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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Conquer the Xmas Time Crunch: 2 Steps to Save Your Seasonal Sanity

Don't let this be you!
Does December trigger feelings of dread and doom, as the holiday season--with its endless to-do lists--approaches?  Or have you already been panicking for a month, because Xmas in the world of retail started the day after Halloween?  Your time can get even more cluttered than your space at this time of year.  To steer clear of the holiday hectics, keep in mind:

1) Everything doesn't have to be exactly the same every year.
2) Doing it all isn't really an option--and never was.          

Right now, before total chaos sets in, take a few minutes of quiet time to prioritize which holiday traditions are the ones that matter most to you.  It's a good idea to discuss this with your whole family, so no one's favorite tradition gets unwittingly abandoned and you don't bust a gut over stuff nobody cares about that much.  Ask everyone to make a list of their top three traditions and then compare notes.  Your family members' favorites may surprise you. 

Christmas Cake - Marzipan StollenWhen my grandmother died, we all missed her homemade stollen at breakfast on Xmas morning.  (Stollen is a German yeast-raised sweet bread with dried fruit, nuts, and icing.)  Even though my whole family loves to cook, none of us felt we had the time to bake stollen on Xmas Eve.  For a number of years we tried different bakery or store-bought substitutes, but they were never as good as Grandma's. 

Eventually I started to wonder if the time we wasted seeking out disappointing store-bought stollen could be better spent dividing up the labor of baking stollen among ourselves, so no one person had to do it all?  In feng shui--and life in general--it's OK to experiment.  There will be another Xmas next year, if you change your mind.  The fact that Xmas comes every year helps too when favorite rituals collide: I remember a period in my childhood when our Xmas tree did or didn't wear tinsel garlands in alternate years, so as to accommodate everyone's wishes. 

Now I mix and knead the dough early in the morning on Xmas Eve, so it can rise during the day while we all do other things, such as wrap presents and attend a holiday tea party hosted by family friends.  When we get home, the stollen goes in the oven while we grab a quick dinner of turkey-chestnut soup (left over from Thanksgiving and de-frosted).  Then I dash off to my singing gig, and when the stollen's done baking, my brother makes the icing and decorates it, then heads to church with Mom.  When we all re-convene, after midnight, there's fresh homemade stollen and sherry awaiting us. 

The time trade-off is we don't put up as many Xmas decorations as we did when I was a kid, but then my parents probably had enough Xmas decorations for three houses, so it still looks plenty festive with only a fraction of them on display.  We don't have a Xmas tree either, and while we do miss that glorious smell and the colored lights reflected in the bay window, none of us has the time or the inclination to decorate a Xmas tree--not at the price of store-bought stollen, stress, and sleep deprivation.  And we've got breakfast taken care of through New Year's--Grandma's recipe makes a lot of stollen.

Little House in the Big WoodsJust as it's OK to let go of old traditions, it's also OK to start new ones--and it's OK to let those go too, when the thrill wears off.  The year I read Little House in the Big Woods in school, we actually did decorate our Xmas tree at home with strings of cranberries and popcorn.  I still remember how exciting it was to re-enact one of my favorite books, so I'm glad my mom made that happen for me.  But even as a child--and we all know how kids love to do the same thing over and over again--I realized stringing popcorn and cranberries together with a needle and thread wasn't something I wanted to do every single year. 

No one can or should try to do everything.  It's much easier to let go of less-loved rituals when you're clear that you're doing so not because you're a failed Martha Stewart, but because they don't mean as much to you as the traditions you do choose to spend your time on.  Before you get sucked into full-on holiday season, take a feng shui time out to re-focus on what matters most to you and yours, so you can channel your time and energy in that direction.

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