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How To Save Your Jolly Happy Soul

Maybe I'm just speaking for myself, but all of the magical moments, family fun, and treasured traditions that abound this time of year can quickly turn into an overwhelming to-do list, exasperated events, and, honestly, resentment.

Our calendars are filled to capacity and beyond. We spend beyond our financial and physical limits. Suddenly we feel compelled to make things from scratch when our meals come from a box the rest of the year. The message we accept is one of needing to do, spend, drink, and consume more when I think most of us are aching for a story of rest, togetherness, and gratitude. As a recovering people pleaser and master of exceeding others' expectations, I feel qualified to share a few strategies for maintaining not just your sanity, but encouraging joy this holiday season.

I remember one December, being so utterly frustrated with my husband as I sat addressing Christmas cards - that I had styled and photographed our children for, designed, ordered, stuffed and stamped - while he sat watching football, seemingly oblivious to all my effort. I was mad because he wasn't helping me - with something I had decided to do.

I realized that I was the only one who had put this yoke on my neck. If there were family traditions that we decided were important to accomplish during the holiday season (e.g. seeing Santa) then we would plan and execute those together. Otherwise, if I felt the desire to add something to my to-do list, it would need to bring me joy directly (or indirectly through the joy of others), but it would be up to me to take on. Not that I wouldn't welcome help from my husband and kids, but I can't fault them for not wanting to help either.

The answer to the holicraze may not be as simple as "just say no". (Although one year I decided not to send Christmas cards, or maybe I sent them after New Year's. I can't remember because that's ultimately how little it matters!) There are some activities and traditions that you may just decline and that's okay. Others may be a bit more complicated to get out of or you do genuinely love, but are feeling up against your limits. Here are three examples of how to maintain your merry this year.

1. Sending holiday cards. If you love sending cards (even if it's purely because you love receiving them from others) make it an easy task. No professional photos of your family? No problem. I bet you've got dozens of great candid shots right on your phone that tell a better story than the posed ones anyway. Add those to a pre-designed card, plus your name, and done! Many sites offer to label and ship your cards directly for an added fee which may be worth it to you. If it's not, you can still send a beautiful greeting with a printed address label. Add all of your loved ones' and friends' addresses to a spreadsheet. Printing and sticking labels is often easier and faster than hand addressing the envelopes (which are immediately put in the trash anyway). Sure, calligraphy is pretty, but a free evening (or two) is prettier.

2. Delivering treats to your neighbors. I love my Grandma Landis's sand tarts, but I'm certain they require multiple days and 20 square feet of counter space to create. Why would I pressure myself to make these during the busiest time of year?! They will taste just as good in the spring or summer. My kids will feel equally as generous and delighted to help me bake and deliver cut-apart cookie dough to our friends. And those folks will feel loved and special too!

3. Hosting the big meal. We don't live near family and are typically the ones to travel on holidays. This Thanksgiving I watched women in my family prepare, serve, and clean up from dinners and I barely had a conversation with any of them. Their hands were busy with dishes instead of playing with my kids. I think it's a feeling of obligation to uphold traditions formed when generations lived in town together and big meals happened often. I'm hosting Christmas dinner and I intend to use every shortcut within my budget to make it easy for me. The menu will be limited (some store-bought), the plates may be disposable, and any dirty dishes can wait. I want to fill the hours with conversations, laughs and shared moments, not my poorly roasted meat.

The saying, "it's the thought that counts" is so relevant in this season. I encourage you, as I have and still do, to examine your calendar and to-do list with an eye on the thought behind each entry. Are you saying yes to an event because you think others will expect you to be there? Or does the thought of it excite you? Are you creating something or starting a "tradition" because it's trending? Or does it reflect the spirit you hope to share with others?

My goals for this season are to rest, focus on family, and express gratitude. I know I'll need to schedule and create boundaries on our time to ensure rest. We will say no to some social functions so that our family can be together as much as possible for our own memory making. And in each day I will find reasons to be grateful and express that love and gratitude toward others. That's my plan for making it the most wonderful time of the year.

What's yours?

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