Simplifying Holidays

I let Publix cook my Thanksgiving dinner this year. If you knew me and understood how particular I am about turkey and stuffing, this would shock you, but with only four people at our table this year, all of us busy with jobs and life, I chose to reduce my own stress by not spending two days in the kitchen for a meal that is typically over in an hour.I confess that this isn’t the first time I’ve done this.

On the rare years when it’s been just the two of us for Thanksgiving, we’ve had various places – Omaha Steaks and Cracker Barrel among them – provide heat and serve dinners. We always order enough for six so that we can enjoy leftovers, but since my husband really doesn’t enjoy cooking, this makes the holiday better for both of us.

ART - Simplifying Holidays


Simplifying holidays to reduce stress is something I’ve been embracing as I’ve gotten older, and life has become busier and less predictable. Several years ago, when I was recovering from knee surgery and couldn’t climb ladders, we downsized our decorating. I skipped the garland wrapped around the bannisters (something you should avoid anyway when you’re hosting anyone with mobility issues), cut the menu in half (do we really need mashed potatoes AND whipped sweet potatoes?), and downsized my tree from an eight-foot behemoth (which STILL didn’t have enough room for my vast collection of ornaments) to a five-and-a-half-foot tree with all the light connections inside the center pole. I’ve also culled my ornament collection, giving some away to younger friends with growing families, and discarding anything that was worn, damaged, or just didn’t speak to me any longer.

Reducing the time I spend on décor and cooking has given me more time to focus on the holiday activities I love, like watching the Macy’s parade, writing cards to my friends and family, and going to community events like carol singing and tree lightings. More than that, it’s given me a new appreciation of what really matters during the holidays: spending time with the people we love, having real conversations, and relaxing on the days when we’re not at our jobs.

Here are some tips on simplifying holidays that might work for you:

  • Delegate: If you’re not comfortable having your holiday meal catered, at least assign a specific dish to each guest who is coming to your house. Especially if you’re a caregiver, asking for help will save your stamina and your sanity.
  • Downsize: Instead of decorating every square inch of your house, focus on the elements that are most important to you. I love having outside lights, but I have no desire to climb on a ladder (or make my husband climb on a ladder) to attach them to the gutters, so we no longer do that. Instead, we wrap solar lights around our front tree, and use lights just on our front porch. As caregivers, downsizing also lets you consider which decorations might pose a hazard to people who don’t see well or move well. The years my grandmother was with us, we stopped setting up a train around the base of our tree, because it caused a tripping hazard, and I’ve already mentioned not decorating the bannisters.But we’ve also downsized our gift giving. We set a strict budget for gifts for each other and stick to it, and limit most physical gifts to people who are visiting our home. Within my husband’s family, the adults drew names for years, though everyone brought gifts for children. But in other years we’ve limited gifts to stocking stuffers only – a limitation that really forces you to be creative.
  • Delete: As caregivers, we fall into the habit of saying “yes” to as many things as possible, but when it comes to simplifying holidays, the word “no” can be magic. It’s okay to decline invitations in order to preserve your own peace. It’s okay to reduce the number of events you participate in. When we lived near a mall with a rink, we used to go watch the ice skaters during the holidays, but my mother cannot tolerate the cold of an ice rink anymore and doesn’t enjoy crowds, so we’ve stopped doing that, and make dates to hang out during the rest of winter and watch skating on television instead.
  • Disperse: As she neared the end of her life, my grandmother became stressed when there were large gatherings. It was hard for her to track multiple conversations. As caregivers of the elderly, one of the kindest things we can do is disperse holiday visitors across the month. This reduces the stress of big groups, but it also means shorter visits throughout the season, instead of everyone coming – and then leaving – at once.

Not everyone can – or will – simplify holidays the same way. If all of these suggestions are as overwhelming to you as not reducing or restructuring your holiday plans might be, consider this idea from the world of design. This year, just take away ONE thing. Maybe it’s the office white elephant gift exchange that you don’t enjoy anyway, or maybe it’s telling your family that you’ll happily host Christmas Day (or one or two nights of Hanukkah) if they do Christmas Eve (or a couple nights of Hanukkah). Taking away just one task will do wonders for your overall disposition and give you the breathing space that that you need during the holiday season.

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