For the first several years of my marriage, I found myself being the Grinch (only with a less green hue). As the mom and stepmom of four teens, I was in charge of making all the Christmas magic happen — and my bag of tricks was quickly running empty.
So I began to wonder: Why was I in charge of Christmas dinner … and Christmas shopping … and Christmas travel … and Christmas decorating … and really, Christmas everything?
It was about five years into my marriage when I had finally had enough.
"Why is everything Christmas up to me?" I asked. "I really wish you would help!" (OK, that may have sounded less conversational and more whiny than I'd expected.)
"You do?" My husband, Roger, asked as he stood there looking genuinely puzzled.
"Yes!" I said incredulously. Didn't he see how stressed I was every single year?
"But you've never said that you wanted help! In fact, you plan everything on your own. I would love to help," Roger explained. "I miss decorating the tree, but I figured you liked it a certain way, so I let you do it that way."
"Oh," was all I could give as a response.
So, for years I had been martyring myself for no good reason. I had been feeling so alone in making Christmas preparations, and apparently the rest of the family thought that was the way I preferred it.
It took me years to figure out there was a better way to get through the holiday season. By being a little more purposeful in our planning, not only were Roger and I on the same side of the holiday battle, but we actually started appreciating each other's gifts, talents and even our differing temperaments.
Now my husband and I not only discuss who is going to do what on the to-do list, but we also talk about what is important to each of us during the Christmas season. This has made all the difference in how we come out on the other side of the holidays — we choose to be blessed or we choose to be stressed. We choose whether we simply survive the holidays or if we enjoy each other and the rest of our family. When we spend just a little time planning together, each of us has the opportunity to enjoy what is important to us during the season. And that adds to our joy and peace throughout the coming weeks.
Get on the same page. Around Thanksgiving each year, Roger and I make a point to connect with each other and talk about what theme is important to us for the coming Christmas season. There have been years when peace was the word at the top of our theme list. During those years we decided to keep things simple, all the way down to ordering pizza from the takeout place around the corner as our Christmas Eve feast.
Maybe this year your focus needs to be about connecting with family. Or maybe, if your family has gone through some rough times, this year needs to be about restoring joy in your home. The most important part of choosing your theme is committing to agree on it together. If your wife is in desperate need of peace, perhaps this is not the year to take on all the neighbors in the Christmas Lights Annual Explosion Competition.
Here are some words to think about while you decide, as a couple, what is important to you this Christmas season:
Put some other things on hold. Part of the reason December can become so stressful is because we add an important holiday to our already busy everyday lives. Christmastime is a celebration worthy of our time and energy, so we need to ask ourselves if it is possible to pull back from some of our daily activities to create margin.
If you meet with the same group of guys to go running every week, can you take a couple of weeks off to make some room on your calendar? What about skipping book club one month to spend more time at home?
Disagree early. Where will you celebrate Christmas this year — at home, at your parents' house, with the in-laws? If this discussion has the potential to be tense, have the conversation in November and not December when emotions (and expectations) are running high.
Declutter now. Now is the time to deal with clutter in your home — long before you pull out all the Christmas decorations. Decorating on top of clutter is the perfect recipe for chaos. Take a couple of days to make sure your home is as tidy as possible. It will make decorating, and all your other holiday activities, much easier and much more fun for everyone.
Get a jump on the little things. There are plenty of small tasks you can do early to minimize the pressure as Christmas approaches. Here are a few simple things you can do now that you will thank yourself (and your spouse) for later:
- Make your Christmas card list.
- Order stamps from USPS.com.
- Gather your family's favorite holiday recipes.
- Order gifts online.
- Ship gifts to out-of-town friends and family.
Gather supplies. Don't wait until the last minute to dig for that lost pair of scissors or scrounge for last year's leftover boxes. Create a list together and then collect all your supplies into one convenient location. Don't forget the following:
- Scotch tape and mailing tape
- tissue paper
- wrapping paper
- gift bags
As a couple, you get to decide how much time is spent with family, and how much time is spent as a couple. Roger and I have made it a point to plan not just family activities, but also a few couple's activities. To the rest of the world, doing things like shopping for presents, wrapping gifts and preparing for holiday parties may look like an endless list of chores. But we prefer to think of these activities as dating with a purpose.
Here are some ideas to keep you organized and keep you close:
- Set a date to put your Christmas tree up and decorate it.
- Have a "food and finances" night. Review your Christmas budget, and, because you've done a hard thing (talking about money), celebrate by finding an inexpensive restaurant for dinner together.
- Look at holiday movies online and decide which ones you'd like to watch during December. Make a list and organize your on-demand choices, load up your Netflix queue or plan your Redbox rentals.
With a little planning and an intentional goal of being organized, you can also stay connected as a couple as you prepare for the holidays together. Consider making it a goal that you and your spouse will find yourselves closer to each other on December 26 than you were at the start of the month.Kathi Lipp is the author of Get Yourself Organized for Christmas: Simple Steps to Enjoying the Season.