I don’t know what to say, Audrey, except it’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery.

Here’s the scene: me, at the table, surrounded by envelopes and holiday cards, armed with an address book and a notebook, the same notebook that I’ve written Cards Sent and Cards Received in for the past eleven Christmases, with pens and stamps and special return-address labels that I ordered this year, with a motif of pussy willows and holly berries. My husband, looking at the giant stack of photo cards, that I planned back in October and ordered at the beginning of November with love and happiness, asks exactly how many cards I’m sending out. Around sixty, I reply. Maybe a few more, depending.

Sixty cards, give or take, might feel overwhelming to some people. It might feel like a giant chore, a hand-cramping source of stress, but to me, it feels exactly right. Every card makes me happy and at no time does it feel like a chore.

The same goes with holiday baking. I baked these cute little fellows on the weekend, and decorated them with the kids, and at no time did I feel panicked or stressed or overwhelmed in any way, even when one child made a gingerbread man with a cast on his leg and red splatters all over his torso, or another child plastered twenty M&M’s on one cookie.

Don’t eat these yet! I need to take a picture! – quote from every food blogger ever

Hard at work at the gingerbread factory.

Do I look stressed? No? That’s because I’m not.

A few weeks ago, I saw this on Facebook and I, as usual, felt a strong connection to Buddy the Elf:

Even if it’s October, hell, even if it’s AUGUST, which is when I usually get the Wish Book in the mail, I start to feel festive when I see Christmas decorations or hear Christmas music. The reason? Because I love Christmas. I love the holiday season and all that goes with it. I just cannot relate at all to those people who are upset by the sight of a decorated tree on November 2 or who feel stabby when Last Christmas comes on the radio. I wander around in my happy little Christmas bubble and forget that for a lot of people, ’tis the season for stress and road rage in the mall parking lot.

I forget that for a lot of people, it’s less about singing loud for all to hear, and more about it being Christmas, and we’re all in misery.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be that way. This is not usually an advice blog, no, nor is it one where I want people to feel bad about themselves that they are not creating their own Advent calendar of quotes from Elf and Christmas Vacation. But I tell you this: I love the holiday season and it makes me sad to think that for many, many people – women, especially – this is a time of stress and unhappiness, of a feeling that you need to do more, more, more just to be doing it right.

There is no doing it “right”. Well, there is, but not the way you think. Here is my basic rule that I think everyone should adopt. YES, EVERYONE.


Of course, there are always some necessary stresses: visits from people you have to see rather than want to see, duty gifts, family dinners you are forced into hosting, et cetera. But honestly? If the idea of sending out cards makes you break out in hives, DON’T DO IT. If the idea of baking eleven dozen cookies makes you want to stick your head in the oven, DON’T DO IT.


1) Bake a zillion cookies only if you want to. If you don’t like baking, buy some cookies. Or ask me, I’ll bake you some shizz.

2) Want to decorate cookies or gingerbread houses with your kids, but don’t have time? Buy some premade stuff from the grocery store, buy some tubes of icing, and go to town. No one will judge you and if they do, well, no cookies for them.

3) If you don’t love sending out cards, don’t send out cards. Usually those of us who send out cards do it because we like it, not because we are expecting reciprocation.

4) Shop online. Avoid the mall. Give magazine subscriptions. Buy gift bags instead of wrapping everything with handmade paper and six-inch ribbon curls.

5) If the thought of a holiday party is causing you anguish, don’t have one. Invite your friends over sometime in January. Everyone will be just as happy – if not happier.

6) Don’t feel bad if you can’t volunteer with the homeless, box up gifts for the unfortunate, or do other festive good works. Those needs will still be there after the holidays. You can help then.

7) Don’t feel like you have to do EVERYTHING to give your kids an authentic and joyous holiday experience.
    a) Your kids will probably not notice if you don’t make cocoa from scratch, have a daily activity calendar of Christmas-related activities, or have hand-felted a special Advent calendar for their enjoyment. This is especially true if they are under age 7.
    b) Your kids WILL notice if you mire yourself in your own high holiday expectations and then have a screaming breakdown over the leaning tower of gingerbread that is your gingerbread house.
    c) COME ON. Whatever you do will be awesome. Remember when we were kids and would go out on our own and sled until we couldn’t feel our feet and then when we came home our moms made us a cup of hot chocolate from a powdered mix and non-homemade marshmallows from a bag and it was the best treat ever? Kids pretty much are happy with whatever, so don’t beat yourself up about using those Pillsbury tubes of sugar cookie dough.

8) If you’re hosting Christmas dinner this year, ask everyone to bring a dish. So what if your mom made dinners for 25 people all on her own? This isn’t about her, it’s about you.

