The season from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day is the ultimate survival test. Those of us who have worked, raised families and played Santa Claus year after year have learned something about the art of holiday maintenance. Here are my Twelve Rules of Christmas:
Simplify. You may be part of the have-it-all generation, but you can't do it all -- and you don't have to. Instead of making fruitcake or plum pudding, get someone else to make it, buy it or don't serve it.
Tear up that competitive scorecard of self-worth. The ego is so tied to pleasing others that holidays can become a competition about who has the grandest tree or buys the best presents. But your reputation isn't riding on Christmas dinner, which is, after all, just a meal.
Negotiate presents in advance. Take the guessing and anguish out of finding something just right, especially if it costs more than $5. In these recessionary times, set a cost limit, say $15.
Maintain the surprise factor by writing creative notes on packages. I've told my husband he's getting a fat (expensive) book about the Middle East this year. I'll write teasing epitaphs on the package to see if he can figure out what it's all about and I'll enjoy his cackling when he does.
Limit shopping to three days and three stores. I go to a book store, a department store and a drug store.
Plan one holiday meal. In our house it's Christmas Eve. Send cards only to people who live out of town and who you rarely see.
Keep cards from earlier years. That way you're surrounded with abundant good wishes from friends and relatives -- who also may not have had time to send out cards this year.
Buy a tree according to your emotional status. If there's a shadow over Christmas this year -- illness, marital breakup, financial loss, uncertainty over the Gulf crisis -- don't get an enormous tree that takes a lot of trimming. One year, I bought an 18-inch plastic tree because there was no money or energy for a real one. Another year, I took my children to a relative's house and enjoyed someone else's tree.
Delegate to the elves. Children, no matter how young, can help. For starters, let them wrap all the presents. In a few years, they can do the shopping.
Go on carpool strike.
Take a soothing bubble bath or a brisk walk to a favorite place. Whatever you do, set aside some time each day for yourself.