay if other families are different than ours.

Declutter and Prepare Your Home

Declutter and Clean

A clean and organized home can greatly enhance the holiday experience. Before decorating, declutter common areas and deep-clean your space. This will make it easier to decorate, to keep the house clean and not get overwhelmingly messy while everyone's home for the holidays, and will create a welcoming environment for guests.

Decorate Mindfully

Get your family involved in decorating the house. Whether it's putting up the tree, hanging lights, or crafting homemade ornaments, decorating as a family can be a delightful tradition that adds a personal touch to your home. Since we have multiple artificial trees in our home, I personally like the forest feel of just the green with the twinkle lights. (I especially enjoy the time saved by not decorating them and un-decorating them!) Since the kids like them decorated with ornaments, they are in charge of decorating them, taking the ornaments down, and storing them.

Gift Giving and Shopping

Start Early

To reduce holiday stress, begin your gift shopping early. Create a list of recipients and ideas for gifts. Starting early allows you to take advantage of sales and discounts. Explore online shopping options and local stores for unique gifts. Consider supporting local businesses to add a personal and community-oriented touch to your gift-giving.

Starting early isn’t something that I'm especially good at (I often forget what I’ve bought and what I haven’t) but on the occasions that I can do it ahead of time and stay organized, I really enjoy not paying extra for last minute shipping and not getting stressed out with last minute shopping.

Consider Homemade Gifts

Encourage your family to create homemade gifts. These can be more meaningful and can save money. A win-win! Baking, crafting, and creating personalized gifts can be a fun family activity. Having their art or school photos framed, handmade keychains or candles, or a basket of homemade cookies or bread can make great gifts!

Holiday Traditions

Family Traditions

Embrace and create family traditions that make the holiday season special. Whether it's baking cookies, watching classic holiday movies, or volunteering together, these traditions will bring your family closer.

Personally, I am not traditional. I love the idea of creating new memories every year, something that makes each year stand out from the rest. I’m fine with incorporating old traditions for the sake of my kids who love them and to instill a sense of identity and connection, but it is still important to me that each year we do something different. Over the years on Christmas day, I’ve hosted a family talent show, had a cookie bake-off contest, directed a home movie based off of the children's book, Dinosaurs Love Underpants, and celebrated the holidays traveling.

Time Management and Self-Care

Set Realistic Expectations

Be realistic about your commitments and time. Don't overcommit to too many parties, events, or activities. It's important to balance quality time with family and self-care. Delegate tasks to other family members. Have your spouse be in charge of the present purchases or stocking stuffers. Ask your oldest kid to be in charge of activities for the day. Have a potluck lunch or dinner if you will have guests over. Or just order in. If you are able, hire house cleaners, a party planner, or catering. You do not have to do everything yourself!

Self-Care for Parents

Parents often get caught up in holiday preparations and can feel overwhelmed. Remember to prioritize self-care, including setting aside time for relaxation, exercise, and personal hobbies. You deserve gifts, too!

Giving Back

Help this season lean less towards materialism and more towards family and connection. Talk to your family about what it means to receive tangible gifts, and what it means to receive intangible gifts. When you teach your kids the importance of giving over receiving, you are setting them up for a lifetime of physical and psychological benefits. 

Consider spending time volunteering as a family during the holiday season. It's a wonderful way to teach your children about the importance of giving back and helping those in need. Bake treats for your local animal shelter, start a food drive, collect jackets, or sing carols at a nursing home and visit folks without families.

The key to a successful and enjoyable holiday season is first determining what is most important to you and your family. Then, with intentional planning, your holiday season will be not only stress-free, but also full of love, warmth, and lasting memories. 

May your family's holiday season be joyful and filled with the spirit of giving and gratitude.

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