Twelve Months of Christmas
Planning and Enjoying Christmas All Year Long
I love Christmas but I never feel like I have enough time to do all the fun activities I want to do. Therefore I came up with the idea of making Christmas a year long planning event which would serve to give you more time to enjoy it during December, but also tap into the magical spirit of Christmas* throughout the year.
And so I give you the Twelve Months of Christmas. Who knows, maybe organizing Christmas will help you organize other parts of your life as well.
*Note: For me the spirit of Christmas is not about any one religious tradition. I use the term to encompass all rituals and faiths and celebrations centered around the Winter Solstice.
And another note: I am from mainly German and Scottish ancestry, living in the upper Midwest of the United States where winters are cold and snowy. So the vintage images illustrating this lens fit my Christmas traditions perfectly. However, I love to learn about other cultures and customs and would love to hear about them in the comments section at the end of the lens.
After the New Year's parties have faded into memory and all the extended Christmases are finished, sit down with a notebook and the last cup of eggnog and make notes about what worked and what didn't work during the holidays. If you want to make changes, now is the time to do it while it's all fresh in your mind. There may be some things you can let go of entirely and others you may want to expand on. From these notes will come your master plan.
Get out any Christmas magazines, books and cookbooks you have and browse through them to see if there are any new things you want to try. Picking something new when the magazines first hit the stands when you are already pressed for time ...well, you can see how that goes.
Mindmapping is a useful way to get your thoughts and ideas out on paper. Rather than trying to make a linear list you start in the middle and then branch out as ideas pop into your head. Doing it on paper with colored markers is a lot of fun, but I use Freemind software (which is free) too.
Make Your Master Plan
From all of your notes above, make a list of the elements of your holidays that you want to include. Now, go back through your list and mark each thing with either an H for high importance or an L for low importance. If you're on the fence about some, put an M for maybe include.
Next to your high importance items add another note about who it's important to. The holidays end up being all about other people, sometimes for reasons that just add to the stress levels. Once you have a list of the most important things to YOU, place them on a separate piece of paper. Draw a box around it with stars and hearts. This is your absolute must do list that you'll refer to as you plan out your year of Christmas.
"But what about my kids and my spouse and my parents and siblings and friends and...?" you say. Trust me, if you are getting what you need and are more happy and relaxed, everybody else is going to be too. But there's something else you can do. Involve everybody you know in this entire process. Have each of your kids do it, as well as your spouse. If nothing else, you will certainly learn a lot about each other and what's important in many ways, not just Christmas. Also, when you go to plan your monthly Christmas Day or however you choose to do it, everybody will be on the same page. For instance, if you decide to make jams in August when fruit is at it's peak to give as gifts your kids may decide that's a good idea and do it, too. Or, if they want to do something else, you can all do similar activities on the same day.
I want to caution you against deciding what's best for all the members of the family. I know that a lot of the time Mom gets stuck with all of it and/or it seems more efficient to just do it and get it done. Try not to. Make the planning a party in itself and get everybody involved. There may be grumbling at first but it could become a way to extend the bonding that happens at Christmas into the entire year.
Having said all that, obviously you can't plan for everything a year in advance, but now you have a list of some things that you know will be a part of the holidays no matter what. With a calendar in front of you, you can have a pretty accurate picture of what amount of time you have to devote to each element of your holiday. Some things in your life may change, but most of them won't that much. Be realistic about the time you have to spend on these activities. You may find this changes some of your high priority items, but I would encourage you to find a way to make time for these to avoid feeling disappointed later. A lot of this Christmas stuff goes far into our psyches and certain expectations are deep seated. Your high priority list should reflect these expectations and they are to be honored as much as possible.
Also, you don't have to plan everything at once. You can plan to plan! For instance you can plan menus in February, parties in March, and so on.
