Posted by: Shannon @ A Dash of Sparkle | December 6, 2011

The Holiday Plan: How to Manage the Holiday Season

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I love the holidays.

It truly is my favorite time of the year with the music, gatherings of friends and family, decorations, food, seasonal smells and layered clothes by crackling fires.

I know that it can be a bit of a stressful time of the year though.

Years ago, I spent most of the holiday season worrying about what gifts I was going to get and being overwhelmed by the overall obligations that seem to come up each December. Who can go to all those holiday parties, afford gifts for coworkers in addition to your family, always have the perfect holiday outfit, find a date for those holiday parties, squeeze in extra hours for shopping and cooking, remember who you need to send a card to (on-time), and maintain their sanity?

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It took me a couple years, but I finally realized that it’s impossible to do it all, unless you make it your full time job. And who can do that?

I realized that I could enjoy the holidays to their fullest when I wasn’t spreading myself so thin, time-wise and financially.

The key is to examine it all ahead and plan to take your time through it all, knowing that it is a short six-week time of the year and chances are you’re better prepared than you think.

So each year, I lean on The Holiday Plan to help me enjoy the season. Here it is:

  • Have a Gift Policy – As early as November, but really by the start of December, I discuss my gift giving policy with my closest friends and family. It may sound overly business-like, but most people will be secretly relieved to know that you’d like to follow a gift limit or budget. Decide on what you can spend and share that with those you wish to exchange gifts with. For those you can’t afford to swamp gifts with simply explain, “I’m trying to simplify the holidays a bit this year and would much rather spend some time with you over a dinner or coffee than exchange gifts if that’s okay.”
  • Limit Your Card List – If you are one of these people who receives countless holiday cards each year and spends weeks writing and sending cards and is constantly overwhelmed by this, there is hope. I found that most people just wish to be acknowledged over the holiday season, but they don’t necessarily need a written card that is going to go in a pile after they glance at it. Divide and conquer your card list. Limit the list of people who will actually receive a mailed card to those who you want to deliver a special holiday wish to. For everyone else, send them an e-card. If you don’t have their email, then a message through a social network can correct that. Plan to start your card mailing by the second week of December though to make sure your get your cards mailed in time.
  • Brainstorm Your Shopping Strategy – One night in November or December, turn on some holiday music, pour yourself a glass of wine or make some tea, and sit down with your list of gift recipients (GR) (who know of your gift policy). Shopping doesn’t need to be stressful in this day and age of online-shopping. You just need to figure out what you want to get people. Make a list of favorite interests for each of your GR and flip through some recent conversations or experiences with each to get ideas for gifts. If you need to, email the tricky ones for a few gift ideas (most people have a few tucked away by early December).
  • Shop in Stages – The easiest way to start shopping is online, but you must do this as your first stage as shipping gets tricky by mid-December, plus you can knock off some of the bigger items online with good sales pretty early on. Once you wrap up the online shopping, set aside one evening or afternoon to stop in the bigger discount stores to knock off some additional main items that you can typically find at a Costco, Target or department store. Next, work in the specialty stores shopping trips on a couple days when you can treat yourself to a hot coffee or lunch nearby (helps maintain the sanity by treating yourself at the same time you’re shopping for someone else). Finally, save the gift shopping for last, as it is usually either the last resort type gifts, or the stocking-stuffers that you can’t plan on, but are fun.
  • Accessorize Your Party Outfits – You don’t necessarily need to buy new clothes for all those holiday parties, but you may need to pick up a few sparkly-type seasonal accessories to dress them up. A sparkly pair of heels, bright colored tie or shirt, and a new sweater or wrap will add a seasonal edge to clothes you already have. Play with the accessories and mix and match them with some classic outfits and you’ll look like the festive party-goer with only a small investment.
  • Have Safety Gifts – These aren’t second-hand gifts (though sometimes re-gifting works out for everyone), but rather your safety net during the holiday season for those you didn’t count on popping up. Also, they double as host/ess gifts when you’re going to all those parties. Be prepared during the holidays by stocking up on a few safety gifts like bottles of wine, tickets to a holiday show (you can always use them if you don’t end up gifting them), or even a gourmet coffee basket. These gifts shouldn’t cost too much, but aren’t so generic (like a candle) that just anyone could give them.
  • Decorate Before You Buy – Before you hit the stores, go through your holiday decorations and put what you have up. Live with them up for a couple days before picking what new additions you’d like to buy that year. You don’t always need to buy a bunch of new things. Sometimes you can go for a walk in the woods and pick up some holiday decorations – pine cones, evergreen branches or even winter bush branches can make nice additions and will save you the hassle of going out to buy new things. Enjoy your decorations and let them get you in the spirit!
  • Set Aside You Time – It’s easy to get caught up and say yes to every party invitation out there, but unless it truly is a time sensitive occasion, such as visiting friends or family who are only in town a limited time, don’t be afraid to say no or, “how about we set something up for after the holiday so we have more time to enjoy each other’s company?” Make sure you have some nights planned aside for YOU or a date night with your honey to slow down and enjoy the holiday atmosphere and TV programming and movies!
  • Find Your Inner Baker – Instead of buying gifts for coworkers or offering up chips and dip as an offering for yet another dinner party, impress everyone by find one or two types of cookies that are easy, that you can make in bulk and that will delight everyone. Almost everyone knows of at least one recipe that is easy and tastes delicious. Just go to your local dollar store or the dollar section of your local Target and buy a bunch of holiday tins/boxes to package them in and you’ll people will think you slaved for hours. Limit yourself to two types of cookies though, as any more than that and you’re going to get burnt out fast.
  • Eat Before Holiday Parties/Dinners – One of the biggest things people worry about over the holidays is that they’re eating too much rich foods and will gain weight. A good trick for parties is to eat your regular dinner or a smaller version of it, before you go to a holiday party or dinner so that you don’t feel compelled to stuff your face with snacks and sweets.

Of course The Holiday Plan can be modified to fit your lifestyle, but it is a good guideline to help you get your holidays into a more manageable time.

Hopefully this helps, but remember that the holidays are actually about seeing and spending time with those you love, so try to remember that whenever you get overwhelmed. If that doesn’t work, stop and count to three before saying “Happy Holidays”.

Now for some Christmas tunes!


  1. You offer some really great advice here! It’s unfortunate that the holidays, which are supposed to be a time of relaxing and spending time with family, become so stressful. With this mindset, I think we’d all be in better shape to enjoy the season!

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