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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.