Two young boys baking cookies with their grandmother

The holiday list that saves time, money and stress


November 28, 2017

How one family prioritizes holiday events, to keep the season fun.


When my children were small, Dec. 26 often found one of us (usually me) in bed with a nasty cold.

It was a fitting end to the holiday season, which though highlighted with great memories and lots of fun, was punctuated with the sniffles and coughs that come with trying to cram too much fun into a narrow band of time.

The jammed schedule starts with Halloween, also known in our house as “the top of the ski slope.” Our neighborhood celebrates it in a BIG way. We hand out 800 pieces of candy annually, and cook pots of chili for the endless stream of teenagers pouring in and out of the house.

The next moguls to navigate? A slew of family birthday celebrations. Thanksgiving is the next event to come around, including the requisite questions of where, which side of the family and whether or not we will host the feast. Finally, we hit Christmas: Shopping. Choir rehearsals. Parties. The family Christmas card. More shopping. And so it goes until New Year’s Day, which gets short shrift in our household.

After too many holidays spoiled by illness or exhaustion, I called truce. Our family decided to think smarter about the holidays. It was time to prioritize and strategize. What are all the things we like to do for the holiday season? What are the “shoulds,” the “musts,” and the “can’t-miss” events and activities we want to do? How can we winnow those down to something more manageable and enjoyable?

Not all traditions are beloved

One year, we called a family meeting after dinner in early November. Each member of the household made their own list of the most treasured things we do for our holiday season and the birthday celebrations. Then we shared our lists and prioritized. Heading to a nearby farm to cut our own Christmas tree didn’t make the cut (pun intended). So we buy a smaller tree from a nearby lot. Christmas cards didn’t make the list either. Although I truly love getting cards from others, I try to find other ways to stay in touch with those dear to me. Our annual Christmas open house? While a great incentive to get the house decorated, it’s now an every-other-year event.

But driving an hour and a half each way to Sewanee’s Festival of Lessons and Carols, usually in the middle of term paper and exam-prep season, made the list. It’s a magical, faith-affirming experience that energizes us for everything else December brings. A performance of the Nashville Ballet’s “Nutcracker” and Tuba Christmas are also in heavy rotation. And finally, 4 p.m. Christmas Eve church service, followed by a quick trip to the drive-through at a local burger joint, then off to search for the biggest display of Christmas lights we can find.

As my children have moved through their teen years and into college, this pre-holiday family meeting takes place by email rather than in person. We also need to balance family time with our college-age children’s desire to spend time with hometown buddies they haven’t seen since summer. It doesn’t really make the process any harder, but underscores the need for over-communication and making sure everyone’s voice is heard.

We have gotten good at focusing on the things that make the holidays the most meaningful to usrather than what society, extended family or others might demand.

If you want to make a holiday list with your family, get everyone thinking about priorities with these questions:

  • What is the one event or activity you absolutely don’t want to miss this season?
  • What would you prefer to skip this year?
  • What can we delegate (to one member of the family, to someone else or a business)?

Proof that our family “holiday list” has cut stress and prevented some holiday burnout? I can’t say we haven’t had a single sniffle on Dec. 26, but we’ve gotten very close!

This post was written by Anna Grimes, a Nashville-based healthcare writer. She has three no-longer-little children.