This year I will celebrate my 51st Christmas—my 23rd as a mother. That makes me “experienced,” which is basically just a kinder way of saying, “old.” With experience and age come wisdom, so please indulge this empty-nester as I share some of the things I have learned about preparing for the holidays—tips that I hope might help uncomplicate some of your preparations and help you enjoy the season a little bit more.


Pro-tip #1: If a tradition is no longer bringing your family joy, dump it! Holidays are the times that our family traditions are most obvious and abundant. Traditions are important; they help to bring families closer together, they tie us to our roots, and they help us remember where we came from as we grow older. Traditions serve a practical purpose, too… If we do things as we’ve always done them, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year. If you always serve a ham dinner on Christmas, you don’t have to come up with a new menu plan every year. If you always spend Christmas Eve at Uncle Bob’s house, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do on December 24th.

But sometimes traditions can be a burden, too. When my kids were young, our tradition was to go to the tree farm together to scout for the perfect tree, chop it down, cart it back to the shop to pay for it, grab a hot chocolate, tie the tree onto the top of the car, and bring it home. When they were little, this was a day of great excitement and fun, but as they grew older, it started to feel like pulling teeth to get them to partake in the tradition. And I realized, it was becoming more of a chore than something that any of us enjoyed. It was usually cold and damp on tree-cutting day, and after about 30 minutes of hiking to find the best tree, bickering all the way, someone —usually my husband—would have to lie under it in the mud and snow and saw through the trunk. So we dumped that tradition, and these days, we pick out a pre-cut tree in about 5 minutes. The few extra bucks a pre-cut tree costs is totally worth the aggravation and ill-will that the annual tree cutting tradition was starting to cause us. It’s a tradition we don’t miss at all.

Pro-tip #2: Elf less. I feel so very blessed to have given birth at just the right time—meaning we missed out on the Elf on a Shelf craze by just a couple of years. But if you are the parent of a young child these days, you are undoubtedly going through the pain of having to remember to not only move your Elf, but also to come up with elaborate pranks and Pinterest-worthy poses for him each night. This would have been disastrous for us. It was hard enough to remember to play Tooth Fairy when our kids lost their teeth, and when we did remember, we rarely had any small bills to leave under their pillow, leading to real discussions about whether an incisor could possibly be worth a $50 bill or a gift card for the liquor store if that’s all I had in my wallet. Inevitably it would end with my husband and I couch diving for any loose change, or possibly writing an “i o u” note to leave under the pillow instead. We really were lame tooth fairies.

Which is why I love what my friend did with her Elf on a Shelf: After a few days of Elfie swinging from chandeliers and roasting s’mores over a candle, she had Elfie break a leg. The kids found him the next morning with a note from his doctor at the North Pole, saying that with his injury, he wasn’t allowed to move for 3 weeks. Brilliant!

Maybe you are one of those creative parents who loves the challenge of creating a wild nightlife for your Elf night after night, year after year, but if it is one of the things that is stressing you out this Christmas, remember: You’re in control of that little bugger. Make it easy on yourself.

Pro-tip #3: Stay away from Pinterest. I know, Pinterest is a great place to get clever ideas (including creative things to do with Elfie until his unfortunate leg-breaking incident), but it’s also a place that can make you feel woefully inadequate. I could barely even get those gingerbread house kits to stick together, so it is really disheartening to go online and see the blueprints for a DIY gingerbread victorian mansion with licorice shingles, a candy cane picket fence, and detailed, tiny Christmas wreaths on every window. Same goes for the sugar cookies shaped like 3-D snow-frosted pine trees and picture-perfect salt-dough Christmas garland.

Pro-tip #4: Hide your Santa presents in suitcases. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve been thanked for this suggestion before. If you zip up the gifts you acquire before Christmas in large suitcases, you’ll always know where they are and no one will think to look there. Stick the wrapping paper in with the suitcases so the kiddies don’t wonder why Santa uses the same wrapping paper Mom has stashed in the hall closet.

Pro-tip #5: Ask for help. This is a busy time of the year, and most of us are already close to being overwhelmed by just keeping up with our everyday lives, let alone the Christmas shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Maybe your kids can take the dog for a walk while you do some cyber shopping. Maybe your tech-savvy tween can create address labels for your Christmas cards. Maybe your husband can shop for his own family members. And maybe you can use a special holiday cleaning session from Immaculate Clean!