A Few Tips For Surviving the Winter Holidays to Ponder Over Thanksgiving Break

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I am so looking forward to another delicious dinner at Diane's house. And a few days off! So this will be the last post until next Monday, November 28th - time to share the contents of my stockings and announce the 2011 Christmas Stocking Giveaway!

It is almost December 1st!

Many of us are up to our ears right now in baking and cooking and cleaning and preparing for the big dinner. Others are packing their bags to enjoy a home cooked feast with family.

Few of us are thinking of Christmas this week! BUT once the feast leftovers are consumed and the festivities are a memory, most of us are ready to begin thinking seriously about what must be done to prepare for the coming season. I thought this might be a good time to share a few things I do to make the whole month feel like a celebration rather than a lot of work and stress.

This is not a "planning guide" or a "how-to" - just sharing a few things that make it all so much easier and more fun!

christmas shopping Very, very cool image by Andreas Schaefer

GIFT BUYING!

My goal every year is to have all my shopping completely done by the first weekend in December. A little secret - the Monday following the "Black Friday madness" is the quietest day/evening at the malls!

Hand made gifts, same goal - although I admit this year I am a bit behind because I have been playing on my blog too much!

There is one very selfish reason for setting these goals - the angst and stress that is often associated with what gift to give is all taken care of BEFORE the holidays even begin! Oh two selfish reasons - almost forgot -  getting done early means staying far, far away from traffic and crowded stores! Think about it!

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HOLIDAY DECORATING

After many years of trying to decorate the whole house and put up the tree all in one day, this Christmas elf has learned to break it all up into little celebrations.

November 1st is reserved for setting up my winter village. In the evening, the warm light shining from all those little windows and reflecting off the sparkling snow really begins to stir up a festive mood! (And since setting it up is a really big job, it is good to get it out of the way early!)

I get a lot of "flack with love" over the fact that I put my tree up one weekend before Thanksgiving! But putting up a tree is a ton of work and takes a ton of time!

Why would anyone want to put that much work into something that is only going to be around a couple weeks - unless of course it is all about their love of the whole getting a fresh live tree! I have been there and I do understand!

But a few years ago, we made the decision to purchase a most beautiful, pre-lighted artificial tree designed by Martha Stewart and I have never, ever regretted it for one minute. I send Martha a big hug every year and buy a small fresh, fragrant evergreen wreath which I hang on the winter solstice.

You see, for me, after these many, many years, the tree is all about the ornaments. I have a huge collection of them and I want to enjoy they as long a possible.

Sometime between November 28th and December 4th, my Father Christmas collection is released from storage. Why between these dates? Because they coincide with the celebration of St. Nicholas in the Netherlands of course!

December 1st, all the Advent Calendars are hung or set up!

December 10th (my personal holiday - "Angel Day") is celebrated by setting up a tree of miniature ornaments; and nativities are set up around December 17th -18th to mark the beginning of 8 days of nativity visits so prevalent throughout South America, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

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To facilitate all this "compartmentalized" decorating, I long ago developed a system for storing decorations and ornaments. I have about 20 boxes of decorations and ornaments, and I have them packed and catalogued in such a way that I can lay my hands on nearly anything I want within minutes. When I am ready to put up my village, I simply ask my "warehouse manager" to pull boxes 7, 7a, 7b, 7c, and 7d.

If you have never organized the storage of your holiday decorations, maybe this year is a great one to start! Just schedule a little extra time while taking everything down this year so you can sort and pack and and label and I promise the future will be easier!

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Except for things like wreaths and garland, every ornament, Father Christmas, nut cracker, nativity or snowman is packed in the box it originally came in - (or a box is found for it).

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Every ornament gets this treatment. Older ornaments that no longer have their boxes are wrapped and stored together in a larger box that will hold about 3 to 5 ornaments. A list of every ornament inside is written on the outside!

Larger cardboard shipping boxes are used to hold collections of smaller ornament boxes, Father Christmas boxes, nutcracker boxes, village boxes....

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A number is assigned to each box and it is written in big black letters on all four sides.

Since this process was begun many years ago, my inventory list is analogue! But it is also very simple - a number followed by box content ID (ornaments, nutcrackers, etc.  When ready to set up nutcrackers, I only need to pull down one box.

