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Curing Christmas Craziness

By Hildie Westenhaver

December 1st: to me it’s the day that the Christmas season really gets under way. Today I am regretting buying the Advent Calendar with all sorts of little cubbies that require filling every year. Why didn’t I just stick with the chocolate advent calendars? They’re so easy! My social calendar is already filling up with plays and concerts and parties and more concerts. I’ve scaled back and said no and reduced our season to the minimum amount of fuss. But once you have a houseful of children, Christmas gets overwhelming.

But this year I’m putting a new spin on things: I’m going homemade. For presents, I mean. If I can’t make it, I’m not giving it. (This is for our relatives, not our children. Because I’m not quite clever enough to make ipods.)

Money is tight right now, which is why I thought of doing homemade gifts in the first place. But I also had a lightbulb-over-the-head moment when I was talking to my husband about a really stressful issue we’ve got going on in our lives. As he was slightly freaking out about this problem, I was listening, head bent, knitting madly. I realized that making things, although it can be frustrating and sometimes challenging, really helps relieve my stress. I’m not sure what part of creating something has a pressure-release valve, but when I’m busy with my hands it’s like the anxiety simply slips away.

At first glance making things for Christmas gifts seems like a sure-fire way to overextend myself. But the arty science of making soap, the repetitive moving of the knitting needles, the designing of labels and gift tags is soothing and calms my spirit. I think this might just be the best idea I’ve had in a long time. Of course, I’ll have to pace myself and not procrastinate, but I’m pretty excited about crafting my brains out.

You may not be a creative person, and the thought of making anything at Christmas is enough to induce tears, so how do you deal with the holiday stress? (I tried eating the stress away last year and I don’t recommend it.) How are you planning on not going insane over the next month?

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

23 thoughts on “Curing Christmas Craziness”

  1. I've just taught myself to crochet, and I'm making a lot of my Christmas gifts this year. The kids are excited (for some reason) about getting mom-made hats and scarves. I've crocheted some fingerless gloves for my mom. I made candles and coasters for my mother-in-law, not of yarn, of course.

    I've loved making Christmas gifts. Sitting quietly in the evening in the glow of twinkle lights and creating is feeding my soul and calming my mind. I'm totally with you on this, Jennie!

  2. My solution to cutting stress down is cutting down the gift list–it lightens the budget and lessens the amount of gifts I have to get. And luckily I live in a neighborhood where neighbors think minding their own business is a gift, so I don't have to worry about making plates of goodies to hand around.

    My favorite stress reliever is our new Christmas tradition of going to SLC to see the lights at Temple Square, and staying overnight at a hotel. Nothing relieves stress quite like coming back to your room and discovering someone made your bed and cleaned it up for you.

  3. I'm a scrooge and have a small gift list. I don't really give gifts to relatives, teachers, or neighbors and when I do they are usually something lame like a gift card because I'm horrible at choosing gifts. I like to say that I'm trying to make Christmas about something besides presents, but I think it's really just that I'm cheap and lazy.

    Every time I hear about people who knit or crochet, I want to learn how. But I'm not a crafty person and I don't really own any craft supplies, so the thought of handmade gifts freaks me out because it would involve a lot of trips to different stores to buy stuff before I could even make anything, so I might as well just go to Target and buy a scarf. I can cross-stitch but it takes years to finish anything so I've never wanted to give those away as gifts.

    As far as avoiding stress, I just say 'no' a lot. I've also tried to do different things each year with the kids so we don't build up too many traditions and expectations. I also work almost full-time so that gives me an excuse to skip things. Wish I didn't have to work, but sometimes being busy is handy 🙂

  4. I'm very scroogy with gifts, mostly because I can'tg et organized enough tog et everything ALREADY on the list, much less add ons. Neighbors get gingerbread mix and a recipe to make their own, or pancakes, from the mix… which they seem tor eally love and takes about five second. My family gets a ornament exchange we all do, and the kids buy presents for each other. EVERYBODY gets a gift for great grandma, and the family gets a gift from the grandparents on each side. The kids draw cousin names. Otherwise, it's all in the family. We don't usually send anything to the"other side cousins" and haven't ever gotten anything from there in return, but I'm changing that this year because I have made a gift for them…but expect nothing, not even a thank you card, in return. I just want those cousins, who live in Provo area, to know they have other cousins out here who love them, even though they don't know who we are.

