Crazy Christmas Prep Post!

Brace yourselves!  Christmas is just around the corner, and like it or not, trying NOT to think about Christmas will not make Advent a more holy season in your life.  As our family has grown we have desperately searched for a system that will make Advent a time of joy and spiritual preparation, not a time of intense insanity and panic.  With 4 children, a very pregnant belly, 8 nieces and nephews, 5 Godchildren, 4 Advent/Christmas birthdays, and the other usual obligations of the holidays, the absence of a good plan would be catastrophic (not to be dramatic or anything).  From years of experience, I have learned that a “good plan” requires that we start our Christmas preparations in October (and no, this does not mean we decorate and put up lights prior to Halloween!)  It simply means that there are things that can be done in October (or earlier), and those things should be finished and checked off the list so that life is a little easier.

Last year, Mr. Red and I made notes of every task that we needed to complete prior to Christmas Day.  We mapped them out and spaced them out and made reasonable decisions regarding how we could spread out the tasks and make our very long “to do” list more manageable, and, perhaps, enjoyable?  We came up with the following schedule, and I am posting it here.

As a brief disclaimer, I am NOT posting this schedule to make you panic about your own plan.  Perhaps you have less shopping to do and starting in November isn’t that big of a deal.  Perhaps  you live with and are related to a bunch of saints who have all decided to forgo gift giving in lieu of charitable donations.  Or perhaps you are a saint and running around to stores at the last minute is a joy?  God Bless you if this is your situation.  I am posting the schedule for those of us who are not Saints, do not purchase gifts for Saints, and for those of us who shudder in horror at all those unnecessary trips to the store to pick up “forgotten” items.  You know, those of us who allow these trips to cause stress, and then take that stress out on our children and spouse.  Not that I am speaking from experience here or anything.

But back to the schedule.  We broke our schedule up into months, and near the first of each month I look at the “to do” list and assign each task a day.  We tried to group tasks by store (so for example, a task might read “Target Trip” and we tried to include all the regular yearly purchases into that Target Trip list).  Some of the tasks may be particular to our family, but I’m hoping by being so particular, it may help you remember something and add it to your own list.


  • Assess Credit Card Reward Status (we get free gift cards from our credit cards, but these need to be ordered several weeks in advance)
  • Schedule Christmas Pictures
  • Schedule Haircuts for Christmas Pictures (best done 2 weeks prior to photos)
  • Purchase tickets to a Christmas Show (for example–Nutcracker/Handel’s Messiah), or if busy, make decision to forgo shows this year!
  • Purchase kids Christmas Outfits–Girls, remember sweaters, hair accessories, and shoes.  Boys, remember shoes and ties.
  • Order online Christmas gifts for–5 Godchildren, 4 Birthdays, our own 4 children, my parents, Mr. Red’s parents, Spouse, Mr. Red’s secretary, and any other person who needs a gift.  Obviously not all things can be ordered online, but order what you can and make a list of those things that need more thought or a trip to the store.
  • Order Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Catalog for my children to pick out gifts/donations to 3rd world families.


  • Goodwill Trip (we purge our drawers in October and try to drop these things off to declutter before the Holidays)
  • Target/ Walmart Trip–Purchase new outdoor lights (make sure they match old ones and white cords), purchase Christmas card letter paper and envelopes, special ornaments for Therese’s stocking, stocking stuffers for kids, wrapping paper, tape, bows, batteries, envelopes for sending pictures to Grandparents.
  • Get Pictures Taken (order Christmas Cards) **best done in early November or late October**
  • Wrap Birthday gifts
  • Post Office–Ship Birthday gifts for those with early Advent Birthday and purchase stamps
  • Put up outdoor lights on a nice November weekend (this avoids bad weather and you don’t have to plug them in until December)
  • Purchase additional Christmas gifts at the Store (ideally, all gifts will be purchased by the end of November, I try to set a hard deadline here and not worry about getting a good sale later as this usually leads to more stress and extra time running around in December).
  • Write Christmas Card Letter


