This might seem strange, but I'm already thinking of Christmas...next year. But then you remember it's ME, and planning for the distant future is my jam. And actually this idea came from Erica, my seasonal decor mentor. On a holiday podcast episode a couple years ago she mentioned making notes about what worked well and didn't during the holidays. Then she tucks that note into the holiday decor to find it next year. Isn't that such a genius future high five?
Obviously I loved this. So I wanted to collect my thoughts and notes and what worked well, and didn't, this past holiday season.
+ Gift planning. For the past few years in the last summer I've created a spreadsheet listing every person or family we plan to buy a gift for. I also include community helpers like our letter carrier who we'll give a small gift to and my hairstylist whom I'll give extra tip to. Next to the names I'll jot down gift ideas. And I'll jot down other holiday items that we'll spend on, like buying a live Christmas tree. In October I'll narrow down gift ideas and decide what we're going to buy. This helps me from getting overwhelmed plus I can see where the same gift will work for a few people. It can also serve as a way to estimate how much gifts will cost. This year I was pretty on top of planning and had many gifts ordered before Thanksgiving - it felt so good!
+ Gift budgeting. This is a mixed bag. For the first time this past year we front-loaded a separate savings account with money to spend on Christmas. That was really helpful and relieved some stress of holiday spending. But we didn't have as much as we needed in the gift account plus we bought a new bike for Dashiell that was really expensive. We really value having good quality bikes for the boys and this one will last years but such a big purchase did put us over budget. I think there are other places where we cut cut the budget back a bit, such as buying family gifts for some friends instead of individual gifts for each person.
+ Shopping and Christmas errands on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. For some reason I had to go to Target on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and it was so peaceful and quiet. I made a mental note to remember this in future years. It's probably the last weekend day before Christmas that stores and traffic aren't crazy.
+ Making royal icing for our annual gingerbread cookie baking and decorating. I used this recipe from King Arthur Flour and it worked beautifully.
+ Hanging indoor lights with Command clips. These worked so well to hang lit garland around our large back doors. Previously we've used nails.
+ Two days of Christmas elfing. At the suggestion of a brilliant friend, I took two days off work in early December for the specific purpose of finishing all Christmas shopping, wrapping, shipping, and errands. I started the day with a peppermint mocha, put Christmas movies on my computer while I wrapped and organized. It was a revelation and I definitely want to make it a tradition.
+ Using thick yarn for wrapping. I bought a skein of thick red yarn and loved wrapping gifts with it. It's easy to use and gives the gifts a cozy, homey feel.
+ Candlelit dinner on the Solstice. I've always wanted to celebrate the Solstice finally did so this year in the simplest way: turned off the lights and lit candles. In the future we might enjoy having a special meal or dessert or setting up the small telescope after dinner. With a 2 and 4 year old this year, candlelight felt like a win.
+ Garland of dried orange slices. One of my favorite newish traditions! And so easy. Slice oranges and lay on a baking sheet. Bake for 4+ hours at 200 degrees F or until mostly dried but not burned. Let cool and string onto red and white string. Voila! Any extras that don't fit on the garland can be hung on the tree. I make new garland/ornaments each year.
+ Our Christmas Eve party. I loved having our house full and boisterous with people I love and good food on Christmas Eve. What worked really well was planning ahead and cooking ahead. I made a vegetarian bean chili, bought tamales, and had Trader Joe's sticky toffee pudding for dessert (you just microwave it and everyone goes crazy for it). The tamales from Carolina's were great and that might be my go-to place now. The chili we made was great but I'm not sure if we'll make it again - it might have been that we tried to keep it really mild to suit tastes. Plus it made so much we had too much leftover for us to eat through.
+ Collecting and sharing gift ideas. Throughout the year I save things I'd love to have to my wishlist Pinterest board and gift ideas for others to my gifts to give board. Around the holidays I'll use those ideas to update Amazon wish lists for myself, Chris, and the boys and share them with Chris's and my parents (at their request).
+ Daycare teacher gifts. We bought each teacher and administrator that we know well a dish towel (from Target) and a bottle of Mrs. Meyer's dish soap. Several people told me they loved it and I liked giving a useful gift. Because they have been in daycare/preschool the boys have A LOT of teachers - we gave 15 gifts! But it feels worth it for all the teachers do. In the future we will have many fewer teachers gifts to buy.
+ Home decor. 2016 was the first year that I LOVED our holiday decor. It warms my heart. Honestly, Erica has helped me so much over the years because she is amazing. So thank you, neighbor! I especially loved the way we grouped all of Chris's childhood nutcrackers on top of a cabinet with garland and LED lights. I would love to continue adding to our home decor over the years, and now I have a better idea of what holiday decor items I love.
+ Doing something for neighbors. For the past two years I've had plans to do something, and haven't made the time. Investing in our neighborhood community is really important to me, and we have such an awesome collection of neighbors! I really want to plan for this and make it happen next year. Perhaps I need to go very simple, and just hand deliver cards and a tiny token. Usually I want to bake everyone bread or do something more involved.
+ Planning Cedric's birthday party. This is an area for improvement! Cedric's birthday comes up right on the feels on Christmas on December 28. So we really need to have logistics figured out before Christmas. We were going to go a simple family party and take the boys to an indoor trampoline park this year but the boys got sick. For next year, when he turns 4, Cedric will probably want more say in his birthday and we need to remember to plan in advance! Any tips for post-Christmas kid birthdays?
+ Organizing and Goodwill donations after Christmas. We get the itch to minimize and declutter after Christmas as we're working new things into the house. It's the perfect time to evaluate the boy's toys, our wardrobes, and other items and decide what we no longer need.
+ Neighbor New Year's Eve party. This was the second year we had neighbors over for New Year's Eve. Last year we had three families over and we just hung outside in the front. I love investing in our neighborhood community and am so thrilled that we just happened to end up in a neighborhood where people are so neighborly. There aren't a lot of planned neighbor get togethers in our neighborhood although many people know each other. Maybe having an annual party will encourage more get togethers. This year we had 21 people (including kids) and we hosted the party inside and in our backyard. I did an easy spread of chips and dip, veggies and dip, popcorn, cheese and crackers, and brownies (made from a box, the Trader Joe's are the best!) and another neighbor ordered three pizzas. We did a countdown outside and fireworks around 7 and the boys were asleep by 8. I love that everyone can just walk home.
What about you - what worked or didn't this holiday season?