How To Enjoy The Holidays Without Losing Your Mind

Is it me or is everyone insane right now? I’m not talking about all the sad things that are going on in the world – I will not talk about them, actually – but I’m talking about regular, everyday people who are so loaded down with forced jollity that they are ready to snap. If you have even one child in even one activity, you know that of which I speak. Why does the week before Christmas have to be packed full with six months’ worth of holiday festivals/ dinners/ parties/ concerts? I’ll tell you why; if even one activity decided NOT to have a festive December celebration, there would be complaints a-plenty.

Again, I know of what I speak. Our school does not have a Christmas concert – for the very good reason that we have a solid 25% Muslim population and another solid percentage of children who do not celebrate Christmas. Hey, that’s cool by me. Personally I would rather NOT have to book off an evening to see my children unenthusiastically playing the recorder, especially if it is at the cost of other children feeling badly about their cultural heritage. And yet, for all the years (FOUR) that I’ve been School Council/ Parent Association chair, I have heard complaints about this lack of a concert. People. There is enough to do. Don’t complain.

So this is why every dance school, sports club, extracurricular activity has a festive party, and this is why December becomes a gong show of show me your holly jolly. Even my kids’ karate dojo hosts a Candy Cane Shiah, which is fine, but if the kids had more than just the one activity I’d probably feel put-upon.


I seem to under, rather than over-schedule.

I get it. I totally do. But the thing is, I’m not feeling the stress. Here’s why: I have one thing planned this week, and it’s getting my hair coloured. I have secrets, people, secrets for alleviating holiday stress, that only kind of rely on wine consumption.

Nicole’s Secrets For Alleviating Holiday Stress

Say “Fuck It All”

Well, maybe not ALL. But fuck a lot of the stuff that you supposedly HAVE to do in December. Make a list of all the concerts, dinners, lunches, parties, and other festivities that you have committed to. Then cross off every single thing that isn’t an absolute necessity. You aren’t going to be able to cross off your child’s dance recital. You aren’t going to be able to cross off the Holiday Recorder Performance. Pretty much unless you are watching your child onstage, you don’t need to go. Potlucks, parties, etc., all those things are not necessary. Sure, if you want to, and you have the energy and a plateful of cookies you want to share, then go for it. But really, your friends will understand if you can’t make three parties in one evening. If you feel really bad about it, throw your own cocktail party in January or February, when nothing else is going on.

Let It Go, Let It GOOOOOOO

We all have things that are important to us around the holidays. For example, I have a friend who makes magazine-photo-worthy gingerbread houses (HI SUE) and another friend whose beautiful cookies could be featured in Oprah’s Favourite Things or maybe Martha Stewart Living (HI LIV) and that is fabulous. But if I tried to do that, I would end up in the bathroom with a bottle of wine, singing Santa Baby and crying. So I let the kids go to town on the gingerbread, with the following result:

 029 050 062 068028

It’s cool. I don’t mind gingerbread men with the word “BUTT” on them, or gingerbread men that have been decapitated and are missing limbs, all in the name of artistic expression. I don’t mind that the kids decided that it would be fun to have gingerbread men glued to the roof of the gingerbread house, with the illusion that said gingerbread men are sliding to their death. It’s okay by me.

The rule is, if it’s not super-important to you, don’t stress. Don’t even do it. If you feel exhausted even thinking about holiday baking, go to your nearest bakery and buy some cookies. PROBLEM SOLVED. But…

If It IS Important, OWN IT

It’s okay to want those perfect cookies; if it’s within your reach, do it! Enjoy every minute! For me, the Thing That Is Very Very Important is our annual Christmas card. It takes me a long time to choose the perfect photos, and to arrange them just so, and to get the wording right. Then I make my list and write out the cards, with little handwritten notes, and it is, to me, a Very Big Deal.

Now, here comes the rule for this one: What is Very Important to you may not be At All Important to someone else. This is also okay. This is freeing, in fact. You see, before I recognized this rule, I would have Hurt Feelings when I spent time sending off my carefully-thought-out cards and the sendee did not reciprocate. But realizing that getting a traditionally-mailed Christmas card is No Big Deal to some people is important. It means that I no longer send my card to those people. It might not be the Christmas spirit, but if I send a card, I want one back. If a person isn’t interested in the Christmas card exchange as an actual exchange, then I won’t send one.

There are some exceptions, of course. Certain family members will always get a card, so will friends that are ill or are otherwise unable to reciprocate. But other than that, I want to send my cards only to people who also value sending and receiving cards, rather than e-cards or a frantic email sent on Christmas Eve detailing why they haven’t sent cards again this year. It’s okay, non-card-sending people. We can say Merry Christmas another way. We can still be the best of friends, even if we don’t exchange cards! In fact, we will probably be BETTER friends, because I won’t have Hurt Feelings about it.

Delegate The Things You Hate

For me, the thing I hate is wrapping gifts. I am terrible at it. I have friends (HI REBECCA AND LYNDSEY) who love wrapping; they love their sparkly paper and ribbons, they love making plain boxes beautiful. Me? I’m always cutting the paper too short or too long, so I either have a paperless gap on a box, or a giant bunched up wad at the ends. The ribbon never curls and I need too much tape. Then my hair starts to fall out and I somehow get long red hairs randomly stuck on the Scotch tape. If I had my choice I would just stuff everything in gift bags but SOMEONE (read: my husband) insists on having rip-open-kind-of-gifts.

