#43. Getting ahead of the (holiday) game

I realize that I wrote – precisely 35 entries ago – about what I charmingly labeled at the time “un-procrastinating.” For a fleeting moment or two, I was a worried that this week’s change was going to be too similar. Then I decided it wasn’t. Mostly because I’m running out of ideas here.

You may have heard of a little something called “the holidays” and how they’re coming up. I love me some holidays. I could say it’s not about the gifts, although I enjoy that part very much. Very, very much. However, I also have some Christmas-y chip in me that goes a little googly at the trees on Main Street lit up with fairy lights. Or the glow of Christmas trees or Hanukah candles in stranger’s windows as I drive around at night. I love browsing craft sites for hours to see what people are making and baking. Everything feels possible and hopeful to me this time of year.

I won’t go so far as to say it makes me feel a little magical, but let’s consider it unsaid. (ßirony!)

What does all this rambling have to do with this week’s change? Well, I shall tell you, to reward you for your infinite patience. This year, I have determined not to have a stressful holiday season. And nothing stresses me out more than all the last-minute planning and scrambling. Nothing is less Christmas-y than yelling at my husband because it’s clearly HIS fault I forgot something.

Thus, this year I determined to get ahead of the game. Was it possible that I could get it all done – the meal planning, the gift shopping, the errand-running – during the first week of December? You, my treasured reader, will be delighted to know that I did it! I won! I won!

First up, the gifts. I thank the baby Jesus for inventing online shopping. I don’t mind at all checking items off my list if I don’t have to leave the house and deal with people and packed, stinky malls. I decided at some point that it’s worth paying any shipping price in the world to stay sane. Imagine if it were that easy to stay sane in the other areas of my life: just pay shipping!

Organization – which is not in my natural wheelhouse – was the key here. To that end, I made a spreadsheet. Yeah, you heard that right. Because nothing is more Christmas-y than a spreadsheet. I made a list of all the people I wanted to buy for. I tracked each person, gift ideas, budget, whether or not I’d purchased the items and the budget. I even made a little field at the bottom that would calculate my total expenditures as I went. Then I erased that little field because, damn, that was a lot of money.

I should mention here that while some people find the gift-giving excruciating and feel it takes away from the true meaning of Christmas, I love, love, love buying or making presents for other people. Maybe it’s because I’m a people-pleaser, and I’ll be sure to see what my therapist thinks about that. But for the month of December, I like to pretend it’s because I’m thoughtful and generous.  I get a great thrill feeling like I know someone well enough to come up with something perfect that they’ll love. And if that fails, thank God for the Amazon gift list and gift cards. (Huge progress in recent years has allowed me to let go and buy perfunctory gifts for those who are hard-to-buy for and not feel guilty about it.)

By December 6, I had every gift person accounted for and orders on the way. Go, me!

I can’t take all the credit for this, though. It helps – in terms of logistics and moral support –  to have a partner in crime. Someone who is there for me, who will discuss strategy for hours on end, brainstorm endlessly. Someone who has my back, who likes to plan ahead of time and get things sorted, as the Brits say. Wait. What? My husband? HA HA HA HA HA. No, silly goose. My sister.

I have the distinct advantage of having a sister who worked in retail for something like 100 years. Since the holiday season was non-stop craziness for her and back-to-back shifts, she had no choice but to knock most of her holiday shopping and planning out before the holidays kicked in. She has this down to a science, so while every single male in our family is going, “We have until Christmas Eve to do our shopping,” Jane and I were on the phone before December blinked its bright eyes, plotting and planning.

We planned Christmas eve lunch and I drove out to lovely Ackroyd’s Scottish bakery in Redford to procure the traditional Scottish pies, then bung ‘em in the freezer. Done! We discussed my sister’s annual Christmas eve party for friends and neighbors and what I could contribute, deciding (wisely) on leek and potato soup given that I have about 80 pounds of potatoes from our fall harvest farm share. Done! The biggest discussion was left for Christmas dinner, but we knocked that out in about twenty minutes and I have a list of exactly what I’m responsible for and what I need to buy to make it. Done! I’m also responsible for the traditional British Christmas crackers we have every year. Done!

Oh, people, you should see the lists I have! A person has never been so organized for the holidays. Oddly, instead of feeling weighed down by it all, I felt exhilarated. Maybe it’s because sometimes I feel there’s very little in my life that I can control, and all of this was completely manageable. But I also enjoy feeling like a person who is organized, efficient, a veritable machine of responsibility and forethought. It’s like playing dress-up. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but it sure as hell felt good for a week.

Yes, there are a few things left on my Holiday To Do list, but the terrific part is that they’re the things I truly enjoy: writing Christmas cards, which I may or may not make myself (I know, I’m crazy like that – but when I sit down to write them, with a cup of tea and a roaring fire, it reminds me of all the good people in my life, near and far). Wrapping presents (which, again, like a crazy person, I love, love, love to do). Christmas baking and cookie-decorating. Maybe even a little crafting now that I feel I have the time.

That’s the payoff, friends. This business of being ahead of the game leaves me feel free to do the stuff I love to do – to feel as though putting up my dinky disco tree is a treat and not a chore. It gives me the room to clear my mind and focus on that feeling in my tummy – the warm, wiggly feeling of entering a season that can (and should) be about slowing down, enjoying the pretty bits and spending time celebrating friends and family.