Cards & Cookies More Stress Than Joy? 6 Ways To Ease Up & Enjoy Holiday Traditions

Sending Christmas cards got you stressed? Try coming up with a new plan that works for you.

In the comments to yesterday’s post about sending holiday cards, several people admitted that they would like to send cards–or once did–but that the pressure and obligation had become too much. I totally understand that! I think for any tradition to be worthwhile it has to bring more satisfaction than it takes away in energy.  I also wonder if we sometimes make things harder than they need to be in a quest for perfection: it’s not good enough to send a card; it has to be a work of art including a beautiful handwriting specimen and a well-composed family portrait wherein everyone is wearing holiday colors and sincere smiles. Or maybe your list of Christmas card recipients has grown to epic proportions and the very idea of finding the time (and money!) to get 120 cards written, addressed and out the door has got you throwing up your hands in surrender.

Any holiday tradition can become more burden than joy if we let those mystical ideals stand in the way of good-enough.

But does it have to be so hard? Like housekeeping and parenting I believe there’s a “good enough” way to keep those beloved traditions alive without breaking the bank or sapping your energy. Here are some ideas:

  1. Pare down your holiday card list. Is there anyone you can hand-deliver a card to–or a relative you see so often they really don’t need a card? Likewise are there friends and family members who aren’t that likely to appreciate the card and would really rather just get a phone call or email? I’ll be sending cards mainly to the “elder” relatives–grandma, aunts and uncles–under the assumption that my cousins will see those cards and pictures when they’re home visiting. With four or five cousins for each of my parents’ siblings, sending a card to each household (not to mention keeping up with ever-changing addresses) is just not something I can take on right now.
  2. Rotate receivers. If your list is long and full of people you rarely communicate with otherwise, maybe there they don’t all need to get a card from you every year? If so, maybe you can create two “B” lists and rotate them so that those people who aren’t in your close circle of family and friends get a card every other year.
  3. Consider sending non-holiday cards. If you like the idea of sending a yearly greeting to your former college roommate or first boss, maybe you could send a “Happy New Year” card rather than a Christmas card. Or relax even more and send a “Happy Winter” card sometime in January when life calms down. You could even stagger your list throughout the year and send a smattering of cards quarterly. Forget those etiquette “rules” you’re holding yourself to–a heartfelt greeting is welcome at any time of year.
  4. Make it easy on yourself. Put all the items you need–cards, nice pens, stamps, envelopes, a list of addresses, etc–together in a box or drawer so they’re easy to pull out and work on when you have a minute or ten.
  5. Relax your standards. You don’t have to go to a dozen different stores to find the perfect card, or spend hours practicing your signature so it’s written in legible cursive. You don’t have to include a lengthy summary of your year or professional-quality family photos. Play to your strengths and interests–if you love taking pictures, a handful of candid snapshots of your kids may be more valuable to your grandparents than that single posed portrait. Or if you’re a better writer than photographer, draw them a “picture” with your words.
  6. Have your kids do the work. Too busy to pick up photo prints or write much more than your signature? Hand your child a stack of paper and some crayons and ask them to write ‘letters’ to the relatives. Likely your mother-in-law will enjoy your child’s rendition of a Christmas tree more than any letter you could send, anyway (no offense intended.)

Of course, holiday cards aren’t the only thing that can be either fun or a drag, depending on the approach (and expectations.) Take holiday baking, for example: it’s easy to get so buried under three dozen “must-make” recipes and a recipient list four dozen people deep that you forget why you’re making them in the first place. What is it about baking that gives you joy? Is it the actual baking part? The decorating? Sharing an activity with your children? Or the giving? Depending on your answer, maybe this year you only make cookies for a half-dozen recipients instead of your entire family and every school employee. Or maybe you make the cookies from a mix and just enjoy frosting them with your child while listening to holiday tunes. Maybe you make that gingerbread house from a kit because the decorating is what you love best. Or maybe you pour your heart and soul into making that shortbread from scratch–but forget about the other two-dozen varieties of baked goods you don’t enjoy as much. The key is to focus in on what you love and what gives you satisfaction, and leave the rest.

Are there holiday traditions you’ve scaled back to make them more enjoyable or doable for you? Are there any holiday rituals you’ve been avoiding because they seem like too much work and obligation? Is there a way to make them easier so you can focus on the fun instead of the work?

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  1. Cynthia Drake
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