  • Put important Advent/Christmas Events on Calendar–local parade, visit with Santa, Christmas shows, Macy’s Light show and Dickens Village in Philadelphia, Santa riding by on Firetruck, Living Nativity at local Church, Church Christmas Concert, kids Christmas concerts, a date and directions for getting your Christmas tree and include any notes about instructions for tree (max height, trim bottom branches, etc.)
  • Calendar date for putting up tree/trimming tree
  • Get out Advent Wreath and Christmas Book Basket from basement, Get out Nativity from Basement
  • Set DVR on TV to record televised Christmas Specials (Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Home Alone, Christmas Carol, Frosty)
  • Set timer for Outdoor Christmas Lights
  • Address Christmas Cards
  • Local Store for fresh wreath and Flowers
  • Decorate Inside of House
  • Ship all Birthday gifts
  • Wrap Christmas Presents that need to be shipped
  • Ship all Christmas Presents
  • Mail Christmas Cards
  • Mail/Ship Christmas Pictures to Grandparents
  • Wrap all gifts for Christmas Day
  • Make Gingerbread Men cookies
  • Make Christmas Morning Waffles and freeze (at least one week in advance)
  • Trip to BJ’s/Sam’s for wine/beer, and food for Holidays (we host and need to stock up)
  • Grocery Store trip for Christmas Morning/Day, for all things that can be made in advance
  • Wegman’s last minute trip (23rd or 24th) for last minute items only (such as fish or very fresh produce)
  • Make desserts for Christmas Day
  • Finish all yearly Charitable giving

Obviously the food prep stuff in December can get tricky.  I’d suggest laying out details and making very specific lists about 2 weeks prior to Christmas.  I will try to post more about this in December.  I realize not everyone hosts Christmas Day like we do, so your December list may be less complicated.  I hope this basic breakdown helps you with your own Advent survival plan!

And please, please, please add anything you think I might have forgotten/not thought about in the comments.  I would love to revise this list and post it each year to help our readers and myself.


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  • OK, I have a three week old and this makes me cry…but at the same time I was already mentally putting it together.u00a0 I would add stocking stuff shopping for us as well gifts for our priests!

  • Anonymous

    NO!!!u00a0 I don’t want to make you cry.u00a0 When I want to cry I just look at it one week at a time.u00a0 Sometimes it helps to just get it all on the calendar, and focus one week at a time, then it doesn’t seem so bad, right?u00a0 nnGood additions.u00a0 I’m going to try to take all the suggestions and work them into the list, and repost.u00a0

  • This is an awesome list. Thank you for sharing!! I have several big conferences for work in December, so I am determined to get on top of holiday planning EARLY this year, for once! Two additions that came to mind: buy stamps and/or address labels for Christmas cards (you can order stamps through the mail & never have to brave the lines at the P.O.!) and buy new Advent candles for the wreath. I can’t tell you how many years I’ve gone flying into our local Catholic shop desperate to find their last set! 😉

  • Kathy

    Thank you for this great post! As I am home recovering from surgery and no longer wish to watch TV anymore, I thought I was crazy that I wanted to get the card list updated, yearly letter written and last night we picked out the family photo card on line. I will print out your list and keep it for future use. Like you said – only suggestions – not to upset people. Do what works best for you. nnWe have a slew of Advent Birthdays and by the time we get to the big Guy’s on the 25th we used to be exhausted. Lists can be a big help – also knwoing the big sales for certain stores throughout the year and everyone’ s return policies. nnWhen we had our 3rd child, who was due Dec 11 (born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), we had eveerything completed for Christmas by Nov 30! It was such a smooth December because of it. People were impressed that we had 3 children, one of whom was a newbirn and we never broke a sweat in December. We really should do it every year. nnGreat list – and like you said – don’t use it as a stressor.

  • Excellent. I have a separate binder than contains my Christmas countdown planner. It also starts in Oct. The only think I would add is, if you can, start signing/addressing/stamping Christmas cards early on, just a few at a time, then mail them all at once. This can mean taking a family photo earlier or writing a Christmas letter earlier, but I send out a ton of cards but prepare only 7-12 a week, then mail around the 21st. Since the Christmas season technically goes beyond Christmas day, I don’t feel bad if some arrive after the 25th.u00a0

  • Mandabravo

    I’m on board.u00a0 I especially like the point about getting the holiday photos done early.u00a0 The studio won’t be a zoo with back to back to back appointments.u00a0 We usually just do candids on our cards, but one year I went to get six month old pictures made in November and didn’t realize that the packages were going to be much more expensive because everyone was getting Christmas photos made.u00a0 nnI also really like the “set DVR”, and getting out the holiday book basket.u00a0 I never remember I have a stash or where I put it until pretty late and then the books are still new and the kids want to read them well past Christmas when I am ready to move on.

