Christmas Prep 2012!

So last year I did a Crazy Christmas Prep post in October, laying out our family plan for thriving during Advent and Christmas.  In response to that post, I received quite a bit of negative feedback.  From the very benign, “I’m stressed out and your post is only making it worse!” to the meaner, “you are so materialistic Red, and if you were as holy as some of us, you would just celebrate Christmas without gifts in a cold dark home and eat soup out of a can to fully embrace the humility of our Blessed Mother and her Son.”  Ok, I’m exaggerating that second quote, but still, some of the e-mails and comments I received were pretty harsh.

Of course we all celebrate Christmas differently.  We all have different extended family situations and personal circumstances.  And NO, I DON’T DO EVERYTHING ON THIS LIST!  The list is meant to be a checklist that can be used by many different people.  It isn’t meant to make you feel guilty about your own simple Christmas plans.  It isn’t meant to make you think that I attend 5 Christmas shows, spend every minute of my Advent busy with different obligations, and spend thousands of dollars on gifts.  It is meant to be a good working list for people who don’t want to travel to the big box stores a couple of extra times for forgotten items.  It is meant to help you avoid putting up Christmas lights on the coldest Saturday of the entire winter.  And, perhaps most importantly, it is meant to make Advent and Christmas a time of spiritual graces, not materialistic preparations and stress.

Last year, after posting the list in October, I spent the rest of that month and November checking off the various “to do’s” on my own version of the below list.  Just after Thanksgiving, I was put on bedrest with my pregnancy.  I had expected the month of December to be rather slow for me, as I was due at the end of January.  But bedrest for ALL of Advent was rather serious.  Fortunately, we had a lovely Advent and Christmas with our family, in part because everything that could have been done in advance was finished.  I lay on the sofa with gifts already wrapped, pictures taken, cards assembled, etc.  I didn’t have any real running around to do until food prep the week before Christmas, and even then, my mother graciously took on that task because I had to stay off my feet.  It was a very blessed time, and I was so thankful I had been prepared.

It is now November, so I’m already posting this a bit late.  Christmas really 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 5 children, 9 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.

Two years ago, 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.

And just to reiterate my above disclaimers, 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 (hey, I didn’t start until November this year because we had a very busy October).  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.

October–

  • 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.
  • Buy Stamps for Christmas Cards.
  • Buy/order Advent Wreath or candles for wreath.

November–

  • 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 if you have not already done so.
  • 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

December–

  • 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.

  • Mrs C

    Too funny, Red. Your opening paragraph made me laugh so hard.

  • Patty

    Thank you for starting my Christmas prep list for me, although I see you forgot to include “lay in store of appropriately penitential canned soup”.

  • Andrea

    Red I think this list is AWESOME! I love how you have spent the time to think of every last detail and make sure things are planned out and paced in a timely manner. A woman after my own heart. Love it. Thanks for posting.

  • Mrs Gregory

    Fantastic. I was just contemplating how in my cheapness I haven’t done much to really get festive and make the holiday special for the family. My absolute favorite thing is dragging the babies out of bed and taking them to the midnight Christmas Eve service. It’s such a treat and the loveliest service.

  • Kathy

    Personally, I was grateful last year to be able to use your planning list. One thing I learned as a mom – take what advice you like that works and leave behind what doesn’t work for you. In your case it was helpful to have all the things done ahead as you wound up required to be off your feet (something you didn’t expect) – so perhaps it was stressful when that news came. When we had our youngest daughter in December, my husband and I worked like crazy to get everything done by Nov 30 – it made December and Christmas with a new baby a breeze! We should do it every year.

    Your list from last year helped me to find some new activities for my family to do. We went to Philly to see the Comcast center to see the tech Christmas show, Macy’s for their light show and a visit to Dickens’ Village. It was great. Thank you for the suggestions.

    It would be nice of we could just focus on Advent – but to do that one has to have all Christmas prep completed before the first Sunday of Advent.

    Thanks for the list again. Happy prepping.

