Now that we're firmly ensconced in the holiday season I've got a few suggestions or tips for people on how to get through the madness that is the HOLIDAYS. People who know me well will know that I don't care for Christmas music, or crowds, or shopping, or waiting in line, or or or. But there are things that I do (or don't do) that help me enjoy the season. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of blog posts like this out there but this is what works for me and might work for you, too. FYI, this is a long post since I've been thinking about this a lot lately.
Set a firm budget. Make a list of the people you need to shop for and rank them by importance. Your immediate family and significant other go at the top followed by other family and close friends. If you have a smartphone make this list on your phone so you always have it with you. As you make purchases you can write your purchase in next to the recipient (reminder of what gift is for what person) and the dollar amount (to subtract from your budget). I opted to knit gifts for my family this year so I started back in September by making a recipient list and then creating a queue in Ravelry with projects I decided on, the stash yarn I wanted to use, and a deadline for each project. I'm happily working on the last two items from my list with plenty of time to spare. One suggestion, if you are planning on knitting gifts that have to be shipped to a different state or country you should get those out of the way first.
Also, recognize the fact that not everyone has the same monetary resources. If you're shopping with a friend be respectful of their budgetary constraints. Comments such as "it's only X amount of dollars" aren't very helpful to someone who is already stressed about money. Map out where you'll shop and if you'll eat out before you go so as to save embarrassment and time. There's nothing worse than sitting down at a restaurant and realizing the only item you can afford is the soup while your friend blithely orders appetizers, drinks, and an entree. If you're budget-minded be open about the amount of money you can spend on your meal say "I can do 10 to 15 dollars for lunch, but no more than that, and preferably less" or something in that vein. In most cases it's better to state this outright than try to dance around the subject, plus it'll help you choose a place to eat.
Take advantage of extended store hours and do your shopping really early or really late, especially on the weekends. Most stores seem to get really crowded between about 10 or 11 am to about 3 or 4 pm during the weekend and that means you'll have more trouble navigating shops, finding parking, and checking out with your purchases. Consolidating your shopping into one or two trips and one or two places will reduce the amount of time you spend fuming over that jerk who took your parking spot.
Shop local when you can do so. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of my area's shopping district and I plan on taking advantage of that to support independent businesses and avoid getting into the car and going to the mall. You should try to just stay away from the mall during the holidays since that way lies crazytown. Really.
If you've been searching for a specific item and can't find it now is the time to go to the internet and have that gift shipped directly to the recipient. Done.
Visitors and Family
I love having people visit during the holidays since I usually have some time off of work and school but I know that not everyone gets along with their family so try to keep your head. If you head out as a large group to do shopping or other group activities and you'll be out during a meal time try to make reservations at a restaurant beforehand. If you can't make reservations try to check in at a restaurant a good amount of time before your normal meal time to put your name down since wait times can be long during the holiday season. Make sure everyone knows where the restaurant is if your group breaks up and what time they are expected to show up. If there are lots of kids in your group try to make sure the child to adult ratio is fairly distributed so no one adult is stuck with all the kids, unless they're okay with that.
Don't overplan activities for your family, your visitors, or yourself! One or two scheduled activities (with tickets purchased beforehand, if necessary) can be a welcome distraction for visitors but I've found that most people from out of town like to have time to rest and relax. It really is okay to sit down with company and just chat like normal people, especially if there is hot cider or wine involved.
Take breaks from your guests and family. If there are other adults around to watch the kids ask them if they can keep an eye on the kids for a few minutes so you can grab 10 minutes of quiet time. Go in your room. Close the door. Read a book for a few minutes or knit a couple rows on something while you clear your head.
Keep your normal schedule for meals and bedtimes as much as you are able. Everyone should get the sleep they need so they're in good spirits and pleasant to be around.
Time and shared experiences are going to make a far stronger and more lasting impression than a generic gift. Every year my family asks for a membership to the zoo - we don't have to store anything except our membership cards and we get to visit over and over again. Have a good friend you haven't seen in a while? Invite her or him out for a pedicure as their Christmas gift. You'll get pampered and have time to catch up. Is everyone in your life traveling away for the holidays? Send knitting friends a pattern via Ravelry with a note saying you'll take them out for coffee and a knitting date once they're back in town, or just set up a group knitting night where everyone can come knit and hang out and catch up. Everyone is busy during the holidays so giving your time to your friends and family is just as important as giving gifts. When you focus your energy on the experience rather than the purchases there is a lot less stress involved in navigating the holiday season.
Do you have a strategy for the holidays? Dealing with finances, family, and visitors? Do tell.