Put the Jolly Back in the Holidays


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No doubt you're familiar with the line from the traditional English carol, "Deck the halls with boughs of holly." Simple translation: "Decorate your house."

However, it may feel like Mom's the one being decked in December — in the modern sense of the word. In the quest for the picture-perfect holiday, women often exhaust themselves baking cookies, searching every craft store in town for red ribbon, haunting the malls for the ideal gift, and generally driving their families crazy.

The question is, are you really enjoying the holiday season? Or does it sweep past while you rummage in a box looking for that special something to add to the experience? Are you so busy trying to make it "perfect" that you don't enjoy making memories with your kids? It's enough to make anyone say, "Bah! Humbug!"

If you're haunted by the ghosts of Craziness Past, look for ways to deck the holidays: cut out the complications, slow down, smell the apple cider and enjoy your children. Here are some shortcuts that will lead you to a simpler season of good cheer.

1. Drop designer décor.
Keep decorations simple. A pretty wreath on the front door and a few strings of lights will do wonders for your home's curb appeal. It might not win your neighborhood's light display awards, but it will be festive without wearing you out. Plus, it will be easier to include the kids in the project if it is not a major production.

Inside, choose one color scheme, such as white, red or gold. Thread it throughout your home with candles, bows, fancy pillows and/or sparkling lights. Allow your kids to help place some items and resist the urge to redo it. Incorporate into your décor any holiday projects or crafts they have made. They'll love it and will feel apart of the celebration.

2. Send a postcard.
Rather than purchasing elaborate and expensive greeting cards and photos, combine them into one easy mailing: a postcard. Not only does this save time by writing shorter notes and not stuffing envelopes, your postage costs also will be significantly lower. Companies like www.winkflash.com or www.mpix.com can take your custom design and produce dozens of great cards for a low price. Let the kids help by sticking on stamps and signing their names.

3. Buy matching gifts.
Purchase the same item for everyone on your list, at least those outside of your immediate family. Buying one thing in bulk means fewer details to track. A cool new board game (let the kids help choose!) and a few fancy snacks make a fun present for anyone: families, college students, singles and grandparents alike. Gift cards to restaurants are also a simple and fun treat. The amount doesn't have to be huge.

4. Wrap to a theme.
You don't need a wide assortment of boxes, bags and bows. Choose one style, such as red bags with white paper, or even brown paper packages tied with white string. Both make it easy for children to help with wrapping. Plan ahead and have white index cards and colored markers handy for the kids to craft cute, yet simple tags. An authentic kid-print will bring a smile to almost any recipient's face.

5. Shop online.
Don't want to haul tired children around the mall? Avoid the crowds, the canned music and the endless marketing. Instead, shop in your pajamas from the comfort of your own home.

6. Make meals ahead.
Plan a month of meals in advance. Include menus that can be made in the slow cooker, premade and stored in the freezer, or made with convenience items such as rotisserie chicken and bagged salad mixes. If the budget allows (or Santa brings an early gift), visit a meal assembly business. There you can prepare in advance several weeks of meals at one time, without the hassle of shopping or chopping.

7. Entertain effortlessly.
Rather than planning elaborate dinner parties, assemble an appetizer pantry. Purchase olives, cheeses, chips, crackers, dips and frozen hors d'oevres as well as a few bottles of bubbly juices and waters. Stock a supply of festive napkins and cups. You'll be ready for a fun cocktail party or drop-in visits from neighbors and friends.

With a little planning, a few deep breaths, and a small degree of self-control, you, too can have a happy holiday. Make this year the one you relax a little more, laugh a little longer, and enjoy making memories with friends and family.

Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother of six and freelance writer. For more mom stuff and tips on family management, visit her blog, www.lifeasmom.com.

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