  • Amy B

    Love it! Thanks for sharing! I read in Catholic Digest’s October issue something like, “as soon as you see pumpkins, it is time to start planning for Advent/Christmas.” You are not alone! My goal every year is to have the shopping (gifts) done and Advent activities/ devotions planned before Advent so the season can be enjoyed and prayed. A good list is essential. I am a planner and this time of year is always busy. Without a good plan the time slips by without meaning! I also find that my husband gets very busy at this time of year, so a good plan can assure that he gets to participate in the tradition building family activities. Thanks again!

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

    You said that you don’t do everything on the list, and I want to add that I have learned that I don’t have to do everything/the same things every year. For example, I couldn’t decide if taking my kids to see Nutcracker or Christmas Carol or Radio City should be my tradition, and then I realized that I can try to make room for one such outing each year, but it can be different each year, or rotate. This year I am going to try — ADD THIS TO THE LIST — The Nutcracker broadcast from Lincoln Center at the local movie theater. This is worth finding in advance and possibly putting on your calendar. They do it with opera as well, and it is an amazing, inexpensive way to see some of the best performing art in the world!

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

    In October, add: Have children each pick one Christmas Carol to learn on the piano. We have learned from experience that if you start thinking about Christmas music in December, it is too late for them to practice and learn a piece well enough to enjoy at Christmas.

    In December, add: Pick a tag from the church Angel Tree, buy and return the gift. Somehow, this often becomes a stressful extra errand.

  • Mama Turtle

    I love this post. The reality of the Christmas season is that I am The Mom, and I am responsible for about 90% of what happens during that season. My husband pitches in whenever and wherever, he loves doing the lights, but again: it’s mostly me by virtue of my schedule at home, versus his schedule at work. Anything I can do to make the season less stressful and more fun is worth it! Even if that means going on a wine run or shopping online in October.

    And yes, the more children you have, the more planning that’s involved. I despise taking all of the kids to Sam’s Club, so I try to schedule that trip ahead of time. And we inevitably end up sick during November/ December, so it makes sense to try and do more earlier!

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

      I think it is a really good point that someone often winds up sick, so you can ‘t count on having an intense last week of December.

  • Mo

    I love this, Red. Simple and totally doable. Thanks for sharing!

  • Katrina

    This is great, Red – I have a very similar list, and it is crucial to my sanity! I’m by nature a go with the flow kind of person, but if I did that this time of year we would all be drowning! Mama Turtle, ditto to all that you said!
    We usually use a photo from earlier on the year for Chrisymas cards – every family pic we take is a potential candidate for The Christmas Card :)

  • http://www.tinylittleone.blogspot.com Kyra

    Hi,
    Hope this is not too late of a response and some items I list are helpful… also I was laughing at your first couple of paragraphs as well :) I had a similar situation last year when I had listed on my blog all of the great deals I had managed to get by finishing Christmas shopping right after Thanksgiving, and I was taken aback by a couple of comments people made to me along the lines of “oh well, it must be nice to be you, and be so organized and perfect” basically. Yikes. And here I thought I was helping.
    Anyway, because I have a huge extended family living locally, we get together a lot and so I had started planning out all of our family activities by season, making a calendar and blogging it. This has primarily helped us all by 1) Letting everyone know when the adults and children have off from school/work and will be in town 2) What local events are going on, and 3) Most importantly, when can we get a discount :)
    Just a few I thought of that weren’t on the list but would probably help the family crowd…
    –I’m following the 100 Days to Christmas daily reminder list. You just sign up and they email you. I think if you just google that phrase the site should come up. But again, like Red said, it’s not meant to make people feel badly about not being Super Mom, so if you know you might be prone to those thoughts/feelings, just skip it! Not worth the added stress. For me I really feel I don’t list and plan because I’m trying to be some sort of Super Mom, but because I have the sort of personality that needs to plan every detail months in advance. Without that, I am more stressed and mean, plus we overspend and miss out on stuff.
    –We do credit card rewards as well and I would recommend, even if you don’t normally, to check yours out because I know ours does special holiday discounts. For example, all of the stores normally offering 10% back will offer 15%, and stores normally offering, say, a $30 gift card at the cost of $25 will offer a $40 gift card. I’ve found the biggest savings is usually in restaurant gift cards. One thing I discovered…my card offers 20% back at Drugstore.com plus free shipping, and it has a big selection of toys. Toy shopping done!
    –We don’t do formal Christmas pictures, but I make up Shutterfly books (this year for three different people) and I know, if you are brave, there is usually like a 3 day window after the Christmas card sale (Dec 14th) that everything goes 50% off. Plus the online photo places usually participate in credit card rewards programs as well.
    –For those of you who are up very early or at all hours like I am (and I’m sure that’s at least all of the Builders!) I make a gift list and store list to do online purchases on Black Friday. I despise going out to stores, but the past few years I’ve managed to score crazy deals online between Midnight and 4am, just because I happened to already be awake.
    –I know there’s a big Midatlantic crowd here so for the locals, we try to hit the Storybook Land Christmas light show. It’s a good drive to the South Jersey shore from the Philly area where we are, but totally worth if you have an under-5 yr old crowd. They have a nightly light show/parade from now until 12/22, and every Tuesday is 30% off.

