What we love about the holidays: QT with family and friends. Decorating with wintry garlands rustic wreaths. Sparkly things. Gifts (receiving and especially giving—we’re addicted to that look of surprise at box-opening time). Creative nibbles. Bubbly cocktails. Getting inspired by everybody’s party outfits. More sparkly things.
What we don’t love about the holidays: stress. No matter how Zen we strive to be, the holidays can cause their fair share of stress—from the overload of planning, shopping, and playing chef and host to the worrying over every little detail about what will make our guests comfortable and happy.
But the truth? Stressing out just isn’t worth it, and it takes you out of a moment you should be enjoying. Besides, there’s a better (read: easier) way to do seasonal events, and Annie’s sharing her tried-and-true recipe for a low-stress holiday. Some of these tips might seem obvious, but they bear repeating as the season kicks into high gear and we find ourselves pulled in dozens of directions. Follow this simple checklist, and we promise a much smoother and happier holiday for both you and your guests.
1. Keep it simple. Not only is this a tip; it’s also a mantra. Repeat it to yourself whenever you have an urge to add one more task to your to-do list, or when you feel pressured to reach some ideal of hostess-with-the-mostest perfection. Whether you make the entrees and buy the side dishes (or ask others to bring them); opt for a modern arrangement of three dwarf spruces instead of a sky-high, ornament-filled Christmas tree; or buy gift cards instead of individual presents, simplifying the holiday is the most powerful way to make it more enjoyable—and more meaningful.
2. Plan ahead. Once you’ve made your to-do list, break it into pieces by week or day. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in this timeframe, or you’re pretty much guaranteed to feel disappointed.
3. Delegate. That’s what friends (and kids) are for, right? Don’t be afraid to take up your neighbor’s offer to sweep or shovel your walkway, or your coworker’s proposal to bring an extra bottle of wine to the party. There’s no shame in asking for help, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how many friends and family members will want to pitch in and share the work.
4. Make/do what you can in advance. Whether it’s DIY holiday decorations, food, cleaning, or guest-room setup, determine how many days in advance of the Big Event you can do these tasks, and check them off as you go. As Annie has discovered, almost everything—save the actual cooking—can be done ahead of time, and simply assembled the day of. (Refer back to number 3, Delegate, for day-of help.)
5. Accept those invitations. Don’t feel like you have to host the entire holiday yourself. If your aunt invites you for Christmas Eve at her house, say yes, and ask her if she’d like you to bring anything. When you invite her to your New Year’s open house, she’s almost certain to return the favor.
6. Get a good night’s sleep. It’s tempting to stay up late and cram in extra tasks from your to-do list, but sleep deprivation will make you cranky and less productive, and will negatively color the time you get to spend with your guests. Go to bed at the same time every night, allow yourself a bit of wind-down time with a book or magazine, then shut out the light and leave the rest of the prep for tomorrow, when you’ll feel refreshed and energetic.
7. During the holiday itself, jot down a few ideas on an easily accessible notepad—about what you’re experiencing. The information will be priceless come next year in making the holiday even more chill.
8. Take a few minutes for you. Unless they’re toddlers—and we wouldn’t blame you for feeling a little unhinged if you’re hosting a house full of them for the holiday—your guests will understand that you need a little me time every now and then. Try to get up a half hour or so before them every morning, and use the opportunity to go for a walk around the neighborhood, read the newspaper over a cup of coffee, or write in your journal. And if you feel overwhelmed at any point during the day, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself for 15 minutes to do something similar. Wanting a little downtime is natural—and necessary for helping you recharge.
9. Take a trip. If just the thought of spending the holidays in a large group makes your chest feel tight or your palms sweaty, consider going away with your significant other, your kids, or a friend or two. Some of Annie’s favorite holidays have been spent relaxing and riding at a dude ranch in Arizona, and she wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. Take some time to see your family before or after the Big Event, then find what makes you happiest and do it. Consider it a holiday gift to yourself.