    This year I've done a weird homemade Christmas item. My kids LOVE books on tape. LOVE THEM. They also love a podcast called Spare the Rock Spoil the Child. I'm going to burn STRSTC podcasts onto CD for their cousins in town, and also have used a digital voice recorder to record all the books we've read aloud to the kids for the last few months. Some of them didn't turn out, but some are good quality and I'll burn them to CD, too. I figure, It's a three for- my kids, cousin families, and family history project rolled into one? I did a recording (onto CASSETTE, which tells you it was a while ago) of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and my kids listen to it all the time, even in summer…so I hope they like this…. (and endlessly duplicatable, so…)

  5. I don't have many crafty ideas or specialities that would lend themselves to gift-making. Sometimes I cook/bake stuff, but that somehow doesn't feel as much like a present as it does a "neighbor gift".

    My problem is, nothing that I could create would adequately express my feelings for the recipient, or delight them in the way that I wish I could delight them. So I generally just stress out and spend more than I can afford to.

    I haven't ever incurred extra debt, but we just aren't managing to pay back our loans any faster, nor save any money or ever get ahead of where we've been for so long. It's a tricky time of life for us that way, and while I love Christmas and wish I could do so much for people in my world, it's just hard.

    My husband, on the other hand, really doesn't like Christmas. It's mainly the anxiety over money…I don't think he'd be categorically opposed to it if we had all our student loans paid off and were actually in a better position. So we're constantly trying to find that balance of "enough but not too much" in our gift-giving.

    Both of us have just said we don't need anything this year, but that's kind of un-Christmassy in a way, too…to be all "don't get me anything". Not like I'm going to cut my hair off to buy him a a pocket watch chain (my hair isn't worth $20), but being raised on stories like that of sacrifice from the heart makes it hard to not want to find some meaningful way to express my love.

    So then I start thinking the way out of this mess is "Let's just get back to the TRUE meaning of this holiday, and spend it serving the poor and needy. Because we don't actually have any unmet NEEDS." But I have no idea how to sell that approach to my family. I don't think it's possible at their ages. ♥

  6. I admire the handmade Christmas! Impressive! I don't much like crafting and am not very good at it, so that wouldn't work out for me, but I have hit on an idea for gifts that I'm very excited about. For a few years now I've been thinking about doing my Christmas shopping here: http://inspiredgifts.unicefusa.org/, and I think this is going to be the year. I've talked to a couple of members of my family about this, and everyone's been pretty enthusiastic.

    Essentially, you purchase emergency or medical supplies that will be sent in the name of your recipient to areas of need in the developing world. About $30, for example, provides polio vaccine for 67 children. $40 buys a soccer ball and pump for a refugee camp. Your "recipient" receives a card telling them what you've purchased on their behalf. I can't wait to see my teenage nephews' reaction when they find I got them deworming tablets for Christmas. 🙂 (Something, actually, I know a little bit about as a result of a mission in Brazil. In case you're wondering, the medication is not pleasant, but is MUCH better than the alternative!)

    Added bonus: I don't have to brave the crowds at the mall!

    I don't think I would do this for small children, but at the moment my extended family has only teenagers and one little baby (aged 10 months). I will not be able to resist buying toys for the baby, I'm sure. 🙂

  7. Love your craftiness – an ability some of us don't have! But I love even more the idea of giving something you've made. Instead of each of our children buying for their siblings and parents this year, we drew names to be a "Secret Pal" to someone in our family. All month long we look out for that person, try to make them happy, and then make them a gift to put under the tree on Christmas Eve. It will mean a significant amount of work on my part, helping everyone "make" something. But we're not going for extravagant. And I'm looking forward to spending less and simplifying more. Thanks Jennie.

  8. The grandparents get picture slideshows of the kids on DVD. They have everything they need and it's the kids they miss most anyway.

