Guest writer Jill Woolworth is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist at the Greenwich Center for Hope and Renewal in Greenwich, CT. The end of year holiday season is stressful, especially for women. The following is an article she wrote to help us understand that we’re not crazy, we’re simply exhausted.

From Jill…

Please don’t shoot me for reminding you that Hanukkah and Christmas are around the corner.  Over the years, I have compiled a list of 107 activities that families do on top of their already full schedules in the weeks leading up to the holidays.

Women, and mothers in particular, begin racing their engines in early November for the holiday dash, navigating tight turns between school and office activities, parties, decorating, entertaining, shopping, baking, cooking and gift delivering.  The course includes dodging rivers of alcohol, swerving around high calorie mountains, running through caverns of gift selection, around walls of intense shoppers and along endless highways of errands.  If you feel overwhelmed, you are not alone.

If we are aware of how much time and effort we put into the holidays ahead of time it might help us to prepare differently and enjoy them more.  At the very least, we might give ourselves a little grace.

My suggestion is to print this list and circle all the things your family does.  You may find you only do half–not everyone hosts a big party or travels in December.  Nevertheless, half is still 53.5 more activities than usual.  Once you finish circling items on the list, there is a second instruction at the bottom that may be helpful to do with your significant other or children.

The Holidays: Things Families Do (not in any particular order)

  1. Plan & take holiday photo
  2. Coordinate attire & setting for holiday photo
  3. Revise holiday card mailing list
  4. Write letter/message for holiday card
  5. Design/make/order holiday cards
  6. Stuff cards
  7. Address cards
  8. Buy stamps
  9. Stamp & mail cards
  10. Open & display cards received
  11. Buy gifts for grandparents or other relatives to give to your children
  12. Update changes of address in database
  13. Add religious readings, songs & games
  14. Create holiday art projects with children
  15. Plan & execute holiday baking with children
  16. Help children make/buy/deliver presents to others
  17. Respond with gifts/checks for delivery people who send holiday cards
  18. Help kids write thank you cards (or write for them yourself)
  19. Keep track of gifts purchased so children receive equal amounts
  20. Buy hostess gifts
  21. Wrap hostess gifts
  22. Make gift list for family
  23. Make gift list for friends
  24. Make gift list for teachers
  25. Make gift list for professional help & office staff
  26. Make gift list for neighbors & pets
  27. Buy/make gifts for family
  28. Buy/make gifts for friends
  29. Buy/make gifts for teachers
  30. Buy/make gifts for office staff (your own and/or your spouse’s)
  31. Buy/ make/deliver gifts for hairdresser & other professional helpers
  32. Buy/make /coordinate gifts for spouse & children to give to relatives
  33. Buy wrapping supplies
  34. Make multiple trips to the Post Office to mail gifts
  35. Wrap all gifts
  36. Buy gifts for holiday charity/toy drives
  37. Wrap and deliver gifts for charity drive
  38. Plan stocking gifts
  39. Put out/buy/make stockings
  40. Wrap stocking gifts
  41. Buy Hanukkah/Christmas candles & special candy
  42. Plan post-holiday vacation
  43. Buy tickets for vacation
  44. Book hotel
  45. Book rental car
  46. Book babysitter
  47. Pack yourself for vacation
  48. Pack children for vacation
  49. Make arrangements for pets
  50. Cancel newspapers
  51. Organize someone to check on house & mail
  52. Bake traditional holiday foods for family and to give as gifts
  53. Plan who is coming to which events
  54. Invite people to each event
  55. Make beds or arrangements for guests
  56. Clean guest room(s)
  57.  Buy & put up Christmas/holiday tree & wreath(s)
  58. Clean/shine menorah and dreidels
  59. Buy new holiday decorations as needed
  60. Decorate house/tree
  61. Water tree regularly
  62. Put up outdoor holiday lighting
  63. Buy replacement lights
  64. Buy holiday flowers
  65. Buy holiday centerpiece(s)
  66. Attend multiple holiday evening events
  67. Attend holiday lunches
  68. Buy and wrap hostess gifts for parties/lunches
  69. Attend multiple school holiday events
  70. Take holiday photos/videos at school
  71. Share photos & videos with extended family
  72. Plan a holiday party
  73. Make list of invitees
  74. Design invitation
  75. Advise relatives requesting help choosing gifts for your children
  76. Send invitation via snail mail or online
  77. Manage RSVP list
  78. Plan food for party
  79. Buy flowers & other decorations for party
  80. Hire a caterer or plan food
  81. Rent or move furniture for party
  82. Hire staff for party
  83. Hire parking staff for party
  84. Clean house for party
  85. Prepare food for party
  86. Plan holiday meals
  87. Prepare special holiday foods (latkes, cranberry bread)
  88. Shop for holiday meals
  89. Buy liquor for entertaining
  90. Prepare food for multiple holiday evenings
  91. Prepare special holiday breakfast food
  92. Iron tablecloth(s) and napkins
  93. Vacuum between events
  94. Re-lay fires in fireplaces
  95. Put out food and/or letter for Santa & reindeer
  96. Assemble toys, batteries included
  97. Put gifts under tree
  98. Fill stockings
  99. Take down tree & wreaths
  100. Put away ornaments & other holiday decorations
  101. Attend traditional holiday concerts & shows
  102. Dismantle & put away outdoor decorations
  103. Write thank your letters
  104. Return & exchange gifts
  105. Spend gift cards
  106. Charge iPads & other devices for trip & upload entertainment
  107. Prepare house and kids for departure

Now go back through the list and star all the ones your family helps with.  You may be surprised at the results.

If we added to this activity list the psychosocial challenges that peak at holiday time– loneliness for those who are alone or have recently lost a loved one, family tensions and holiday expectations for others, we’d see even better just how complicated a season it is.

As you start your engine, pause to remember the reason for the season. Three little “D” words can help: Defer, Delete and Delegate.  Deferring your holiday card or party to Valentine’s Day or Memorial Day might be a gift not only to yourself but also a gift to your friends.  We’ll all have more time in the New Year.  Deleting Great Aunt Betty’s intricate homemade stuffing in favor of a simpler recipe might give you an extra hour of sleep and deleting multiple gifts in favor of one may allow family members to focus on the real meaning of the holiday.  Delegating tasks to family members will help them feel more involved.  Everyone wants to be part of a team and you need a pit crew!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

© Jill S. Woolworth, LMFT, 2015