Ah, that blissful time of year when everything is decked in red and green, bells chime and tinsel rustles in the breeze, all of your favorite songs are playing on every audio system everywhere you go, and lights twinkle from every tree, bush, awning and window (hopefully they're LED lights).
Hahahaha, yeah, it's that time again, folks. Put on your helmets and guard your loins because it's Christmas and if you truly wish to tackle this holiday with a shred of sanity left over, you had better be prepared.
There are a number of seasonal survival guides out there, from how to smile politely through eight nights of receiving socks and calculators to the most tactful way to handle Aunt Janice when she gets belligerent after 5 too many egg nogs. There are gift-giving guides, decorating tips, and of course - best of all - Pinterest.com (I signed up for an invite, by the way, and I still haven't gotten one, *harumph*).
I have my own set of tips and secrets that I think would be valuable to anyone with multiple children and/or animals and no hired help - in other words, the 99%.
1.) K.I.S.S. You know what that means. Every time I've orchestrated an elaborate menu with multiple courses and flavors to suite different palates and dietary preferences, I wind up with leftovers coming out my ears. If you're keeping your celebration to just family, limit yourself to 1 cooked appetizer and 2 "cold" snacks (think crackers and cheese, veggies and hummus), 1 cooked entree with 2 sides (cooked vegetables and rolls work for me, and a purchased dessert. Of course, if you really love to make dessert, just swap out that one prepared dish for another to save yourself some time, effort, and energy.
2.) Start early. Not just with shopping, but with cleaning. I mean, if you care. Maybe you don't and that's fine too, but I have a sister-in-law who's terribly allergic to cats so I need to be pretty detail-oriented. A few weeks ahead of time, start focusing on areas you don't have to clean too often, but require attention once in a while. Declutter that dump spot where you toss your junk mail (we all have one), wipe down the baseboards to pick up anything your vacuum misses, and maybe move furniture to get to areas you typically ignore (like under the sofa). Unless you live in a farm, it's unlikely these spots will get so dirty that you'll have to do them again before your guests arrive, so knocking them out a couple weeks ahead of time will help you focus on bigger cleaning tasks.
3.) If you don't notice it in someone else's house, don't worry about it in yours. What that means is that if you've ever been to a friend's or relative's house and they said, "Oh, please excuse the mess," and you find yourself looking around and thinking, What mess? then know that your house does not need to be Pottery Barn catalog material. Likewise, if you walk into a place and you immediately notice grubby hand prints on the wall or a peculiar funk in the air, make sure you pay attention to those details in your own abode. I'm not in the business of trying to impress anyone, but I don't want my guests to worry that we don't do laundry or wash our hands.
4.) Just do you. I say this a lot when it comes to running and working out, but it applies to this time of year as well. Every TV show, movie, magazine and store will drill it into your subconscious that you will never be prepared. There are so many decorations! The Jones are hosting a fondue holiday party and you should, too! Just one more lawn ornament! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DON'T HAVE CHRISTMAS THEMED BATHMATS?! ARE YOU STUPID?!
Don't buy into it. Just because you did things a certain way growing up or you worry that the neighbors are doing more for the holiday than you are doesn't mean you should succumb to the pressure of doing things exactly the same way yourself. Develop you own traditions and rituals. Forgo some others. Christmas is already a month long, you don't need to add to the stress by setting unrealistic expectations on yourself.