9) Stay away from Pinterest, or if you like Pinterest, then remember that not everything needs to look a certain way for it to be authentically awesome.

See? This is the worst gingerbread house ever. Yet my kids liked it.


10) If you’re at a family function and your mother-in-law is criticizing your turkey and your mom is eyeing your gravy with suspicion and your aunt is wondering WHY you didn’t make her recipe for Lutefisk, take a page from the book of Druncle and crack open the wine. Play your own little drinking game and instead of getting upset, have a sip and smile every time someone says something untoward.

Remember the most important thing: do what you love to do, not what you feel you HAVE to do, and the rest will follow. xoxo


  1. I just love you the most, you merry little Christmas elf, you. I decided years ago to only do the parts of Christmas that I really like, and lo, I love the holidays.

    Even today, when I was rearranging the furniture in my living room to make room for the tree and thus found dirty socks, so-called “lost” gloves, and a fossilized banana peel behind the electric fireplace… even then, I still loved it.

  2. #4 has probably been the single greatest reducer of Christmas stress for me. I can shop online anytime, even at work, get everything ordered and the ship it to me or the gift recipient. It’s like MAGIC!!

    The second stress reducer is that both my mom and mother-in-law worked full time when my husband and I were growing up so they did not have much time or patience for holiday fun activities and there is zero expectation or side-eyeing from either of them about the lack of same in my house. I realize I had nothing to do with this, but nevertheless, it reduces my holiday stress 😉

    • Maggie, me too. I loathe the mall and online shopping is my favourite. I have six – soon to be seven – nieces and nephews and I just order things for them and they magically show up at my door!

  3. I think in some cases there needs to be a point #11: give yourself permission to be stressed a little, if that’s who you are. So if going to the Christmas party (that you always enjoy when you get there) means that you’ll spend the day in anticipatory social anxiety … just give yourself permission to feel the anticipatory social anxiety. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, and it doesn’t mean you’re ruining Christmas (not even your own).

  4. I like all your points, Nicole. And I like Bea’s #11, too.

  5. I like a combination of your points and Bea’s. Acknowledging that I’m GOING to be kind of stressed at times (even doing the bare minimum, not talking about heroics or trying to make things perfect or doing things outside my skill set) is helpful. And realizing that some things are worth the stress: that I can do a messy, irritating project with the kids that I will be glad I did if I go into it realizing it’s going to be messy and irritating (rather than picturing a golden glow of Holiday Togetherness and no sugar spilled on the floor). And then I combine that by giving up the things that seem to tip me over the edge from Regular Stressed to This is Not Worth It, and by doing MORE of the things that are Fun and Easy for me. Another thing I’ve had to give up is the feeling that things have to be the same from year to year: we can have some years when I can cope with a lot of stuff and some years when I can’t, and that’s just fine—even though I started out feeling like Consistent! Traditions! were a priority (it turns out I’m happier if they’re not).

    • Oooh, this is a good point. It’s the realization that decorating the Christmas tree is always going to be a gong show with super over excited children. Or decorating cookies means that you will be finding frosting in weird places. Accept it and go with it. The golden glow of Holiday Togetherness…yeah.

  6. Swistle! I was thinking of you when I wrote my comment. I thought, “This is a point that Swistle would make, but in more detail and with better examples.”

  7. Thanks!

  8. Steph Lovelady says

    Cards are the thing I think maybe we just shouldn’t do this every year and every year I do and am happy I did, so I keep doing it.

  9. Great, great advice. I need to take it to heart :). Love your cookies – looks like the holidays are off to a wonderful start!

  10. Thank you.

  11. Every time I think I couldn’t POSSIBLY love you ANY MORE. Eve just asked me today “are you excited for Christmas, Mommy?” and I wasn’t really, but then I finished all my shopping online and got an email that my pictures for christmas cards are in, and the Christmas tree fell over and we all laughed our asses off and then I read this and now I am, a little. Even though I’m a bit of a bah humbitch. Mwah!

  12. This is so great. I get stressed over really weird things and it is usually the opposite of the things that stress out my husband. (We balance each other.) This year, I decided that we were NOT going to put the nice ornaments on the tree. It is filled with star wars paper snowflakes, all the ornaments the kids have made at preschool over the years, a few garlands of construction paper, and a two sets of big metal jingle bells that 7yo picked out at Michael’s. I LOVE it. Oh, I forgot the set of R2D2 lights that we found at a yard sale.

    I have gone to one Christmas party by myself (hubs hates them, so we just don’t plan them) and I dressed up and did my makeup and had fun! (It was just a ladies party, fyi.)

    And our Christmas cards will be new years cards because I am going to wait for pics of the boys in all their wedding finery (so, Nicole, don’t put away your Christmas Card notebook…I have an excel spreadsheet….)

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