The festive season is just around the corner. The music blasting in the stores repeatedly remind me that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
There’s so much I love about the holiday season: gift exchanges, festive parties catching up with friends and, tables overflowing with treats and warm chocolate chip cookies that melt in my mouth but wait… who has the time to bake these things anymore? As a working mum juggling deadlines and deliverables with daily school runs, I barely have time to run to the bathroom, much less bake cookies.
But that got me thinking… Who skipped their lunch break to pick out all those perfectly-wrapped gifts? Who threw those amazing themed parties – laid out with oven-roasted turkey and homemade stuffing?
I’m betting my last cookie that in most cases, a woman made it happen. And statistics support that. Findings from the American Psychological Association confirm that a woman’s stress levels spike around the holidays.
Ironically, there is no time of greater expectations (or disappointment, when those expectations aren’t met), than during the holiday season. It’s taken me years – and numerous self-reminders – to define my own vision of what’s meaningful, and to stay focused on what really matters: no, we do not need to give or receive the most expensive gifts to celebrate the season, we are not unloved if our partners do not shower us with luxury items, and we are not bad parents for not getting our kids the most coveted toy of the season.
It all boils down to managing expectations versus reality, and keeping focused on making your experience match your vision. There’s a wiser me in the hot seat these days, one who has benefitted from lessons learned over the years. So if I may share:
Reality Check #1: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong
Strategy: Be solutions-oriented
Murphy’s Law exists for a reason. It doesn’t matter how well-organised you are, things won’t always go exactly as planned. Flexibility is the key to riding out Murphy’s waves of turbulence.
Advises events planner Artika Sulaiman: “Don’t freak out if something doesn’t go 100 per cent right. No one will know. Instead, laugh it off and find the most efficient solution.”
And here’s the thing – December will come and go all too quickly, so embrace these precious moments with family and friends. My kids have long forgotten about the times I failed to bake them gingerbread man cookies, or put up the Advent calendar for the annual countdown to Christmas. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.
Reality Check #2: You are not The Flash
Strategy: Pace yourself
Leaving everything till the eleventh hour is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for extreme stress. I make it a point to shop for things ahead of time, be they wrappers, presents, or non-perishable ingredients for a cook-out.
Shares Ng Yi Mei, a 36-year-old mum-of-three who enjoys making home-baked treats for friends and family, “I find it very helpful to make food lists before hitting the supermarket. This practice lessens my chances wasting time on repeated grocery trips.”
She adds, “In fact, if you’re making a dish that can be placed in the refrigerator (such as a cheesecake), make it ahead so it’s one less thing to worry about.” I concur, in fact, my favorite go-to homemade dessert is tiramisu – I make it the night before and leave it to chill overnight in the fridge. Can’t go wrong with this crowd pleaser!
Reality Check #3: You’re not 7-11
Strategy: Delegate duties
Unlike the popular 24-hour convenience store, you’re not always open – you need rest, and there’s only so much you can do in a day. I’ve learnt the hard way that when you spread yourself too thin, something, somewhere, gets compromised.
No matter how much of a perfectionist you are, learn to delegate and allow others to help you with the less important tasks. Heard of the phrase “divide and conquer”? Husbands can be tasked with logistical errands such as grocery shopping (just make sure you give them a detailed shopping list), while kids can help to decorate the Christmas tree (sure, it’s not going to turn out the way you wanted it to, but hey, it’s their masterpiece!)
Reality Check #4: It’s the thought that counts
Strategy: Save time with gift cards
I keep a small backup stack of gift cards on standby. This stash keeps me sane in times of emergency, and saves me the hassle of rushing down to the mall for last-minute gifts.
Artika says, “You know that old saying, ‘It’s the thought that counts’? It really is. Think about who you are giving this present to, and put yourself in their position,” she suggests. “If they are obsessed and particular about makeup, for example, a Sephora gift card would be amazing – they can geek out and spend an entire day in there.”
Reality Check #5: You’ve no time to shop
Strategy: Shop online
I was born to shop. Put me in an outlet mall and you’ll never hear from me till the cows come home. But gone are the days of endless hours roaming in the malls. It’s online shopping I do now.
Want in on massive online promotions? Artika recommends staking out Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Now here’s another tip to take your e-shopping to the next level – Fellowshoppers.com, a new U.S. shipping service, offers a handy drag-and-drop shipping tool, which cleverly combines all your purchases from different websites, for consolidated savings on postage fees. I’ve tried many international shipping services and I must say, their intuitive calculator is one of the most convenient tools I’ve ever come across.
Reality Check #6 You cannot please everyone
Strategy: Don’t overcommit
Can you make it to four Christmas parties in one day? Sure, you can. Will you be able to relax and enjoy any of them? Chances are almost zilch. “Decide what is meaningful to you and what your priorities are when it comes to gifting or accepting party invitations,” advises Elaine Victoria Yang, a reiki teacher and healer at Reiki Glow Singapore. “Ask yourself who, or what, is important to you, and take action accordingly.” We all have the same 24 hours a day. Make that time count.
Reality Check #7: You’re last on your list
Strategy: Give generously... to yourself
As contradictory as it may sound, treat yourself to some “me-first” time. Think of it as giving to yourself. “Women have a tendency to nurture and take care of everyone, so that can naturally translate to more stress, and a heavier sense of responsibility during the holiday season,” shares Elaine, who recommends healing practices like reiki, yoga or meditation, to help destress and de-clutter the mind.
“Clarity comes when you are balanced. When you have a practice that helps you to feel centered, there is a lot more awareness on the stressors in your life, which then helps you to make that mental shift towards equilibrium,” she adds.
Reality Check #8: We can’t all be Nigella Lawson
Strategy: Take shortcuts
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve baked brownies with my kids, straight out of a Betty Crocker box – just add water, stir, and bake! Yes, a homemade cake is delicious, but the ease of using an off-the-shelf solution and doing it quickly is a no-brainer (and it tastes just as good).
Don’t be afraid to use shortcuts where you can. No one will know the difference (nor care that it’s not 100 per cent made from scratch). Or, instead of cooking up a storm for a party, break tradition and, as Anna Tan, the chief executive officer of Coaching Go Where, suggests: “Host an organised potluck party! It’s my favourite. It ensures variety and active participation from everyone.”
Reality Check #9: To wine, or not to wine?
Strategy: Buy wine in cases
Save time and money by buying a case when you see a great deal on a good wine. This can easily save you anything from $30 to $50, as compared to buying individual bottles every time you have a party to attend, or a last minute gift to purchase. A word of caution: skip this tip if you can’t be trusted with multiple bottles of wine at home (just saying, you know, in case you love cooking with wine, of course).
Reality Check #10: You overspend at Christmas
Strategy: Be generous with your love
Not your credit card. There is no greater stress than the one that comes with the feeling of not being able to pay your bills. “Don’t give for the sake of giving, or it’ll become a stressful chore,” Anna cautions. “And don’t get into debt either.” She suggests trying these practical ideas with friends and family:
- Agree on a limit for each gift (for example, setting a budget of $20 per person).
- Have a Secret Santa (good for groups)! So everyone buys just one gift for a nominated person. There’s also usually a cost cap to ensure fairness and manage expectations.
- Come to a truce and agree to no gifting, other than to children under the age of, for example, 16 years old. This removes the sense of obligation, reduces the wastage of buying things people actually might not want, and saves you money.
- Give or donate to a charity in their name to help the less fortunate (and tell them).