Before Thanksgiving, I overheard a woman saying that she was completely done with her Christmas preparations. All of her presents were wrapped and ready to be given. This year, her family was celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, so she had to be ready.

As I eavesdropped on this conversation, I felt envy along with a flash of anger. I jealously looked away from her. I didn’t want to hear it. I hadn’t started to get ready for Christmas. And worse than my not even starting, I didn’t know where to begin.

This time of year can be a mixed bag. Getting ready for the holidays can be overwhelming and then I can feel guilty for not feeling festive. Once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is a race car on the autobahn that appears out of nowhere in my rearview mirror. I enjoy the Christmas lights and music, but the secular side of Christmas can be too much. Finding the right presents for those I love can be stressful. Add in my self-induced expectations of idealized food, decorations, and idyllic family gatherings and I’m the opposite of calm.

But I want this holiday season to be better. I know it can be. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I want to hold on to that feeling. I don’t want to be a victim of the holidays.

Once December began, I started to think about how I could minimize my stress over the next month.

Setting a Pretend Date

I decided to trick myself into getting ready for Christmas early by setting a pretend date for the holiday. If I pretend that Christmas is earlier than it is, then I might get my shopping done ahead of time, which would feel like a huge relief. I will be busily out of town December 11-15, so I chose December 10 as my Christmas Day. (Who says only kids can play “make believe”?)

I came up with this idea because a couple of years ago, I had a big trip planned. Unexpectedly, my mom needed to have surgery the week before this big trip. In order for me to be with her, I’d return home the day before leaving on my big trip. I needed to be completely packed and ready to go a week ahead of time.

And so that’s what I did. I filled up my suitcase in the basement. It sat there patiently with its yawning mouth full of clothes, while I was caring for my mom. As my big trip approached, I wasn’t stressed or worried. There was nothing to do.  I was already packed. I wondered why I didn’t do this whenever I traveled! It made going on a big trip so much easier.

For me, packing is right up there with Christmas shopping – not my favorite thing to do. Why couldn’t this “do it early” strategy work for Christmas? If Christmas is December 10, I can shop without stress on December 9 (unlike how I’d feel if I was shopping December 24).

Try the Unthinkable

Another approach I unwittingly tried last year was “Do the Unthinkable.” In 2015, my mom was very sick and life was a wreck. I couldn’t think straight and needed to, as Thoreau said, simplify, simplify, simplify. With this in mind, my husband and I decided to not send out our traditional Christmas cards. We just weren’t up to it. And guess what happened?

Nothing.

We received beautiful cards from friends and family with shining faces. I looked at them with some guilt that we weren’t reciprocating. However, the guilt was worth it. It was one less big thing to do. Nobody mentioned that they didn’t receive a card from us. There’s a good chance nobody even noticed. And my December workload was lighter.

Life is calmer this year, but I’m not ready to unthinkingly resume the Christmas card tradition. The cards are a lot of work. Both my husband and I are active on Facebook and use that as a way to stay in touch. Our friends and family see a lot of us online; they don’t need to see another picture of us in red sweaters with our new puppy.

Well, maybe you do need to see a picture of just Holmes in his holiday sweater.

In addition to shopping early and not sending Christmas cards, I’m a holiday minimalist in other ways. I don’t bake Christmas cookies. I also don’t decorate much. Okay, I don’t decorate at all, unless a poinsettia from Costco counts. But I do enjoy looking at Christmas lights, feeling the winter chill and listening to the sacred music on public radio in December.

These ways of reigning in the holidays won’t work for most people. In fact, this post may fill you with disgust, envy or anger. However, so far, at least this year, these approaches are working for me. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by holiday pressure, maybe some of these ideas can help you find your ways to enjoy the season more.

Now let me go and figure out what we’ll be having for our holiday dinner….my make-believe Christmas Day is tomorrow!