Taking back the holidays

Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, the holidays are now upon us so break out the egg nog, champagne, water or whatever you drink to celebrate your holiday of choice.  We celebrate Christmas and I mostly love the holidays. I dream of spending time with my family, working less, playing cards or games with our kids, going skiing in the mountains, curling up to watch a holiday movie or reading a good book. 

The reality is that many of us spend so much time doing things we think we should be doing during the holidays that the holidays end up being really stressful for so many of us, especially parents of Santa believing children.  We want our kids to have the “perfect” holiday and so we get into a manic mode of buying gifts that our kids don’t need, decorating the house to make it feel festive, cooking up a storm, frantically checking Santa’s progress around the world on the NORAD Santa tracker, staying up all night on Christmas Eve assembling gifts and then on Christmas morning we are jolted out of sleep at a god forsaken hour by crazed kids who want to see if Santa came with their gifts.  By 7am on Christmas, we are exhausted, ragged, grumpy and tired. And wondering why our kids aren’t appreciating all of our blood, sweat and tears it took to make their Christmas “perfect”.

Last year my wife decided we were buying into the commercialism of the holidays and asked if I was willing to join her in changing our ways.  I fought it at first but then I realized she was right and we decided to simplify the Christmas craziness and expense. I want to thank everyone at The Ordinary Parent Community Facebook group who offered support and advice on how to begin that journey.  I’d also like to give credit where credit is due to the amazing movie and, soon to be Christmas Classic, A Bad Moms Christmas, for inspiring me to take back the holidays.  

Based on my learnings from last year’s holidays and some reflections since then, I have come up with a 10 step “take back the holidays” formula: 

1. Use up those gift cards.   If you are like us, you probably have a stash of gift cards that you have received over the years that you never seem to use.  This is the time to pull them out and see if you can use them to buy Christmas gifts. I think Amazon and Visa gift cards are the bomb and you can always use those.  I just went through our gift card stash yesterday and found some Barnes & Noble gift cards. We don’t live close to a Barnes & Nobles anymore but I just loaded up my kids in the car for an adventure and we went to the nearest Barnes & Knobles and I bought my two kids who came with me a book of their choice and then I also bought Christmas gifts for my wife and kids using those gift cards that we have had for a few years.  I threw in lunch at Panera and everyone was happy. I feel great that I used those old gift cards and I’m sure everyone will be happy getting a new book.  

2. Buy gifts on Amazon Prime. I ordered everything a couple of weeks early last year so I didn’t freak out about last minute gifts. My only store I went to was the Dollar Tree where I spent $15 total (no kidding) for stocking stuffers for 3 kids.  By the way, my wife detests the Dollar Tree but I love it in situations like this because I was going to buy crap any way to fill up stockings so why not buy cheap crap?  You know you are with me on this. Now that we are 2 ½ weeks out from Christmas this year, I’m going to order my few purchases online in the next few days.  If I was really on top of it, I would have done this all on Cyber Monday but I’m just an Ordinary Mom trying to get by so don’t judge me that I’m not quite that prepared.  

3. Do not buy anything that needs assembly. It made a huge difference on Christmas Eve last year that we didn’t have to assemble anything.  We were actually in bed at 10pm and pretty relaxed. That was a first. A couple of years ago my wife assembled a doll house on Christmas Eve.  Let’s just say there were a lot of expletives flying around after the kids went to bed and it wasn’t pretty. Nevertheless, she persisted (you got that, right?) and got the f’ing doll house built.

4. Do not buy any technology for the kids. Our kids have enough technology and are on it way too much anyway and they don’t need any more.  We’ll do the same this year although it will be disappointing for our soon to be ten year old daughter who is really hoping for a phone but life’s not fair so best to get used to it early (“Ouch!”).  

5. Give an experience as the big gift. Last year our two older kids wanted to go to an Ninja Warrior Competition across the country and my youngest wants to go with me to my Dad’s birthday in Austin so we made them choose those as their big Christmas gifts if they wanted to go.  They all choose the experience. We gave them the same choice this year about going to our favorite place in place in Southern California (no, not Disneyland but Great Wolf Lodge). They all choose the experience and we are going next weekend for their big Christmas gift.

6. Do not wrap gifts. We were really smart early on with kids when we decided to never wrap Santa gifts so that has saved us countless hours or stress, paper and recycling over the years.  Our families thankfully send wrapped gifts and the few things we needed to wrap last year we put in Christmas gift bags that we reuse every Christmas. All of these things make cleaning up pretty easy and I hate to brag but… I think we are brilliant to do that. The kids are too young and clueless (bless them) to realize that we use the same gift bags every year as they just want to get to the gift as soon as possible.  So much less stress and mess. 

7. Do not buy a big gift for your spouse. It was liberating not to also have to think of a big gift for my spouse last year.  She did treat me to some wine and a mani/pedi (thank you!) and I printed out some pictures of our kids from prior year and put them in Dollar Tree frames (for $1 each, of course).  She loved the photos but not so much the cheap frames. I am going to do something similar this year but maybe I’ll up my game and order decent frames online. Don’t tell her.  

8. Do not stress about Christmas decorations for the house and yard.  I had bought a beautiful fake wreath a couple of years ago that I intended to hang up on our front door again last year but I couldn’t find the hook to hang it. Instead of freaking out and/or buying a new hook or wreath, I just did not hang it. And I felt ok about it.  I may or may not get my butt to the nearest hardware store to get a new hook. Maybe I’ll order it from Amazon but maybe not. I’m not sure what I’ll do yet but I won’t stress about it either way.  

9. Go minimalistic on the Christmas tree decorations.  Last year, our Golden Retriever was one year old and ate everything. My wife and kids cut down a Christmas tree (yes, they are rock stars) but we decided not to put the lights on it and only decorate the top ½. The dog still managed to eat a few ornaments and our tree looked a little odd but like Charlie Brown felt about his tree, it was ours and we loved it. BTW- two Christmas Eve’s ago we told our kids they had to drive two hours away with us to buy “outdoor furniture”.  They weren’t please but they went and we surprised them by picking up the aforementioned dog, who was an adorably fluffy eight week old Golden Retriever named Oliver. After that amazing coup, I feel like I could just retire on that note and never try to outdo that Christmas but make sure I talk about it a lot. “Kids, remember when we surprised you all with Oliver for Christmas? Wasn’t that the best Christmas gift ever?”.

10. Really focus on family time.  Last year we had great food (thank you to my wife for the planning, purchasing and doing most of the cooking), played board games, took bike rides, baked cookies for Santa, played four square and are just spent quality time together. Yes, there were still some technology and fights (mostly over technology) and it was still really loud (how can such little things make so much noise?) but we enjoyed each other most of the time.

That sums up my 10 step “take back the holidays” formula.  Feel free to borrow or tweak them (if you tweak them, please share that with me so I can constantly improve this list).  A big change for this Christmas is that our youngest, who is almost 8, informed us that she no longer believes in Santa. As sad as it is to close out that chapter or our lives, it actually simplifies things and helps with the “no gifts from Santa but a going on a trip instead”.  We are lucky that our families are so big and generous so there is always gifts under the tree for them to open.  

I am so excited that I have taken back Christmas and I am looking forward to a couple of weeks with my family that is not all about unrealistic expectations and unneeded purchases.  

One more thing…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you haven’t seen Matt Damon’s skit on SNL about Best Christmas Ever, please google it now and watch it. You will thank me, I promise.  It’s exactly what happens in most houses every year at Christmas and what we are now trying our best to avoid.

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