Lane and Joy, Christmas 2013I would loved to have entitled this entry “Eliminating Holiday Stress,” but that would be a big, fat lie and virtually impossible. With shopping, cooking, family, friends, work, events, etc., not all the Hallmark movies and eggnog in the world could make up for the inevitable stresses brought on this time of year.

My husband and I were talking last week about how easy it was back when we were dating in college. Everyone was just glad to see you, so all you did was buy a few small gifts (since you’re in college with limited income) and show up for dinner. Nobody expected you to cook or buy them a nice gift, and your parents still put your name on their Christmas cards. You usually had about two full weeks with nothing to do or nowhere to go. You had more time than money, but little stress.

Then you’re in your mid-twenties, you’re married, and your paychecks contain commas. Suddenly you are asked to bring something (even if it’s just a drink or bread), and you automatically have a more extensive shopping list and are expected to send out your own cards. Not to mention the decisions of when you go where, since you are now traveling together as a married couple. You have more money than time, but stress is rising.

Now we are in our 30s with a 2-year-old son. I have become well acquainted with all the Christmas cartoon specials and childhood traditions, and find myself putting him at the top of my shopping list (in addition to everyone else). I am now getting requests to make sweet potato casserole, and everyone expects an adorable Christmas card featuring our child. Time and money both seem short this time of year, which of course piles the stress on like a snow never seen in Alabama.

Needless to say, stress cannot be escaped over Christmastime. Yet, I do believe it can be minimized, even if just the tiniest bit. Every year I ask my family to please forego gifts, as none of us need anything, but I would probably have better luck convincing my dog to get a part-time job. So if the food, parties, gifts (and people) won’t go away, how can the stress?

Here are a few practices I have found helpful for relieving stress during the holidays:

1-Say No: Not all the time, and not to everything, but do say “no” now and then. This is hard for me especially as I love people and socializing. However, I have had to turn down at least two parties and a dinner since November that I really wanted to attend. Not to mention a wedding and some birthday parties my son was invited to attend. Chances are, all of us will have at least two events that fall on the same date, possibly at the same time. Send a gift or catch up with the person hosting at a later date. You cannot be everywhere all the time, especially if you work and have a family.

2-Set a Budget and Plan Ahead: Each year my husband and I count on spending a certain amount on each person and try our best to stick with that budget. Now that I have a child old enough to want presents, I plan to do even better next year by practicing what I say I need to do each December. That is to buy items throughout the year as I come across things I know someone would want/need/like. This will feel less financially draining at the year’s end, and they will probably get more thoughtful creative gifts as well since I am not rushed. Plus, I have a leg up as an editor for a major shopping site (

adam_samberg_marthastewart3-Screw Being Martha Stewart: I am by no means a great, good or even acceptable cook. I would call my food decent at best, with having mastered a few key dishes. But “All you really need is one good dish that everyone likes,” a wise friend once told me. She was so right! Stick to what you know, and don’t be afraid to order a casserole from your favorite restaurant if all you know is how to choose a caterer. Wait for a rainy day in January to try those Pinterest projects that require ingredients you can’t buy at Walmart.

4-Unleash Your Inner Kid: OK, I obviously have no problem with this one, but some people (uhmmm, my husband) do. But remember how magical Christmastime felt as a kid? Even though you have more and more responsibilities now, you can still bring back the magic as an adult. Hit up the thrift store for some tacky Christmas clothes to wear to a party. Reinvent gift-giving by playing “Regift Dirty Santa” to save everyone some cash. Buy a few gag gifts. Video Christmas at your family’s house to laugh at later.

5-Remember What It’s All About:
Presents, Santa, food, etc. can bog down anyone. When you’re feeling totally stressed, take time to focus on what Christmas is really all about: Jesus, family and kindness. Volunteer at a non-profit, read your child the real Christmas story from Luke 2, or invite a widow or lone college kid to hang out with your own bunch of crazies this year. And be thankful for your crazy family. Some people would be glad to have any family at all.

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