“We Need a Little Christmas”

Everyone has their own idea of when the Christmas/holiday season starts. Some say the day after Thanksgiving. Others don’t want to hear a single carol before December 1st. Still others are happy to deck the halls when the last Halloween treat is handed out. And none of these are wrong.

We all celebrate so differently, the bickering about it is unkind and rather silly. If you don’t want to hear the songs already, don’t listen to that radio station. If you don’t want to see the decorations being sold at your favorite store, veer that cart in another direction. No harm. But, ultimately, think about what’s being celebrated – good will on Earth! What’s wrong with folks getting into it when they’re not doing anything mean-spirited or hurtful? Nada. Do it when YOU want to and never mind the naysayers. (That said, my mood wanes depending on the year. I don’t like going nuts too early because it’s easy to get burnt out by it by, say, December 16th.)

So, what do you do if Thanksgiving has come and gone and you’re still not ready for jingling bells and Santa hats? Try one of my low-key ways to start getting into the holiday spirit.

1. Go shopping. I don’t mean for your gifts; that’s oftentimes an express highway to stress. (See below for shopping ideas that don’t suck.) Nope! Grab a holiday latte or some such treat and go to your favorite discount shop to stock up on your gift wrap and bags. Slowly and thoughtfully select your Christmas cards. Maybe pick a fun new decoration or two.

I find that thinking about the theme I’ll be wrapping my goodies in helps, especially when there’s a little holiday music playing in the background. Making it a relaxing errand helps you focus on the joy of the task rather than the million items you need to get.

2. Make your lists. This one may also sound stressful, but if you start early, this can be relaxing and even a bit fun. See, you’re not under a time crunch, and lists often help us feel organized and can definitely provide a sense of calm. Keeping them on your phone or Google Docs/Drive can keep them at-hand (and keep people from accidentally “finding” them), too.

First, I made my own wishlist (I talked about how it can help reduce some stress here). Look through your closet, think about the things you truly need, and daydream about what it might be nice to get. Cozy up with some cocoa, a blankie, and your favorite website (for example, West Elm or Target for me) and jot down what you’d like. Don’t worry about making it too lengthy; your gifters can pick what they want to get you and leave the rest.

Then, I used the same relaxed method to start brainstorming for my friends and family. Whether I could think of something to give or not, I wrote their names down to avoid forgetting them. Some folks sat there for a week with nothing popping up — others, I came up with five things for! I won’t be buying all that stuff, but I wrote them down just in case I need a birthday or Mothers’ Day idea later on.

Oh, and for a couple of people I was absolutely stumped on, I sent out a quick email. I’d much rather give them something they’d like (that’s not the biggest surprise) rather than a bad gift.

3. Listen to your favorite Christmas song. Everyone – EVERYONE – has a favorite Christmas song. Heck, I’ve got a handful. But, it’s not the holiday season for me until I hear “Sleigh Ride” (Boston Pops version, please). See? Everyone has their trigger song. I can’t help but bounce in the seat like a 5-year-old when I hear it, especially at the jazzy section.

I don’t mean “turn on the radio and deal with the crappy songs you hate” (I’m talking to you, Mannheim Steamroller), but just listen to that one awesome song you already know you love, then stop there. I often find myself getting totally sick of the constant rotation of songs early, so I have to take it in small doses. In the meantime, my favorite tune brightens my heart and gets me excited about the whole thing. Every. Single. Time.

4. Watch a low-fat version of a Christmas movie. Some holiday movies hit you over the head with the meaning of the season or take place totally around Christmas. Others, however, can be deemed Christmas movies only because one scene takes place on the special day. Watching one of these “Christmas Lite” movies can be just enough to pick up your Christmas spirit.

This time of year, I often gravitate to “Holiday Inn” (it’s about most of the holidays, not just Christmas), “Little Women” (definitely not a holiday movie, but a couple important scenes occur on Christmas), “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and a handful of other classic flicks that just have one or two Christmas scenes. Make sure you pick one that you know you’ll enjoy.

Oh, and if you’re up for it, watch a “full-fat” Christmas movie to REALLY get your spirit going. For me, “Elf” and “The Polar Express” make me super jolly.

5. Bake cookies. Again, don’t go overboard. Pick one of your favorite recipes — one that’s come down from your beloved grandmother or that you look forward to tasting every year — and make a batch. If you make a super huge batch, freeze them. Boom. One less you’ll have to make when you get invited to a cookie exchange. But, be sure to treat yourself to one (or, ahem, five); that’s the point of the thing.

If you’re in the mood, get a couple of types done before the hectic holiday schedule hits. Taking them from the freezer next month is way less stressful than baking all of them at once!

6. Put out some neutral decorations. Sprinkle a bit of decor around that can double for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find that deer, branches, pine cones, white candles, apples and oranges, and grapevine wreaths can help make the area feel super festive.

Then, as you get more excited, you can add some more greenery, lights, and ornaments (I even use some warm weather knit clothes like vintage mittens or scarves), do your tree, and it’s done. Simple! 

7. Follow your nose. Try filling the house with the smells of the season and see if your heart follows. For me, scent is the biggest mood enhancer, so it only makes sense to try this one out!

You can light a festive candle (we’re currently using a pumpkin one I received as a gift, so it’s not too Christmasy) or make your own homemade concoction to fill your house with the warm, cozy smell of the season. Try boiling some cinnamon sticks and clove (even include some apple and orange peels) in some water, then simmer on low. Grab a cup of cocoa and a book, and you’ll be in the Christmas mood in no time. 

8. Shop locally. Ease into your shopping responsibilities by starting at a local place, well before Black Friday. The crowds will be far thinner, the traffic will be a tad less dangerous (you know what I mean!), and you’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief at least checking one present off your list.

But, why do I suggest the local edge? It’s more emotional, in a good way. As you probably know, we’re not huge Wal-mart (or huge corporation) fans, so I do enjoy hitting up, say, our local toy shoppe before trying Toys ‘R Us. Plus, knowing that I’m supporting a local company definitely makes me feel much better about the money I’m spending. 

9. Shop online. Wait, didn’t I just say to shop locally? Why, yes. Yes, I did. But, if you’re still not ready to venture out into the crowds, this is the next best thing. And, guess what! I’ve already started this way.

PJs. A cozy blanket. Hot tea or cocoa. A favorite show or movie in the background. And getting some stuff crossed off your list? Perfect combination. Low-stress shopping, and you can get a head-start. I always open the package to check for damage (and to know what came), then put the whole thing directly in my closet until I have energy for wrapping.

10. Start giving early. This is something we should actually do year-round, but the holidays are a particularly difficult time for folks, families and even animals who find themselves in need. And, honestly, what warms your heart more than knowing you’re making a difference?

While you’re out grocery shopping, pick up some inexpensive (but healthy ;-)) canned goods to donate to a local shelter. Check the ads and grab some dog and/or cat food and cleaning supplies (I “follow” our local humane society to see what their immediate needs are — they almost always include bleach). Grab one or two of the latest toys so that you’re ready to “Stuff the Bus” when the time comes. Part prep, part goodwill, all fun.   

11. Last but not least, celebrate the “now.” If you’re still not ready to get into the Christmas spirit, don’t push it. It’s not a big deal. Some years go by and I find myself not feeling the magic at all. Not. One. Bit. It happens. Then, other years, I’m ready and raring to go.

But, I do suggest that you take time to celebrate SOMETHING. If it’s not the joy of Christmas, maybe it’s taking the time to give thanks – truly – for things both big and small. Maybe make a list of all you’re grateful for. Other times, just a reread (or rewatch) of A Christmas Story is enough to get us out of a Scroogy funk.