How to Survive The ‘Nightmare’ Before Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As the keepers of Christmas it’s our job to deliver. Parents, grandparents, and elves all over the world will soon be exhausting themselves to help Santa do his job.


As parents, we want to give our children a magical childhood. Either by replicating memories we hold close to our heart and want to pass on or by creating traditions we wished for in our own childhood, we’re always working to make the holidays special for our children.

My favorite childhood memories have to do with Bing Crosby, baking with my mother and twinkling tree lights in dark rooms.

For my husband, his Christmases ranged from barely enough food for a feast to opulent present orgies that lasted all day.

When he was very young his mother sometimes went hungry so he could eat — she sent him to school barefoot because shoes were too expensive. But she had a picture: the image of the perfect family life that she was determined he would have. She had torn the photo from an office copy of Better Homes and Gardens magazine she’d found; a Christmas tree shone from the page dripping in gold ornaments. The presents were all wrapped in matching golden paper and bows. One day, she decided, he would have that. Her son would have a real family Christmas. And boy did she deliver!Pittock-Mansion-Gingerbread-House-2009-(39)


Sometimes we put so much pressure on creating family traditions that it can make it almost impossible to do right. How can we possibly deliver a dream?

As a mom who has aspired to the “just like Martha” Christmas, I can tell you first hand how exhausting that can be. I’ve gone the other way too, serving Thanksgiving dinner in my PJ’s. Neither of these is right, and neither is wrong. Surviving Christmas is about finding balance.



Here are some simple guidelines to help you find balance and safeguard your sanity this holiday season:

  1. Find the Meaning

Traditions don’t have to be a burden! Take a moment to ask your family about their favorite part of the holiday.  You’ll be surprised by what is important to each individual, as well as what isn’t.

I used to drag my whole family to the Nutcracker for years. Dressing them up and shoving them into a neat auditorium row. A couple of years ago I decided that no one enjoyed it and single-handedly cut it out altogether, but I was wrong. One of my sons who plays the bassoon loved going because he adored the music. Now just the two of us go and it’s much more meaningful.

My oldest son on the other hand loves almost anything as long as Andy Williams is playing in the background.

What is meaningful to your family? What traditions are very essential to keep and which can you release, freeing up valuable time together? Ask.

  1. Use your Elves

Santa can’t do Christmas alone, and neither should you. Involve your whole family. If homemade cookies are important to one person, put them in charge! The cookies might not look the same as yours and the mess might be bigger, but they’ll have a blast.


  1. Don’t Give Toothbrushes on Halloween

Santa embodies unqualified giving from the heart. You don’t have to go wild. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and you certainly don’t have to give them everything they ask for. Your gifts can be handmade or they could be one or two carefully chosen things that the recipient would be thrilled to receive.

Think about what others want to receive, not necessarily about what you think they should have and you will spread joy. Don’t go against your principles, but allow your kids some indulgence — Christmas isn’t a time to be prescriptive. Let your child be a child!


  1. Keep a Gracious Heart

“‘Tis better to give than receive” may be an old adage but it still rings true. Yes, you want your children to enjoy their gifts but you still want them to learn the excitement that comes from unselfishly giving.

Encourage them to do simple acts of service for neighbors. Does the older couple next door struggle with taking out the trash in the winter weather? Could the family down the street use some cookies? Show your kids how much small gestures can mean to others.

Plan an easy, age-appropriate charitable activity. When our children were  young we all went to a large toy store and each child chose a present they’d like to receive. We gave them a budget and told them no violent toys but then we set them loose. We purchased the gifts and put them into the Toys for Tots bins on our way out of the store, leaving with nothing but full hearts.

  1. Be Present

Whatever activities you choose to do as a family or parties you choose to attend be fully present. Put away your phone, banish “the list” from your mind, and give wholly of yourself in that moment.

This has been my gift to myself this year. I’ve selected the activities I put on our calendar very carefully and don’t accept any overlapping events. There’s no rushing from one thing to the next this year. It’s made a huge difference in my stress level and in everyone’s enjoyment of each holiday event. When we’re there, we’re there — no one is constantly checking their watch or worried about beating traffic to the next event.

Give yourself the greatest gift of all and allow yourself to enjoy yourself this holiday season. Take a moment to hear the music, squeeze the hand that is holding yours and breathe in the magic.


The reality of family Christmases are that whatever you do as a family will become your child’s traditions. My son only loves Andy Williams because I played Winter Wonderland so many times during his childhood, while another can’t imagine Christmas without cinnamon rolls baked by his father. An important benchmark in any of my children’s relationships has become the first Christmas when they bring their significant other to decorate Gingerbread houses with our family. These simple things are what they’ll remember, so focus on those. Don’t worry about the Christmases in the magazine or on TV — those aren’t real.


As the keeper of Christmas, give yourself the gift of slowing down a little this year. Find the most meaningful traditions and let some others go. Involve your family in all aspects of the holiday; there are no martyrs at the North Pole. Give and receive with an open heart. Most of all, take it all in. Make your own memories.

My children are getting older every day and one year we won’t all be together, but for now I will be fully present and enjoy every moment.

I wish you a holiday filled with  joy.

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  1. Hi Barbara,
    Saw your headline on the SBO comp. site and am so glad I did.
    Thank you for wonderful content – so easy to lose the meaning of Christmas in all of the activity – and for the most beautiful illustrations.
    Certainly brightened up my day.
    Congratulations and please accept my best wishes for the comp. and for the Christmas and the New Year.

  2. Wonderful advice, Barbara!

    I appreciate what you said about putting “so much pressure on creating family traditions that it can make it almost impossible to do right. How can we possibly deliver a dream?”

    The first Christmas that I was a single mom, I had almost nothing. The kids and I made ornaments from felt (using my Christmas cookie cutters as templates) and decorated them with glitter and fabric paint. My kids are all grown up now and even though that was a painful time, I always hang one or two of those ornaments every year, along with the paper chain we made together almost 20 years ago. It reminds me how we worked through the tough times and how things don’t have to be perfect.

    Thanks for posting!