Ever notice how when things get to be too much, your schedule is jam-packed, and your just scraping by – the universe comes along and punches you in the gut? It happens in our family several times a year, with something extra special around the most busiest time of the year – the holidays. Last year my Dad ended up in the hospital on Christmas day. On Thanksgiving, all 5 of us got the stomach bug, leaving us with leftovers and laundry for days.

More often than not, my oldest son gets sick. We’ve come to expect it by now, as he is “medically complex.” There were a few years we were just happy he made it home from the hospital in time to celebrate.

So last week when the school nurse called to tell me his oxygen levels were low, it was, oddly, business as usual. In some ways, I was relieved to cancel every meeting and conference call on my calendar for the week. I sat next to him with my laptop, the familiar sound of the nebulizer buzzing along every 3 hours.

We’re going on nearly a decade of rolling with the punches. For some reason, it seems to always take a health crisis or scare to remind me to let it go. Here some ways to prioritize this time of year:


While cards are a lovely tradition, sometimes we just don’t have the time. (Not to mention what a pricey endeavor it’s become, between the cost of stamps and the cards themselves.)

Some families send a New Years card. One friend of mine sent a Valentine’s Day card. But there’s nothing wrong with just skipping it. Consider catching up to some friends with a call, email, or text. Put out a holiday greeting on social media. There are other ways to show love that don’t cause stress. Going the alternative route might give you a chance to catch up with someone on a different level than just sending a card.


Making dough, rolling, cutting out cookies, and decorating can be too much even in the best of times, especially with children who lose interest after about 5 minutes. Do what you can to make it fun. Many stores sell already baked cookie cut-outs so all you have to do is decorate. If no one cares about decorating, just buy some of your favorite treats. If you love homemade cookies, check in with friends, there is almost always a cookie exchange to join.


Decorating can be daunting. If you’re anything like me, as you put it up, you’re already thinking about what a pain it’s going to be to take it all down. So don’t. Think about what matters. Lights on the tree are beautiful, does it matter if every single ornament makes it up? Probably not. In fact, if you have an accident prone house, it might be a good idea to keep your fragile favorites in the box.

A couple of accent pieces in the right place can feel incredibly festive. Stream some garland over the doorway, light a couple of candles on the mantle, and call it a day.


There are plenty of teacher gift ideas out there. But a thoughtful email is also enough. When it comes to friends, suggest skipping an exchange this year, or give the gift of a coffee date when the holidays are over. Don’t go overboard with family either. Think back to your most memorable holidays; is it the gift you remember or is it just a general feeling of togetherness? When I remember my childhood, I can think of maybe 2 gifts that made an impression over 2 decades. I remember the food, favorite movies, relaxing, and that super-kitsch rainbow star at the top of our tree. It’s not the things, it’s the feeling.


If you’re overwhelmed by all of the stuff that inundates your house this year, tell your loved ones what you actually need!


Unless you enjoy being in the kitchen all day while everyone else is relaxing and watching movies, keep the meals simple. Store-bought frozen appetizers are fun, easy, and feed a crowd. A hunk of meat you can leave in the oven all day with some easy sides offer ample servings and let you put your feet up. Think about how to keep with tradition with ease. For example, the feast of seven fishes could be fish sticks, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, lobster bisque … you get the idea – all things you can buy already made.


Nothing needs to be the way it’s always been. When it comes to the holidays and life for that matter, the most important lesson to pass along is to be flexible and make the best of what we have.

  • Dates are arbitrary: We can celebrate whatever we want whenever we want.
  • Location is arbitrary: New Years can be celebrated in an airplane. Santa is magical; he can find kids in a hotel or hospital.
  • Food is flexible: Just because your family has always served “special dish” doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it for food aversions or allergies.
  • Travel isn’t imperative: If going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house is too much, stay home. If that causes a problem, shame on them. Give yourself the gift of boundaries.
  • Take the traditions you’ve always loved, and turn them into something that is doable for your family.

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