    We've trained our kids to only expect one gift each for Christmas – we've struggled financially for so long, it's the best we've been able to do. If I can get them more to open, that's great, and if not, there's always cuddling up for a Redbox movie that cheers them up.

    Crafting is great, but I'm so slow at it, I would have to start in January if I were going the "homemade" only route.

  9. We have the kids make something for the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc now that they are old enough. Last year was hand salve, but this year is bath salts for grow-up girls, after-shave for grown up boys, and bath paints for littles. Those have already been test driven by the kids, just to make sure they'll work out for the cousins.

  10. We are not spending any money on gifts, christmas cards, and the stockings will be filled with practical things. We are going to put most of our christmas cash into re doing our 72 hour kits and getting ready to hunker down and eat the food storage when European economies start to crash.

    If you are unaware of all things economic being in commotion right now, it is a good time to open your eyes…

    Jenny Hatch

  11. I have a pile of crocheted dish cloths a foot high. As my brother in law watched me crochet, looked at my pile, he commented, it's not about the wash cloths is it? Nope, certainly not. Though they are nice, great gifts, I enjoy the colors, the yarn, the textures, it's really the process of making them, it relives stress. Making things is good for the spirit, good for your mental health, and good for the pocket book. Go make something, 🙂

  12. My best holiday de-stresser by far has been DRASTICALLY trimming our gift list.
    It can be a tricky conversation to have with the extended family, but I highly recommend it. Times are tough for many families and you'd be surprised how much everyone really doesn't want to buy so many gifts. It just takes someone being brave enough to speak up.

    In our extended family we do an inexpensive gag gift Yankee swap which is always hilarious and lots of fun. We all get together and eat delicious food and just enjoy ourselves without all the stress of buying "real" gifts.

    Try it. 🙂

  13. In my extended family we have stopped giving individual gifts. We take the money we would have spent and put it into a gift card for a needy family. With 8 of us, it adds up and is a great thing to participate in and simplifies all of our lives! We still send heartfelt letters and pictures, but we don't need to spend $50 to say that.

  14. We give very few gifts. Cookies or something very simple for a couple of selected neighbors, small gift cards for the teachers, something simple for our parents, and nothing for siblings or cousins. Once in a while we will have a white elephant exchange among siblings/cousins and that is pretty fun, but everyone is strapped and we don't want to cause each other financial stress so we agreed quite a few years ago to give each other the gift of not having to get each other gifts . Instead we just get together and enjoy each other's company, sans gifts. It's awesome.

    Because of the way our finances are set-up, I usually don't have my Christmas shopping money until about a week before Christmas, then we head to the toy store/Best Buy/what-have-you and get it all done in a night or two. That might sound stressful but it means that the other 29 days in December are totally free of shopping stress.

    So for me, December and Christmas aren't stressful. I love December. We try to do a lot of family stuff – some of it free or nearly so, like going to see the lights on temple square and then getting hot chocolate and riding Trax (the kids love it), driving around and looking at Christmas lights, going caroling around the neighborhood, making Christmas cookies (over and over again), listening to holiday music, etc. We just try to make it NOT about gifts as much as possible, and try to make it about traditions that don't require us to buy a lot of stuff. Like, I love the idea of reading a Christmas book every day, but sheesh, buying 25 Christmas books, even if you're lucky enough to buy them pretty cheap? No thanks.

  15. My grandchildren are spread all over the country, and I only get to visit them twice a year. So for the last-half-year visit, each child and I go on a "Christmas" date together, even if Christmas is 4 months away. We have lunch where they want, and maybe go to a movie. Then we cruise a toy store and they get to pick the gift they most want for under $20.

    When we get home, the child has had a great day with Grandma, and has a new toy during an unexpected part of the year. And I don't go crazy in December trying to pick, wrap, ship, and pay for 12 gifts for grandkids!

    And during the first-half-year visit, we do the same thing for whenever their birthday is. They seem to love it. Boy do they look forward to their "date with Grandma! For the older kids, I let them combine the gifts, and get one $40 gift, but we still have our date each half year.

