Christmas List 2013!!!

Two years ago, 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.

And then last year, I wrote the above paragraph and you were all so nice to me!  I think you all thought I was fishing for compliments.  You gave them generously, said lovely things, offered additional items, and were, just wonderful.  Thank you!  I’ve taken your suggestions and updated my list to include the great ideas of all our readers.

Now here is my yearly disclaimer and explanation of why we follow a serious Christmas prep list —

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.

Two years ago, 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. But don’t worry, the last two years I did not start working on my list until November.  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.

Three 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 (I am starting in November, so I’m just like you!).  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/early November–

  • 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 5 children, my parents, Mr. Red’s parents, Spouse, Mr. Red’s secretary, school teachers 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
  • Have children pick out and start to learn Christmas carols on their musical instruments
  • If you need additional ideas/scheduling help, sign up for the 100daystoChristmas.com reminder list (some of our readers have recommended this site, although I do not use it myself).  I just visited the site and they have a special 30 days to Christmas procrastinators version!

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!), purchase Christmas card letter paper and envelopes, special ornaments, stocking stuffers for kids, wrapping paper, tape, bows, batteries, envelopes for sending pictures to Grandparents.
  • Purchase treats for the Feast of St. Nicholas
  • Order/purchase gifts for teachers at school–ideas welcome in comments
  • 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, Storybook Land Christmas light show, 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
  • Pick a tag from the Angel Tree at Church, purchase gift, wrap, and bring back to Church
  • 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.

  • Mary Alice

    I have already begun working in this list, and it is giving me so much peace! I have a plan, so I don’t have to lie in bed at night worrying about what I have forgotten! We have 3 birthdays in the last week of December, and I will be working most weekends, so this time in November has to be used well! This list is a huge blessing. My brother is getting married in early January, so that also adds a lot to the to-do list!

    Our kids have a Christmas choir concert, so I have added “check choir uniform” to the November list and I have already ordered the new tights that my girls need for that. I have also got my advent candles and Jesse tree ready to go.

    A new addition this year was a Saturday morning of hot cider and local shopping with Kate. We accomplished a lot, did not feel rushed and pressured, and had a ton of fun together because it was only November 7! I will try to make this an annual event. Now, how do I hide the gifts for two months?
    Oh, for teachers we are doing mason jars of homemade granola.

  • Ryan

    Great list! Wow! Frozen waffles! Can we come over for breakfast? I do have two edits to your list. First, I look forward to reading your Christmas letter every year so you should really start drafting it in July so that it is Pulitzer Prize material by the time it arrives in my mailbox. (We have a new address). Also, you do not have a place on your list for recycling old Christmas lights. Typically Lowes and Home Depot have a day or two in November when they take lights for recycling. My advice: at the end of your list include setting aside inoperable lights in a separate box to recycle the following year. We wouldn’t want any miller lights filling up a landfill… :)

    -the Haslams

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

      Thank you Ryan! So glad to know your enjoy our Christmas letter! I did not know about Christmas lights recycling, but I will definitely add that to the list.

  • Mama A

    Thank you for posting this! We’re in an interesting situation this year where I’ll be 35 weeks along at Christmas, and I’m trying to prep as much as possible ahead of time without totally wearing myself out. This is a good list for me to consult!

    My husband and I sat down recently and made a list of things we enjoy doing at Christmastime, things that bring our family joy rather than stress. Anything that didn’t make that list is off our to-do list this year! So far we’ve axed the Christmas Card photo (I have a kid with two black eyes right now and I tend to turn into a total lunatic about getting the “right” shot anyway), the local library Christmas party (disorganized chaos), and feeding the reindeer at our local zoo (the kids screamed and cried and were afraid of it, and we were left out in the cold with three screaming little kids, lol). We’ve also nixed Christmas Eve Mass in favor of mass of Christmas Day (happier, more awake Children, yay!).

    • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

      I love this real take on some of the “must-do’s”!

  • Christina F

    I know it’s late in the game, but I think we need to come up with something similar, or at least get down everything we want to get accomplished in the next two weeks. Nutcracker pretty much wipes out December 2-15, and I’ve got a major work project going on during that time as well. It’d be good to just get a realistic idea of what we can expect to get done before December.

    • Mary Alice

      Christina, it is not too late! You can get a lot of this done between now and December 2, and then leave yourself 15 minutes a day to do little tasks in December. Another fun part about Red’s list is that you can eliminate all of the tasks that don’t apply to your family, so it feels like you have accomplished something before you even start! You should also really add things that are unique to you, like maybe lots of organic frozen pizza or other easy/quick nutcracker snacks :)

  • Kat0427

    Kellie, quite miraculously, I have already completed many of the October/early November tasks, and it feels great! I’m often behind with many of these tasks, so it feels good to have gotten them out of the way early. Disclaimer: I am not pregnant or nursing right now, and I do not even have a baby or a toddler at the moment! I didn’t realize how fuzzy my brain was during these periods until I came out of the fog :)
    I must admit, the food prep is making me sweat a bit! We are hosting this year, and although the extended family that will be in town is totally laid back and will be happy with WHATEVER I prepare, I still don’t feel like I’m great at hosting these types of meals yet.
    Gifts also make me a little bit crazy, in part because I’m just a terrible shopper. I’ve gotten better, though – I’ve learned that sometimes it is worth it to buy something in the moment if it will be a perfect gift, even though I might be missing a great sale or deal at another store. I’m also learning the art of online shopping, which saves me a lot of time.
    Thanks for your list!

    • Mary Alice

      Kat, I would encourage you to make a separate list for the food, I have just done so for Thanksgiving and it has helped a lot. You need a 3 tiered list. First, plan your menu, down to every detail (cream for the coffee). Next, make a shopping list that has things that you can buy in advance and then another “last minute” list. You can shop for the non perishable stuff when it is convenient, but then put it in a bin in a closet or something so that you don’t accidentally use it in the meantime.

      The meal doesn’t have to be too complicated, go back to the old stand by of meat, starch, veg, salad, roll, dessert. Really, anytime I make more than that, multiple side dishes, too many experimental vegetables, etc, I get overwhelmed and there is a lot left over!

  • RMB

    Thank you so much! Wow, I was just thinking about the Christmas prep post and came to the blog to search for it. Awesome that you had just posted it! :)

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    One thing I just did since we are always out of town for Thanksgiving is make and freeze the cookies that my kids expect for St. Nicholas day.

  • Tess C.

    Hi Red, I think your list is awesome! I don’t have kids yet but I know this list will come in handy when I do.

    The one thing I’m surprised at is your comments about this list being for “not saints” who don’t buy gifts for “saints” and how “saints” would enjoy last-minute store runs. I know you’re just kidding, but the truth is, we are all supposed to be saints… I mean technically the alternative is not going to Heaven, right? I’ve noticed a lot of Catholics throwing around “saint” as a synonym for “perfect” and that’s just not true, plus it sets people up for thinking sainthood is an unrealistic and unattainable goal—but it shouldn’t be! Anyway, sorry if this seems nitpicky, just wanted to point it out.

  • Prachi

    Hi red,

    You have an awesome list. I am now making list of dos and don’t for this Christmas. And some task i have already completed and so feeling better. And the most confusing thing is the preparation of the food and menu on the Christmas. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

  • Sara

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/atxbows You could get bows or phone cases from here :)

  • JourneyMart

    Wow,The holidays and festival actually a list of holiday gift ideas for the entire family. The Christmas celebrates festival is held in 25 December great time to be in Christmas celebrates.http://www.journeymart.com/holidays-ideas/famous-festivals.aspx


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