  • Ooh I love the idea of addressing cards a few a week!u00a0 I didn’t mean that your list was bad just that I was trying to forget how much work the holidays are…sort of like vacation!u00a0 It is about making memories for others!u00a0 I do like the list and will be using it!

  • B-mama

    Mothering spirit, we are so guilty of late-Advent wreath candle-buying. u00a0It seems like every year, I’m flying in on the first Sunday of Advent, praying I find a complete set of candles!! u00a0One blogger tried to improve this by buying 2 sets, one for one year and another for the next, only to find her second set wilted and askew by her attic heat! u00a0lol. u00a0October buying is essential!n

  • B-mama

    One additional non-Christmas-related idea, but worthy of note is making sure the family is well-stocked on outdoor winter gear! u00a0Every year it seems I’m behind the 8 ball on this and it’s really hard to find snow boots and snow pants on the eve of winter’s first big storm!! u00a0Stock up now while the stores have the inventory!! u00a0Target is actually running a sale right now in our area on all things snow-related… u00a0I saved over $22 on new gear for our oldest by buying ahead of time. u00a0Bring on the snow!!n

  • JMB

    WOW! My list looks something like this:nOct: figure out if we have a suitable picture of all the kids in one spot and try to locate it in camera, cell phone or computer.u00a0 If in computer, put it up on Facebook page.u00a0 This way, if you blow it off, at least there’s a recent picture there.nNov:u00a0 think about going to Home Goods to get some new Christmas stuff, secretly grateful that we won’t be doing Thanksgiving this year.nDec: have kids make a list.u00a0 Give them the old lecture that Christmas is more about giving than receiving.u00a0 Have kids email/text their list to in-laws.u00a0 Get ideas from SIL for her kids, ditto for your sisters.nComplain about having to buy stuff for your FIL, then feel grateful that your children have one grandfather.u00a0 Remember your dad.u00a0 Remember that it really is about the people.u00a0 Look forward to spending time with family.u00a0 nn

  • Kathy

    Thanks for the reminder for the advent candles – had to use white candles last year with the purple and rose ribbons around them. I know it is fine, but I prefer the actual colors – and dark purple to light purple – gee could I be anymore OCD?

  • Kathy

    Regarding the addressing of envelopes – we put our Christmas card list on a label document on Word. I update them this time of year – or as addresses change, if I remember. Then I put the labels in the print and hit the button – every thing addressed. Kids can help you put on the labels. My MIL (who sends out lots of cards like we do) likes to address the envelopes by hand as she feels itis more personal and she thinks/says a prayer for each one as she addresses the envelope. I still think about/offer a prayer for each person as I stick the label on. Like so many things – personal preference is the key. nnAlso, Christmas stamps are available in October. I get them now as one year they ran out of religious stamps and I had to use the secular Christmas stamps. My husband laughs when Iu00a0feel that Merry Christmas on a card or stampu00a0is not religious enough. We prefer stamps and cards that remind everyone who’s b-day it is. He says, “Some people are issuing lawsuits over Merry Christmas and we don’t think Merry Christmas is religious enough.”

  • Kate E.

    I love this! I am not this organized but every year I try a little more. What I like about it is I feel like you get a lot of the busy work done early and spaced out and then have more time for the fun stuff.u00a0 A lot of what is on your list is super fun holiday things we love to do that sometimes get lost in the shuffle…get them on the list and December is instantly more fun.u00a0 Great tip about getting the lights up in November on a nice weekend.nnAlthough a little humor for early holiday stores, my 5 year old walked into Lowe’s with us last weekend and ran straight up to some nice man working their and said “Why is your Christmas stuff up? Did you guys get confused? Don’t you know we still have to do Halloween and THEN Thanksgiving?”u00a0 He wasn’t indigent so much as worried that they mixed it up.