  16. We rotate gifts with siblings on both sides of the family, which cuts the gift list down further. And three years ago, I cut everyone who didn't live in the state of Utah off the list. They weren't participating anyway, and it cut down on shipping.

  17. The best thing I ever did to lighten the stress load, and the one that got me in the most trouble I've ever been in with my MIL, was deciding that we're not going over to the in-laws on Christmas morning anymore. You would have thought I'd suggested we go out back and shoot Grandma. But it was so much hassle to get up, get presents opened, shower and get dressed and get over their for breakfast, and deal with an upset kid who wants to be home with her toys. And I remember being a kid that wanted to be home with my new toys, and resenting the fact that we had to go to grandmas.

    So I just suggested we all get together a different day, and even though all my BILS and SILs backed me up, I have been at the top of the crap list for a couple of years. It was worth it though. Staying home on Christmas day is lovely. My side had no issues with getting together on the 26th, but my MIL had a flat out cow about it.

    Some years we hadn't even gotten our presents opened when we had to leave–when you don't have kids, you don't get up early Christmas morning–and the first year we had our daughter she kept spitting up all over her Christmas outfits so we had to keep changing her clothes and didn't open presents until we got home around 6:00 that night.

  18. I tried to make it easier on my husband and only ask for grains for food storage, but he seems to think that it is not as easy. 🙂

  19. I got so mad a few times last year about everything that I felt got dumped on me (our calendar was ridiculous) that I've vowed not to go there again. The funny thing is, our calendar is just as packed as it was last year so what's different? My attitude. Instead of trying to take too much at once, I take one day at a time and remind myself often of what it's all about. I've trimmed just about as much as I can, even to the point of not signing up to bring stuff to parties or saying no to taking the Santa pictures at the ward party but there are some things (the kids music concerts) that I can't/won't bow out of. (We ARE skipping Pack Meeting this year and if anybody has a baby shower in December they'll get a nice note in the mail from me!) I've also got nearly all the gifts bought. The wrapping is not done but that part is for me like your crocheting is for you–soothing and relaxing (unless I procrastinate it too long–I've heard stories about my in-laws staying up until 2:00 or 4:00 in the morning on Christmas trying to get it all wrapped–YIKES!) Basically I'm doing my level best not to try and cram more into the days than will fit. We'll see if I'm successful! A couple of things important to me–our Christmas letter which I LOVE to write (and fill with lots of my own jokes that I laugh and laugh at–yes, I'm one of THOSE people) and reading Christmas stories to the kids as often as possible. I turn the letter into a pdf and email it (the pictures look GREAT that way) so it's no big deal and the stories are my way of slowing down and savoring things with my family.

  20. I'm not too crafty, but we had fun one year with our service gifts. Everyone had to give only gifts of service: babysitting, cleaning, yard work, etc. and because the service was spread out, the spirit of it lasted months.

    We also have a lot of fun with my first family's Christmas gift-giving. We rotate choosing a charity and everyone donates to that charity instead of sending gifts to anyone. Like Laura, we also give gifts of charity to others on our list that will appreciate it.

  21. Last year I started crafting presents and found it made my life simpler. It took only one decision of what to make instead of lots on indivual choices for each person. I have already planned next years' presents so I can buy the fabric I need in the sales. Christmas 2012 will be the year of the christmas apron. For birthdays girls will be getting felt apple shaped needlebooks and felt toadstool pincushions embroidered with flowers and ladybirds. This year and last year I have been giving food hampers of homemade goodies including lemon curd which is so much easier when made in the microwave. In 2012 I hope to teach myself to crochet too as I have future plans in that line. I just love handmade gifts as they show that someone has truly taken time for you. My favourite presents that I received last year were a heart sachet sewn by my 10 year old son, and a peg bag made by a friend.

    My main way to cut stress is to do less. I send less cards. I plan my food well in advance so I can get some ready in the freezer, such as boxes of mince pies. We also try to coordinate family gatherings throughout December so it is not too busy. We travel to see my relatives early in December and exchange gits then. I try to buy all of my cards, wrapping paper etc in the January sales sso it is all sitting there ready for when I need it. The less to do in December the calmer I am.


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