My facilitator for the afternoon, whom I'll call Kim, started me out with a set of worksheets to complete on my own. The first one was a list of dozens of traditional holiday preparation tasks (categories included gifts, baking/meals, decorations and hosting), and I was to cross out any that did not apply. Next to the items that are part of our Christmas celebrations, I was supposed to write either my initial or Eric's to indicate the primary person responsible.
Here are the things I learned from that exercise:
I crossed off a fourth of the tasks, relating to volunteer work, hosting relatives, and buying/disposing of a tree. (At this point, we don't do any extra service work at the holidays, we travel to our family for the holidays, and we have an artificial tree.)
Of the tasks remaining, I have an active or exclusive role in all of them. The thing is--I love the Christmas season, so all the gift-related tasks (and there were 7 of them involving the list, shopping, wrapping and mailing) are something I really enjoy. Kim suggested I ask Eric what is meaningful to him about these holiday preparations and to involve him more if he wants to be. As I said, I don't mind doing most of this stuff--it's fun for me! But it was a good conversation starter for me to ask him that question. I learned that overall he is glad I take care of most of the details, but there are certain responsibilities he said he would be more than willing to help with. Glad I asked! =)
Along that subject, there was an interesting quote from the book in which the authors responded to a man who asked how to help his wife slow down and enjoy Christmas. The writers suggested the couple sit down in early November to discuss their priorities for the holiday season. They said to the husband, "When she understands how important her company and peace of mind are to you, she will have more incentive to trim the 'To Do' list." They went on to recommend that the couple also discuss which tasks they considered to be essential to the enjoyment of the season. Essential is the key word. Many of us feel we need to do it "all," but we have to focus on what we and our families deem to be truly important. By interviewing men and children, the authors found that what is really desired at Christmas "is a house filled with love and acceptance, not a house decorated to perfection."
Back to the checklist of tasks, my last assignment was to make an "X" by any activity I do not value or enjoy. I was fascinated to see only one item with an X: "making or buying stockings." This may seem like a silly task to dread, but let me tell you this one issue has caused me much deliberation! My mom made personalized homemade stockings for us as kids, and Monica followed suit. I am not as gifted (or inclined) in the crafting department, but I definitely want special stockings, and preferably coordinated ones. Right now we're all mis-matched: Eric and I each have ours from childhood, and Nathan has a non-personalized but cute homespun stocking I commissioned my mom to make. I'm still not sure how to proceed with stockings, but it was helpful for me to realize it's the only Christmas task I don't enjoy. Kim offered a great suggestion that I ask my mom for help in this area--maybe even as a Christmas gift to us for next year. (So that's just a heads-up, Mom--I'll be talking with you about this soon!)
For those who feel overextended with holiday preparations, but who are unwilling to cut out many of the tasks, the authors suggest making a prioritized task list, placing the jobs you consider most important or most enjoyable at the top, and then working on the list in that order. That way you know you will at least get those things done, and can hopefully alleviate some of the pressure for the more optional or less enjoyable tasks.
One last quote I wanted to share from the book regarding how holiday magazine articles can make us feel pressured into doing more: "For women who can pick and choose wisely from all of the possibilities the magazines offer, they can be a valuable resource and a welcome incentive. Holiday craft and baking projects have their definite place in the celebration--they add beauty, originality, and excitement to the holiday. But they are not essential to a good family Christmas. In fact, they can draw energy away from more important matters. What many women need to hear from the magazines is they they can give their families an equally good or even better Christmas by doing less." I really connected with that, as sometimes I feel I need to make more gifts or more cookies, and I hope that these posts can be an encouragement to the idea mentioned at the end--sometimes less is more!
Your turn: Consider this checklist from the book, and note which tasks apply to your celebration, as well as the primary person responsible for completing the job. Then write down the tasks you don't value/enjoy. If you are married, you might also consider showing your spouse the list and discussing their role in the preparations, as well as their expectations and desires for the holidays. These are helpful exercises as we head into the Christmas season!
What are some of your favorite holiday jobs, and what do you dread each year? Are there tasks you could modify or eliminate from your list? As an example, Kim said that doing this exercise made her realize she did not enjoy the rush of getting Christmas cards out in December. So now she sends valentines instead!