Decide on Your Budget Now
"What?" I hear some of you saying. "What about the spontaneity of Christmas? What about that special widget that's bound to pop up at the end of the year that my kids will have to have?" Listen...do you really want to have extra debt next January? In today's economy? And economy or not, I think it's time a lot of us (myself included) grow up and find better ways to channel our need for impulsive spending. A lot of the stress of Christmas comes from getting caught up in wanting to make things magical and losing control of common sense. By having lot of the work done months in advance you can actually enjoy the magic of just sitting and enjoying the decorations, talking to your holiday guests, decorating cookies for the fun of it, etc., rather than relying on the atmosphere of the decorated stores to create the magic for you.
Hit the White Sales
January is traditionally the time of year (in the US, at least) when bedding and towels go on sale. Although styles and color trends change from year to year, picking up some Egyptian cotton 300 count sheets in solid colors at 30% off or more are sure to make great gifts any time (don't forget those summer weddings). In fact, it might be a good idea to just make an annual practice of replacing your own bedding and towels in January.
Your Master Plan Is Your New Best Friend
Once you have it started don't let it sit and gather dust until the next Christmas rolls around. Refer to it weekly throughout the year to help you stay focused. You may find that it generates spinoffs for organizing other parts of your life if you make working with it a habit.
Storing Your Tree (or not!)
If you happen to have an artificial tree, instead of putting it away each year you can put it in the corner of a guest bedroom and turn it into an all year holiday tree. I think a Valentine's Day tree would be great, decorated with red, pink and white and heart shaped ornaments and Valentine's Day cards. If you celebrate Easter you could have an Easter tree with bunnies, chicks, flowers and eggs. Or just crosses. At Memorial Day you could decorate it with pictures of people who have passed that you want to honor. And so on. All that celebrating may seem over the top for some of you, but I think we don't celebrate enough in our culture. We tend to think it's just for little kids. The fact is, we're all still little kids in a way due to the way our brain is organized and our general well being is directly impacted by how much we create rituals to acknowledge happy events.
Plan Your Menus
I think after February when spring is just around the corner it gets more difficult to think about cooking winter meals. So I suggest you plan your menus for next Christmas now while there's not much else to do anyway (outside of school activities). I would get together a folder with a different page for each menu. Make one each for your main Christmas meals and any parties you may have, and then some extras just in case something else pops up. Collect all your recipes with the menu or note in which cookbook they are and what page. It should be more fun because you won't have the same deadline pressure. There will be time to dream and create.
Plan the kind of Christmas gathering you want to have. If you've managed to enroll your family and friends in on this planning process, this is a time to get together and iron out the details. The menus (that you've already made), the decorations, who is invited (generally, sometimes), the date, the invitations. In fact, if you want to make the invitations as a craft project, this is a great time for it. If you aren't exactly sure of the date, make it fill in the blank.
Make Your Wish List
Making a list for Santa may have more power than we realize. There has been a lot written about how if you want something to happen, write it down first. There are many places online now where you can make public wish lists. Apparently on Amazon you can now even put things on your Wish List from other places. Kaboodle is a shopping centered social bookmarking site where you can collect all your favorite things and comment on them. If you like pictures more, make a Vision Board.
This may seem like a frivolous, self-indulgent exercise but I think it can be hard to know what you really want. Taking the time to start and maintain a wish list in a fun way is a good tool to identify and reinforce what you really value. Again, do this with your entire family although make a rule about no judging or negative comments allowed. This is a way to let the magic and light of Christmas into your life.
Put Things on Layaway
Now that you have everybody's wish list go shopping and put expensive items on layaway now. Of course, if you have an unlimited budget this does not apply to you. Or if you have decided to pare back on your spending. But if you do want to get some expensive things you can do it this way and have it all paid for by Christmas without any extra fees.
