Holiday countdown: Begin with a plan

The clock is ticking, but if you plan ahead for the holidays, you'll eliminate a lot of the stress -- we promise! (Image via stock.xchng)

November 1.

24 days until Thanksgiving
51 days until Hanukkah
55 days until Christmas
61 days until New Year’s Eve

Halloween’s over, folks:
Welcome to the holidays.

This year, Smart magazine is showcasing something different each day here on the blog.

Some days it will be an event, such as a holiday play or craft bazaar. Other days it will be a recipe you can serve during Christmas dinner or a suggestion for entertaining the kids after the present-opening hoopla has subsided. Through the season, we’ll give you suggestions for events to watch for locally and tips to survive the holidays — all 61 days of them.

To begin the season today, we have one suggestion: Make a plan.

It can be an Excel spreadsheet of your “this-is-it-and-not-one-penny-more” budget for holiday food. Or a loose idea of how many guests you’ll have for Thanksgiving dinner and what you plan to make. Or a mental list of what present you’re getting for each family member and which ones you still need to brainstorm.

Regardless, make a plan. You’ll feel better with a few guidelines, even if you don’t follow them to a T. Here’s an assortment of categories you can run through:

Events: Know where you’re going and when. For Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve. Ideally, you have plans set for the big days and a general idea of any holiday parties, whether they be work-related or social events. You can guesstimate how many variations of the Little Black Dress you’ll need to brainstorm and how many hostess gifts you’ll need, not to mention the nights you might need a babysitter (or a date, for the younger crowd).

Budget: From presents to travel to hostess gifts, November and December can put a drain on quite a few wallets. You probably know ahead of time how much travel will cost, whether it be plane tickets (don’t forget checked baggage fees and airport parking) or gas money. Once you pin down your holiday party schedule, set your budget for hostess gifts and the like — few will object to a bottle of wine. As for gifts, be realistic about how much you spend and who you spend it on. Mom might be happier with a gift card to Starbucks than another snowman trinket. The office-mate you’ve chatted with twice doesn’t need a $20 gift.

Food: If you’re hosting a holiday meal, know how many people are coming (or at least a small range, if Uncle Bernie hasn’t committed yet). Share some of the work by allowing guests to bring side dishes, desserts or drinks. Get your recipes in order and plan on shopping ahead of time — i.e., before the Wednesday afternoon rush of Thanksgiving desperadoes. If you’re eating at someone else’s home, be a gracious guest and offer to bring something. Or, if you’re close with your host, offer to come a bit early and help out. Holiday cookies are often a big part of both hostess gifts and afternoon entertainment for the kids, but they also tend to get eaten quickly. If you’re baking for a specific event, be sure that your roommate / hubs / Tommy Jr. knows not to touch!

Decorations: Have a general idea of what you have and what you want to unpack from the attic and put out for the holidays. Be gracious if a guest or family member buys you a goofy waist-high Santa Claus from CVS and expects you to display it prominently (hey, Mom) or if a young family member makes a green-and-red, construction-paper chain and hangs it precariously along your staircase so that it’s difficult to walk under (hey, little brother). Know whether you’ll get a tree and where you’ll put it — or if your landlord’s open-flame stipulation allows you to actually light the candles on a menorah.

Plan a day of no planning: Last but not least, take care of yourself. If you’re sick, take a sick day. If you’d rather have a free Sunday afternoon than cram in your 29th holiday party, RSVP a polite no. Don’t overbook yourself and don’t put too much pressure on making everything perfect. Holidays are supposed to be about spending time with loved ones and being grateful for what you have, not getting the Christmas tree topper exactly straight.

Did I miss any categories? Do you plan ahead for the holidays and avoid some of the stress? Leave us a comment and share your expertise!

Sarah Chain

I'm an avid reader and book lover living and working in downtown York. Follow me on Twitter at @sarahEchain.

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2 Responses

  1. November 10, 2011

    […] Begin with a plan. […]

  2. November 7, 2012

    […] always start the holiday season with grand intentions of starting early. (Remember my sage advice on Nov. 1 to plan ahead?) In fact, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I mulled around downtown York to start idea-hunting. But […]

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