What about those plastic storage cartons? I don't use them.  I know many people find them very handy, but since they are plastic - hard plastic that is not particularly environmentally friendly - and expensive, I prefer to reuse  shipping boxes and gift boxes and tissue for  storage. When they wear out simply recycle.  Seriously, I have boxes used for storage that are - oh I hate to say it - over 40 years old and they are still functional.

Moisture? Well - I live in the Pacific Northwest! It rains a lot here but moisture has never been a problem.

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COOKIE AND TREAT BAKING

Many, many years ago, I would save all my baking until the week before Christmas! And in those crazy days, it was not unusual for me to bake 20 different kinds of cookies and 6 or 7 kinds of candy! I wanted it all to be nice and fresh for Christmas! Like my poor family could possibly eat all of that sugary goodness in a day much less two or three!

MUCH smarter now! I have figured out that it is much more fun to bake cookies and special breads throughout the holiday. When the biscotti is gone, the Speculaas and Norwegian sugar cookies are waiting! When they are gone, sugar cookies and gingerbread are fresh from the oven!

And my baking is paired with specific holidays which makes it even more fun. Gingerbread and Speculaas and Lebkuchen and Stollen in Early December to celebrate St Nicholas Day. Biscotti, Norwegian Sugar Cookies, Lucy Buns to celebrate Santa Lucia/St Lucy Day. Bizcochitos and Panettone to celebrate Nativity traditions in southern Europe and South America. Challah, potato latkes and dried fruit compote near Hanukkah. You get the picture!

Of course I still do a lot of pre-prep and pre-baking in late November.  But these special dates are when I bring goodies out to enjoy - and try to bake at least one or two of my favorites on or the day before so I can enjoy the smells of Christmas baking all month long!

Thanksgiving Day

Some of our spectacular Washington  Country.  The image was taken by photographer Andy Simonds.  Treat yourself to a visual feast of our beautiful Pacific Northwest on Andy's  Flickr photostream.

Hopefully some of you will find something of value here that will lessen the stress and yield more fun during the coming season.

I gratefully welcome any tips you have discovered for reducing the stress and strain during holiday preparations. Share your thoughts in the comments, won't you?

Happy Thanksgiving to all. See you again next week!

Pam, I am enjoying your posts

Pam,
I am enjoying your posts so much.
When my son was small, we visited a small Scandinavian gift store around Xmas, for several years. Your blog puts me in mind of the lovely experience of browsing there.We would purchase one decoration per year, and one of my favourites was a very small silver bell, strung on red ribbon we found there. Another favourite decoration was a straw wall hanging of three angels, strung with red ribbon.

One of my favourite traditions is reading "The Long Christmas", by Ruth Sawyer.(1941)The illustrations by Valenti Angelo, (woodcut prints)are exquisite.I borrowed this book from the library for many years at Xmas time, and one year was able to purchase a wonderful edition at a library used book sale for $1.oo. This is now one of my treasures!

I am a daycare teacher, and so do enjoy decorating for the season, although I keep it simple. I find young children can become overexcited with too much going on, and as well we have children from many diverse cultures, so we celebrate Xmas, along with Hannukah, and Kwanza. I like to emphasize the beauty and as well lights. I like the garland so much, on your last post, and am hoping to try this for decorating our room.
Thanks for your lovely seasonal inspirations, and your love of Christmas!
Brenda

Happy thanksgiving Pam, even

Happy thanksgiving Pam, even though it's not a recognised festival here, I've been enjoying all the preparation going on over the ocean. One Christmas celebration is quite enough for me this year. Take care and I know you will have a beautiful dinner with your lovely family.

Good that you break it into

Good that you break it into little elf steps for the holidays. It's great for people to remember that they can do whatever they want to do and what makes them happy at this time of year (to an extent). :) Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, Pam.

Happy Thanksgiving, Pam.

Great Tips Pam- I love the

Great Tips Pam- I love the box numbering system, I think I'll use it for Halloween decorations : )

I like your organizing skills

I like your organizing skills to stay anxiety and stress-free during this time of year. Traffic and crowds and the threat of snowstorms are not fun!

I do like to do gift shopping as early as possible - all year round I'm making notes and saving links to projects &/or items that I want to buy or make & keeping them in a delicious.com account. Of course I don't look at them until around Thanksgiving, but at least I have it there to refresh my memory when I need it.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you get to relax & enjoy it with your family.