  • http://www.tinylittleone.blogspot.com Kyra

    Hi,
    Hope this is not too late of a response and some items I list are helpful… also I was laughing at your first couple of paragraphs as well :) I had a similar situation last year when I had listed on my blog all of the great deals I had managed to get by finishing Christmas shopping right after Thanksgiving, and I was taken aback by a couple of comments people made to me along the lines of “oh well, it must be nice to be you, and be so organized and perfect” basically. Yikes. And here I thought I was helping.
    Just a few I thought of that weren’t on the list but would probably help the family crowd…
    –I’m following the 100 Days to Christmas daily reminder list. You just sign up and they email you. I think if you just google that phrase the site should come up. But again, like Red said, it’s not meant to make people feel badly about not being Super Mom, so if you know you might be prone to those thoughts/feelings, just skip it! Not worth the added stress. For me I really feel I don’t list and plan because I’m trying to be some sort of Super Mom, but because I have the sort of personality that needs to plan every detail months in advance. Without that, I am more stressed and mean, plus we overspend and miss out on stuff.
    –We do credit card rewards as well and I would recommend, even if you don’t normally, to check yours out because I know ours does special holiday discounts. For example, all of the stores normally offering 10% back will offer 15%, and stores normally offering, say, a $30 gift card at the cost of $25 will offer a $40 gift card. I’ve found the biggest savings is usually in restaurant gift cards. One thing I discovered…my card offers 20% back at Drugstore.com plus free shipping, and it has a big selection of toys. Toy shopping done!
    –We don’t do formal Christmas pictures, but I make up Shutterfly books (this year for three different people) and I know, if you are brave, there is usually like a 3 day window after the Christmas card sale (Dec 14th) that everything goes 50% off. Plus the online photo places usually participate in credit card rewards programs as well.
    –For those of you who are up very early or at all hours like I am (and I’m sure that’s at least all of the Builders!) I make a gift list and store list to do online purchases on Black Friday. I despise going out to stores, but the past few years I’ve managed to score crazy deals online between Midnight and 4am, just because I happened to already be awake.
    –I know there’s a big Midatlantic crowd here so for the locals, we try to hit the Storybook Land Christmas light show. It’s a good drive to the South Jersey shore from the Philly area where we are, but totally worth if you have an under-5 yr old crowd. They have a nightly light show/parade from now until 12/22, and every Tuesday is 30% off.

  • Kathy K

    Personally, I appreciate you taking the time to share with the rest of us. My family has been through a lot of medical issues in the last three years. That means we walked in and out of the door a lot and now, 36 months later, we have a mess from the ceiling down. And now the holidays? In stead of saying, “No way!” We are cleaning as our bodies and our energies allow (physically & spiritually). We have returned to our home church, that we left 3 years before, only with the intent to worship. Not attend and then walk out, but true, real worship. The holidays are an awesome time to put all our lives into perspective looking at the true gift represented by the cross. Thank you for helping give us a “fresh” view of what can easily be a crazy time of year. Merry Christmas!


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