9 Ways To Survive Christmas Without Driving Yourself (And Everyone Around You) Insane

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I love giving gifts, but I hate shopping for them.

I mean, HATE it.

It isn’t that I’m indecisive. I know that when I see the right thing for somebody, I’ll know it. And by God, I’m going to keep looking until I find it. That’s why I cheat. I’m a Cheaty McCheaterson when it comes to gift-giving and holiday preparing, and I don’t regret it one bit!


9 Ways To Survive Christmas Without Driving Yourself (And Everyone Around You) Insane

When I cook, I want to it right. Why bake a pie when I can make a Christmas trifle from an authentic Victorian recipe with made from scratch sponge cake and hand-whipped cream?

That was me at Christmas. Until the year my father was in the hospital, and it was the 23rd, and I was like, I just can’t.

And the year after that, I just didn’t. Gift cards to Barnes and Noble for everyone. Takeout from Cracker Barrel for dinner.

The world didn’t end. But I wasn’t very happy, either.

Now I’m trying to find the happy medium. A good-faith effort on the things I don’t care for, and a work smarter not harder attitude on, well, everything. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far.

  • First step, lower your expectations. You’re not freaking Martha Stewart. Neither is she—there’s this job called “food stylist.” Also, Pinterest is the devil on your shoulder whispering “Go ahead, try it. What are you, scared?”
  • Focus on quality, not quantity. You don’t have to make five kinds of cookies. You don’t have to have a Griswold Christmas Light Extravaganza in your front yard. You can decorate just one room of your house. You can decorate just a tree. One year I put fresh garland over the mantle and decorated that so I wouldn’t have to drag the Christmas tree down from the attic.
  • Be lazy. Do good. There are booths in the mall volunteers will wrap your presents for you and the proceeds go to their organization. This isn’t even cheating.
  • Two words: Potluck. In my family, everyone had their designated dish they brought every year. Woe betide anyone who changed up green bean casserole for sautéed French beans with slivered almonds. I didn’t make that mistake twice. As the family grew and changed (see a previous post about kids at Christmas) we switched to a buffet of hearty snacks rather than a traditional dinner.
  • Swallow your environmental guilt. Christmas is the one time of year I allow myself to use paper plates and paper napkins.
  • Lie. Marie Calendars Dutch Apple pie is delicious and very easy to pass off as homemade. The key to making store bought look like the labor of your own hands is to change dishes (obviously) and mess it up a little so it’s not too perfect. Or buy plain cookies or cupcakes and decorate them yourself. Add sprinkles or dried fruit (but not edible glitter) and you’ve personalized it. Done and done. It isn’t that you don’t care, it’s just that you want to enjoy parties, not dread all the work.
  • Don’t overthink the gifts. There is actual, scientific proof that you don’t have to work so hard. If you find a good gift, it’s okay to give it to more than one person. One year I gave everyone hand-knit socks, but in different colors. A friend gave our group all tee-shirts, but Sally got Wonder Woman and I got Princess Leia. We got matching ones one year, and that was great, too.
  • Gift smarter, not harder. If someone has a Wish List, don’t go searching for something that will surprise them. Psychologist have found people are happier getting gifts on their list. People also tend to give gifts that they would pick for themselves—my brother gave me a Star Trek bathrobe one year, so I found a Doctor Who one for him the next.
  • Play to your strengths. I love to bake, so when I have time, that’s what I do, and stint on the other stuff. My friend Kate gets enormous satisfaction from searching for highly individualized gifts—just the right thing for the person—whereas I’m more likely to think of one good thing and give a variety of that to everyone.

Most of all, do what makes you happy. Sure the holidays are about giving. But if you’re doing that in a way that makes you miserable, it’s not coming from a place of generosity and love, but of obligation.

So my gift to you, dear readers, is to absolve you of guilt. Your family and friends want you to be happy more than they want the perfect gift or even the most exquisitely layered trifle.

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