So guess who gets to wrap gifts in our house! My husband is very handy with the wrapping paper, but of course, I can only delegate so much. He can’t wrap his own gifts, after all, which brings me to…

Chip Away At It

My old boss, when we had a large trading position he wanted to get rid of, would say “Let’s just chip away at it.” When I have something I do not look forward to doing – gift wrapping, for example – I chip away at it. Ten or fifteen minutes a day of concentrated effort over a few days usually does the trick. That way I don’t sit, overwhelmed, staring blankly at a pile of gifts and rolls of paper.

Speaking of chipping away at things, here’s a great trick to make holiday baking super easy: make gingerbread or sugar cookie dough in October or November, and freeze it. Then take it out sometime in December, roll it out and cut into shapes, and voila! Easy peasy. Get your kids to decorate them with butt-related décor and everyone will be happy.

Shop Early, Shop Often

It’s too late to implement this now, but bookmark this for next year: start your shopping early. Swistle (HI SWISTLE) gave me the idea of buying gift cards one at a time, starting in September. It’s a great way to spread out the cost of Christmas, too. I also save my credit card “points” that swap for gift cards and use those for teacher’s gifts. This year I also bought a huge box of Lindor chocolates at Costco in October, and divided them amongst the non-main teachers for the kids – music teachers, etc. – and then I put them in brown paper bags that the boys’ wrote on, folded over the top, punched a hole in the top, and tied shut with a ribbon. Easy and somehow whimsical.

Look at it this way, the earlier you can finish your shopping – including online shopping – the more time you have to NOT be stressed out about gifts. Unless, of course, you are one of those people who actually like the mall in December. If you are, I salute you. You are stronger than I.

Hannah (HI HANNAH) mentioned this great idea: when grocery shopping in the months prior to Christmas, stick a few extra canned goods in your cart each time you go, so you are prepared for those holiday food bank drives. I know my kids tend to remember the night before they need to bring in canned goods, leaving me to dig through my cupboards and wonder if coconut milk is an acceptable donation, and where are all my chickpeas? It’s easier if you have extra beans or tomatoes that you can draw on.

Remember This Isn’t A Test

Unless you are actually having a magazine photo shoot at your house, there is no need to have the picture-perfect tree, lights, wrapped gifts, and food. Unless you have someone coming to your house and eating off your floors, your floors do not have to be clean enough to eat off of. There is no exam, this is not a pass or fail venture. So if you don’t make it to the mall to meet Santa, if you forget to move your shelf elf, if you have to leave Oreos instead of home baked cookies out for Santa, IT IS OKAY. Give yourself some love, pour yourself some Bailey’s, and remember – your family will appreciate a happy, relaxed mother more than a harried one that spent three hours that she didn’t have making sparkly reindeer food. You’re doing fine.


  1. Excellent advice! I have stopped Giving a Fuck about things that don’t matter to me, and it is very freeing. No Christmas cards, but certain treats MUST be baked. I buy almost everything online. My husband wraps anything that I don’t put in $1 gift bags; we pull it all out on Christmas Eve and eat cookies and chat while we wrap. New Christmas PJs are still important (the kids agree). As the kids are getting older, I’ve delegated decorating to them–my tree won’t be on any magazine covers, but it’s still pretty!

  2. Bravo! You share secrets that help and this makes me love you more! 😀

    Hannah’s post is perfection.

    I am so happy that people are finally getting the idea that stressing yourself – and everyone within your orbit – out is not at all what Christmas (or any Holiday!) is about.

    Merry Christmas! I’ll be making approximately 86 of your recipes over the next couple of weeks. Thanks for that!

  3. I love all of your ideas. Big box of Lindt divided into hand-decorated bags!! Brilliant. Like I do every year, I remembered THIS MORNING that teacher gifts & bus driver gifts will have to happen by Friday, and I have no time, and 9yo’s teacher wants – you guessed it – donations to the food bank in lieu of gifts. I HAVE NO MORE CANS OF SOUP, PEOPLE. THE SOUP IS ALL GONE.

    I have to wrap gifts tonight. I have to! This is no longer an option. And yet here I sit reading blogs and sniggering at House Hunters International. A very well-meaning person on my blog suggested gift bags, and bless her heart, but my kids do not like gift bags. Ripping! Tearing! That is the fun. At least I don’t care anymore if the packages look pretty. Covered? Check? DONE.


    I thought at first the gingerbread man said “duty,” and that one of your children was making a scathing satirical commentary.

    I chip away at Christmas cards: I DO like sending them, but sometimes get panicky at the beginning when the task seems so large. So first I just put out the cards. Then I just put out the stamps. Then I just do ONE card. Then just SIX. And so on.

  5. Not Inadequate says

    Look at you, using all the Important Curse Words like a real grown up and everything!

    Here’s the thing I find myself not caring about this year (get ready, this might be blasphemous) – the big turkey dinner. Don’t care. Just. Don’t. Okay, I care that there’s FOOD, and decent food at that. But I hate cooking turkey. So I’m not gonna. I don’t know what I AM going to make. But it’s not turkey.

  6. We have cards in the house and everyone except N has signed them. So there they sit. Waiting…

  7. Super! Awesome! I need to print this out and hang it up somewhere where I’ll see it every November. I was just at a Mommies Pre-Christmas coffee afternoon yesterday and we were all saying how we KNOW we should just let stuff go and yet we CANNOT. I need to really sit down and figure out what is important TO ME, and then just do that stuff.

    Speaking of which: I have a similar total passion for Christmas cards. It makes me very sad to see the number we get in return dwindling every year. So far this year we’ve gotten fewer than 10 and I think all of those are from the older generation – my mom, my aunts and uncles, and the parents of my two brothers-in-law. If you send me one, I will be a loyal returner in years to come – email me your address!


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