Sanity Saving Tips for The Holidays


With the holidays right around the corner, I can feel myself getting stressed out. What can I do to make this year different?

S., Rhode Island

I hear you loud and clear. I love the holidays, but I too tend to get a little stressed out. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy getting together with family and friends, going to cookie exchange parties, decorating the tree with my husband and kids and even putting jingle bells on my dog. And I have the best of intentions when it comes to hosting parties and gift giving. But the real problem renders its ugly head when I look at the calendar, start panicking and second guessing my choices.

Do these sound familiar?

“Is this too much? or not enough?”

“Will he REALLY like this?”

“Wait, did I buy this for her last year?’

‘How am I going to host everyone – there’s no time to prepare a party that’s as fancy as hers!”

Enough already. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Exhale.

Follow these sanity-saving tips to help make the holidays more enjoyable:

- Give back. Give something – whether gifts or meals to those in need. Inspire your kids to give back too. Get involved in a charity that means something to you. This will put you in the holiday spirit and remind you and your family members about the true meaning of the holidays.

- Don't go overboard with gift-giving. Remember, it's the thought that counts. Set a gift-giving budget that makes sense for your family. The more creative the gift, the better!

- Take the pain out of holiday cards. Don't worry about taking a new family portrait for your holiday card every year. Use an existing family photo and create a card online using sites like or You can also print existing photos and place them in ready-made photo cards. If you're having an extremely busy year, take a break and send an email card to loved ones. Or surprise them with a New Year's card instead!

Let them draw. Have your kids create a Christmas drawing. Make multiple copies of them and give them to people this year as cards.

Create a new tradition. If you’re tired of dragging your kids to five different places every holiday, create a new tradition and invite family and friends to YOUR home this year. If you get stressed out about planning a dinner party, remind yourself it’s your party and it can be anything you want it to be. Make the event more of an open house, prepare two or three simple dishes ahead of time and ask people to bring certain items to help lessen the load. Remember, it’s not a contest. It’s about being together for the holidays!

Think outside of the Big Box. If you don't know what to buy for someone, stay away from Big Box stores and visit local shops. Where I live in Barrington, you can find great finds at small shops like Hollies, Barrington Books, Daisy Dig Ins, and Grasmere.

- Give homemade cookies as gifts. Make a few dozen batches of holiday cookie dough. Bake the cookies with your kids and place them in decorative baskets, boxes or tins. These make thoughtful gifts for teachers, neighbors, friends and relatives. Tie it with special ribbon to add a Martha-Stewart-like touch.

- Don't forget to shop online. The Internet is your friend this time of year. But never leave your computer open to gift-giving web sites or you'll spoil the fun. Either pin favorite items on or email yourself specific web sites so you don't forget what's on your list.

Start a new gift-giving tradition. Talk to family members about starting a Secret Santa gift exchange to lessen the stress. We do this with our family and set a specific price limit which forces you to be creative and be respectful of everyone's budgets.

- Make something homemade. If you can't paint a picture or knit a sweater, try this on for size - a New Year Memory Jar. This is something we’ve done for my grandmother, mother and mother-in-law. Materials: One empty preserves jar, a bow and 365 small pieces of paper. Divide the papers evenly throughout your family. Each family member (especially the young ones) writes a special or funny saying, message or memory on each piece of paper. The recipient can enjoy opening a new message every day of the new year!

Host a Yankee Swap. Start a White Elephant or Yankee Swap gift exchange with friends. Invite them to your gift swapping party and enjoy the evening over wine and cheese dip. If this stresses you out, wait and do it in January!

- Give experiences. If you can’t think of what to give that special someone who has everything, do something different this year. Give EXPERIENCES rather than traditional gifts. Make a Year of Wishes Jar filled with 52 pieces of paper listing individual weekly ideas for you to do together. Ideas can range from simple to extravagant, from going on a bike ride to tickets to an outdoor concert. Tailor the wishes according to that person and your budget!


Jackie Hennessey blogs about her take on motherhood at and writes about it in her book, How to Spread Sanity on a Cracker. Write to her today at