Home / Relationships  / How to Tame the Christmas Chaos

How to Tame the Christmas Chaos


My daughter’s first Christmas was chaos.

Oh, she was pretty oblivious. At nine months old, she could have cared less about the last-minute stresses of our Christmas Eve insanity and Christmas Day travelogue, in which we put 100 miles on our car hopping from house to house for meals with our families.

As a new mommy, I naturally envisioned that first Christmas would be all twinkling stars and angel dust. But as soon as I swung my eyes off her adorable little face, I was neck deep in a Christmas Eve party for every member of both our families. I adore most of them, but it was a lot of preparation and people and presents and mess that I didn’t plan or execute well. My husband had to work that day and got home two hours later than planned, and that intensified the stress for both of us. After the cleanup and putting an over-stimulated infant to bed, we were still up past midnight assembling something or other for my six-year-old stepdaughter, then spent Christmas Day hopping between our parents’ houses.

At the end of the holiday, we looked at each other and said (with about 2% energy but 100% commitment), “It has to be different next year!”

It was. We tamed the Christmas chaos by making a few simple changes:

We decided Christmas Eve would be quiet; church followed by a light meal and presents to each other. On Christmas morning, we celebrated the kids and Santa leisurely, and then visited our parents in the afternoon, setting an early evening deadline to be back home. We squeezed in our siblings and their children on Christmas Day if possible (at a grandparents’ house), or set up special dates just before or after Christmas to exchange gifts and spend time together.

Peace became a part of Christmas.

What works for one family doesn’t work for them all. But I encourage you that if Christmas causes you stress (which, in turn, causes your spouse and/or children stress) you can reset the agenda with a few changes.

Here are a few reminders and tips:
  • Your nuclear family is most important, so work with your husband to set priorities—the “must haves” of Christmas for the two of you and the kids. If you’re a single mom, you definitely get to decide on your own what you want Christmas with your children to look like!
  • Make a list of what’s most important to you about Christmas, and expend the majority of your effort toward that. There’s much less stress in planning for things you love.
  • Make a list of everyone you want (or are expected to) include in your Christmas celebration. Prioritize if you know you can’t see them all (i.e. the kids’ grandparents are more important than their second cousins).
  • Determine when the family get-togethers work best for you. You don’t have to see everyone on Christmas Eve and again Christmas Day. For us, Christmas Day was my husband’s only guaranteed day off, so that was the best day for celebrating with relatives.
  • Definitely explain to your relatives why you are making a change and ask what would work best or please them. If you know what everyone wants, you’re better equipped to decide what you can actually do (or not do).
  • Everyone has grandparents or control freaks in their families whose noses get easily out of joint if you change any traditions. So decide your schedule well ahead of time. Letting family members know in advance gives them the time they need to accept plans that might not meet their desires or expectations.

The Christmas season can be busy, but don’t let it control your peace of mind and enjoyment of your family. Take charge of your schedule and set your priorities ahead of time—you’ll be glad!

We also recommend 5 Tips for Enjoying Your Holiday in the Midst of Get-Togethers7 Tips to Make Space for RestThe Holidays and My Martha Heart and Girl, It’s Perfectly OK to Be Yourself This Holiday Season


Clare: obsessive watcher of shore birds who loves spending hours shopping online for things she’ll never buy

Read more by Clare  
Review overview