Tammy

Thank you, Tammy.  Happy

Thank you, Tammy.  Happy thanksgiving to you and your family as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!! I like

Happy Thanksgiving!! I like to space things out a bit too. It's less stress plus it makes the holiday fun last longer.

Oh Robin, I am all about

Oh Robin, I am all about making it last as long as possible!  I am so glad to have company!

Happy thanksgiving!  And see you on the 28th for the big 2011 Stocking giveaway!  I have been waiting for it to get here all year!

Wow, that is a lot!! I skip

Wow, that is a lot!! I skip the shopping on Black Friday and put up all my Christmas decor then, except the tree. Every year on the first weekend of December we go to a tree farm and cut down our own tree & decorate it that day. A couple days after Epiphany is "Tree Downing Day". I haven't quite gotten a baking rhythm yet.

The biggest destressor I've found is not worrying about getting the perfect gift for anyone. It's not possible to do every year. Plus years have ebb and flow, some being more lean or feast-like than others. I think what's important is everyone walking away with an overall feeling of love, warmth, and acceptance about the holidays.

Hmmmmmmmmmm  Really like the

Hmmmmmmmmmm  Really like the way you have organized your decorating, Elizabeth!  If I were still cutting my own fresh tree, I just very well might adopt your traditions!  I really like the thought of bringing the tree into an already decorated house. 

Thanks! I adopted my mom's

Thanks! I adopted my mom's way. We never did too much Black Friday shopping and started decorating for Christmas that day, same with the wkend we get the tree.

I wish you a very nice

I wish you a very nice thanksgiving. Your Christmas ornament boxes gave me a kind of deja vu, I have some stacked in the room under the staircase, some small ones for small and fragile ornaments, some bigger ones for glass balls, and some big ones for big things. It is difficult to pack the boxes after Christmas.

Oh Margit, I know exactly how

Oh Margit, I know exactly how you feel about packing away ornaments after the holidays.  One of the most depressing days of the year for me.  Maybe that is why I busy myself with making a few ornaments in january - to lighten the sad mood.

I wish like everything i could just stand in your living room and gaze at your beautiful tree.

Great advice! I think this is

Great advice! I think this is one of your best posts! I read every single one, but don't comment very often.

This year we are actually on this side of the ocean for the Christmas Season. Right now I'm in full Christmas knitting mode, so no distractions please! I too, learned long ago to make it easier on ourselves. We aren't allowed a real evergreen in the apartment because of fire regulations. We used to have an artificial one - think we still do have it, but several years ago we bought a beautiful stained glass tree made by a local artist and it stays up all year. (The glass tree shape is framed in an iron stand, so it's really heavy to move!) At Christmas we pay more attention to it and put a lovely cream linen skirt around the base and pile pressies around it. Looks really cheerful. Oh and because it is made of hand made stained glass the sparkle of lights is provided by sunshine glowing through it.

I also put up a Nativity scene, sometimes two. We have the usual traditional carved figures from Italy but we also have a smaller set of figures which are actually little mice. I found it one year during a lunch break from work. It is a favourite now!

December 6 is when we put out a Christmas plate of goodies. When I was growing up in Germany my Mom made sure each of us had our own plate with delights. Marzipan, small oranges, apples, spicy cookies, nuts and of course a chocolate St. Nicholas or Santa! My Dad wasn't fond of chocolate so his plate would have nuts, apples, oranges and some salty licorice cats from Holland! We were honour bound not to filch any goodies from anyone else's plate!

Advent calendars, too. We used to have really fancy ones with little plastic trays behind each door that held flat pieces of chocolate. Each morning before school I would open the door for that day and have a small treat!

I've kept up several traditions from when I was little and also adopted some of Rob's family traditions. Even though there are only the two of us, it's fun to put things out that tie us to fond memories!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your family!

Oh Bonny, thank you for

Oh Bonny, thank you for sharing so many lovely traditions and memories.  I believe my favorite is the plate of goodies on December 6th!  What a lovely, lovely tradition.  I think I am going to adopt it!

My sweetie just discovered the Dutch salty licorice this summer.  Huge fan!

And I am just dying to see a picture of the stained glass tree - being art glass collectors,  we will just love seeing it.  PLEASE??

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