Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 is my absolute favorite stretch of the year. The day I dust off our unnecessarily large collection of pumpkin décor is the day the holiday season officially starts in our house. It’s a time for excitement and comfort and tradition (or at least as much tradition as we can salvage on the military’s agenda). I don’t think I’m alone in my annual countdown to the holidays. Everyone is a little more festive this time of year, and it shows, especially on the calendar pages.
Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I get to a point somewhere in December when all I really want to do is wrap presents, bake cookies, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate and watch holiday movies with my kids. But, I can’t. I have to do all the things this season dictates.
You know the things — you do them too. There are kids’ holiday concerts, unit parties (there are at least half a dozen of those for various audiences — families, unit-wide, just officers, just enlisted, potluck, etc.), spouse club events, the base tree lighting, the community events, Secret Santa shopping and getting gifts for everyone you’ve crossed paths with in the last 12 months.
Even if we wanted to do everything, we can’t — or, rather, we shouldn’t. If we spend the holiday season RSVPing yes to every invitation, we won’t have time to pause and look across the room, over the whipped-cream-topped hot chocolate mug at our favorite people — our families — and soak in all the warm and fuzzies that make the holidays the season of the year we all look forward to.
Making sure you have enough time for the little things (that are really the big things) requires you to say no sometimes. And, if you do it well, you’re guaranteed to start the new year guilt-free and with all the same friends and acquaintances you entered the holiday season with.
- RSVP Early, Honestly and Realistically. You often know the second you receive an invitation whether you have intentions of attending or not. If you’re busy on the day of the event, RSVP no right then and there so you don’t forget. If you aren’t busy, but you just don’t want to go — brace yourself — that is OK! But RSVP no right then. Don’t say maybe. Don’t say, “I’ll have to see what my spouse’s schedule looks like.” Don’t say, “If I can get a sitter, I’ll be there,” then never bother contacting a sitter and begin recalling the last time you used a headache or sick kid excuse. I can’t speak for every host, but I would rather you tell me no outright than RSVP maybe or yes, only to change your response at the last minute — which often puts hosts in a tight spot — or worse: just flake without explanation. There are never (ever) hard feelings for people who RSVP no, but never responding or flaking at the last minute (unless you or your kid really are contagious) is inconsiderate to the host. If your plans do change — we’re all in the military community, we get it — just be honest with the host and do it as soon as possible.
- Be Intentional and Strategic with Obligations. Do your kids need to visit Santa 12 times? They probably don’t. So, choose one event with Santa and check that box. Do you need to attend six different cookie exchanges? Your sweet tooth says yes, but we can all agree on the one-and-done philosophy. Being intentional and strategic with your holiday plans means that you think about all these things. Think about your priorities this holiday season. If your priorities are to maximize time with family because — gasp — your service member is home, then put your focus there. You can unapologetically say no to several events that will pull you away from your priority. If you’re new to the area and friends are on your Christmas list, choose events with like-minded attendees — other unit families, work functions, spouse events and even school events (kids are really the best icebreakers). You’ll probably want to skip the massive events, like the community tree lighting, where there isn’t much of a chance to make social connections.
- The Grinch Clause. For anyone, like me, who has pumpkin running through their veins each fall and turns back into a child counting down to Christmas, saying no to events is going to be weird. Being overbooked and exhausted is a holiday tradition, right? It doesn’t have to be. Let this be the year you don’t do all the things. You might just find that you enjoy the holidays more because you’re more focused on seeing the holidays through your kids’ eyes and holding them a little tighter while you can. You might find that you don’t feel the need to go internal on Jan. 2 because you need a break from socializing and spending. Don’t schedule away these weeks you’ve waited an entire year for. Take from it what you really want, be honest and polite when you decline invites and don’t ever feel like you must explain why you’re choosing your holiday priorities over someone else’s.