Plan Handmade Gifts
I've been into the arts and crafts all my life and usually try to make something at Christmas time. It would be good if I would start planning this far in advance, especially for things like quilts (even small ones). Even though summer time means spending more time outside there is still some times when I've had enough sun and I need to retreat inside. So plan what you're going to make and make appointments to work on them in your calender including the date that you'll be finished by.
Map Out Your Decorating Scheme
Plan where you are putting your Christmas tree, what lights or other decorations you are going to put up. Make a map to refer to later.
Buy Christmas Lights, Ornaments, and Other Decorations
I know it may seem crazy, but now thanks to eBay and Amazon and websites dedicated to Christmas decorations, you can buy all of these things on your schedule and stay within your budget. Collectibles have no season.
Make Ornaments and Other Decorations
Plan to work on your Must Have decorations this month. It can be a fun part of the Christmas season to spend an afternoon making paper ornaments, but plan it so that it's purely for fun and doesn't really matter if they get finished or not.
Make Way For the New
Now you have your wish list and you are expecting some new things in your life. Maybe they aren't even physical new things. Either way it's time to clean house. Be thinking about what you need to do to have a place to put your gifts to come.
Also, how often do the holidays roll around and you wish you'd done some deep cleaning or finished some house maintenance before guests arrive? Some of you may be really organized and stay on top of things, but I'm pretty sure that like me, most of you have some things you put off until it's too late. Spend this month taking care of those things.
This seems to be another task that gets put off and then when it's time to get photos together at the holidays to either make gifts or share with family and friends there is chaos. By now you should have a good collection of images from the year so far so why not get them in order?
Make Scrapbooks, Calendars, T-shirts, etc.
Scrapbooks, even small ones, make great heirloom gifts. But they can be time consuming. Digital scrapbooking is faster but still they take a lot of creative juice. Now that you have your photos organized, though, you can use them to start scrapbooking. You could order t-shirts, calendars, mugs and even skateboards from places like Zazzle and Cafepress with your images on them to give as gifts.
Preserve Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
These days people are getting back into DIY, or Do It Yourself, activities. When I was growing up here in Iowa everybody had a vegetable garden and some fruit trees or bushes. Whatever was surplus got shared around. My mom and grandma spent a lot of time canning and freezing the abundance and I have to say there is nothing like home grown food in the middle of the winter. I'd be thrilled if somebody gave me frozen pints of locally grown strawberries or corn as a gift. You could make jams, sauces, and syrups, too.
Make a Christmas Niche
In some small corner somewhere in your home, start a christmas niche by placing a bowl of ornaments or an angel figurine with a small string of lights or a candle. The days are getting shorter by now and it's time to start inviting the Christmas light into your home in this small way. You can keep adding to it as time progresses, sort of like an extended Advent Calender. This would also be a good place to keep the wish lists, perhaps in a special gift box.
Check Your Wardrobe
If you need anything special to wear for Christmas, now is the time to be thinking about it.
Wrapping paper can start showing up in the stores in October, at least in the US. Like other Christmas decorations, though, you can also find some online.
Make or Buy Christmas Cards
Mail Christmas Cards and Newsletters
If you do a yearly newsletter, make notes of highlights throughout the year as they happen. There are places where you can make online scrapbooks and journals, such as Myebook.
Start the Holiday Baking
Some cookies and candies can be frozen ahead of time, and some things like fruitcake and rum balls need time to age. I always think I'm going to bake closer to Christmas but I always run out of time. The plan here is to get all the must do things done before December as much as possible.
Like making wish lists, it is said that consciously being grateful can increase your overall abundance and even your sense of well being. The woman who created Thanksgiving (in the US) may have been more on target than she knew. What better time to stop and be grateful for what you do have than right before a flurry of incoming gifts?
By now you should have pretty much everything in hand. You may want to get your decorations up in November, or you may want to make that a special part of December (with plan in hand!). Combine two things and have a decorating party. Combine three things and have a cookie decorating party.
At any rate, enjoy your holiday season with the confidence of knowing that you have designed the best one ever!