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Do It Better: Simplifying the Holidays with Less Stress

By Joyce Venezia Suss

For many people, the main focus of the holiday season is religious. For others, it’s getting together with loved ones and special friends. Yet those priorities are often overshadowed by an intense personal effort to make everyone happy. You may end up exhausted and cranky.

To avoid holiday stress, give up perfection and focus only on the traditions you love. Talk with family members and friends about your wishes and compromise as much as possible.

If your cookies burn or the cat breaks some ornaments, step back and laugh. Make time to watch a holiday movie, take an invigorating walk among evergreens or play a board game with family or friends.

Adopt the mantra, “It’s good enough.” Bigger isn’t always better, whether it’s a tree, gift or special event. Holidays can be magical without excessive spending, or a frantic rush to cook, bake, buy and decorate. And as much as you want to create a magical holiday for young children, they can also get overwhelmed and overstimulated.

It’s OK to tweak some traditions to save time and energy. The Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes can become an easy, one-pot zuppa di pesce. Kids can still have fun decorating store-bought sugar cookies. A 4-foot Christmas tree can be just as magical as an 8-foot tree. And if you enjoy sending holiday cards, they don’t have to be mailed in December. How about New Year’s or Valentine’s Day cards?

One of the best ways to relieve holiday stress is to limit social media. Documenting your holiday spirit day by day – and comparing it to others – only creates stress, not simplicity.

Here are some suggestions to keep you in a festive – and calm – mood:


Holiday Gifts

  • Consider the Four Gift Challenge in which each child receives something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. It helps control spending, simplifies shopping and limits “too much stuff.” Some parents create their own variation, perhaps giving one larger present, adding several useful gifts like clothing, and some frivolous, inexpensive little gifts.
  • Set a realistic budget – and stick to it. Post-holiday debt brings even greater levels of stress.
  • Shop online, which often saves time and lets you compare prices. If you enjoy browsing in stores, arrive with a shopping list; shop early in the season; and shop during quieter weekday or evening hours.
  • Consider gifting a wonderful experience you can share in coming months: theater tickets, a visit to a museum or amusement park, a cooking class, etc. The recipient also has something to look forward to when the holidays are over.
  • For the most fulfilling feeling, donate your time and/or money to charities in need, and include your children in your acts of kindness. Gratitude is one of the best gifts you can receive, and it will make you feel wonderful.



  • Simple can be tasteful – and easier. Instead of stringing hundreds of holiday lights on every shrub and tree in your yard, concentrate on filling one larger shrub with an abundance of lights, to make a dramatic focal point.
  • Even simpler: Hang a stunning wreath on your front door and position a weatherproof spotlight on your lawn to highlight its beauty.
  • If you have a massive collection of ornaments, divide them into groups and rotate your collection each year. It adds an element of surprise every Christmas and makes it easier to see those pretty baubles among the branches.


Entertaining and Socializing

  • If you host a holiday meal, gratefully accept offers from guests who want to bring something. Plan a simple menu in advance so you can respond with your wish for a potato side dish, green salad, etc. If you have something specific in mind, offer them your recipe. A holiday meal does not have to be a gourmet extravaganza to be delicious.
  • For an easier celebration, host a holiday open house with desserts, drinks, coffee and eggnog. If you enjoy baking, put out some homemade treats. But if time is limited, quality store-bought desserts are just as sweet.
  • If you are invited to lots of holiday parties, select the ones you really want to attend and politely decline the rest.
  • Reconsider December. How about hosting a mid-winter social in January or February?


Ultimately, if you dread doing it, don’t do it. You are not required to bake, hang lights or spend hours finding the perfect gift. Give yourself a gift and downsize your holiday extravagance. It’s as simple as that.

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