Cross stress off your list

Are you dreaming of a calm Christmas? Get help with these ten women-tested sanity savers

So, you spend the holiday season just lolling around, eating shortbread and exclaiming over your perfect gifts…yeah, right. Still, December doesn’t have to be a stress-fest. We’ve zeroed in on four familiar holiday stress scenarios and put together a slew of real-life strategies from the experts, including women just like you. Consider it our gift to you.

Every year you swear not to do it, but somehow you end up in the middle of the mall on Dec. 22, trying to decide between a golf ball washer and a mug warmer for your dad. Your credit card is smoking, you’re mindlessly humming “Santa Baby” and you’re not quite sure if you’ll ever find the car again. Is it OK to just give cash next year?

Shop smart Lisa J. Lima, marketing manager at West Edmonton Mall, polled her colleagues for their shopping tips. (More than 22 million shoppers hit her mall every year, many of them in December, so employees really know how to survive the season.) Their advice: take advantage of mall services, which may include a free coat-and-parcel check, gift-wrapping stations, drop-in day care and complimentary strollers. Also, pare down the contents of your purse so it doesn’t weigh 20 pounds; stop for breaks, drinks and snacks; and shop at stores that your gift recipients might frequent. The best times to shop, according to Lima, are first thing in the morning on a weekday, over the dinner hour, late on Saturday evening and during Moonlight Madness sales.

Go surfing A few years ago, JoAnne Dougall of Cap-St-Ignace, Que., decided to do all of her shopping online. “I’m not the type of person to go Christmas shopping in June, so I’d always end up at the mall during peak periods, which drove me nuts,” she says. Plus, since she often flies from her Quebec home to visit family in Winnipeg for the holidays, her gift choices for her parents and four siblings were limited to flat unbreakable items that she could pack in her suitcase. Now Dougall shops online at mainstream Canadian retailers and has everything delivered directly to Winnipeg. Her favourite find so far? An elegant (not to mention fragile) wall clock for her brother, which would never have survived the plane ride. For more great gift ideas online, check out our web shopping guide.

Stressed-out kids

When the kids are up late, crammed into their good clothes, hopped up on sugar and surrounded by unfamiliar food, places and people, a not-so-merry meltdown is practically inevitable. By the time they start to wail, you want to join right in.

The solutions

Trust your instincts “If you are eyeing your child and thinking, ‘I hope she can last for 10 more minutes,’ you know she is actually about 30 seconds away from tears,” says Kathy Lynn, a parent educator and expert columnist for Chatelaine’s sister magazine, Today’s Parent. “Scoop your child up before the tears and take a quiet break.” If you’re taking a shy child to a large gathering, let her know that it’s OK to come back to you to check in whenever she’s feeling overwhelmed by the activity and noise. Lastly, plan a few holiday activities that are just for your family, whether it’s decorating the tree (who cares if all your ornaments are on the bottom half?), taking a moonlit walk or snuggling up to watch a holiday TV special.

Keep your routines Come December, Chatelaine staffer Trish Snyder and her husband, Rob, do a lot of visiting around southwestern Ontario with their two children, Morgan, 2, and Rylie, 4. One of their top strategies: bring bedtime with you. “If it’s a party that runs into the evening, we bring jammies so the kids can hop from the car into bed when we get home,” says Snyder. “Sometimes we even bring their favourite milk cups and a book or two so we can read a bedtime story before we hit the road.”

The party-throwing panic

‘Tis the season to be festive and hospitable, but the thought of actually hosting a party makes your hair stand on end. You have to figure out who to invite, what to serve and how to hide that mysterious splotch on the living room carpet. What if no one comes? Worse, what if everyone comes?

The solutions

Welcome warmly For the past four years, the lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan, the Hon. Lynda Haverstock, has hosted a New Year’s Day levee for the general public. “The most important thing is to greet every single person. This makes everyone feel welcome and an integral part of the gathering,” Haverstock says. If the viceregal couple can personally chat with more than 700 visitors, you can certainly spare a few words for your weird neighbour. A theme doesn’t hurt either: people return year after year to see how Government House, a gracious 1883 building in Regina, has been decorated in keeping with the Victorian era.

Reinvent tradition A couple of years ago, Hazel Ling decided to skip the fa la la la la routine and threw a winter solstice party instead. On Dec. 21, the day of the year the sun typically rises the latest and sets the earliest, she and her family invited a houseful of people to their lakeside home in Ignace, Ont., built a blazing bonfire and toasted both the darkness and the approaching longer days. “I had just learned about how ancient peoples had celebrated the solstice, and it appealed to me much more than the traditional holiday stuff I had been raised with,” says Ling, who now lives in Carcross, Yukon (talk about your long winter nights). “I decided that you should challenge traditions you don’t like and make your own.”

Holiday wardrobe malfunctions

Just look at those filled-in squares on the calendar – between work parties, family get-togethers and soirees with friends, your party clothes are taking on a been-there-done-that cast. And really, how many years can you get away with wearing those Santa Claus earrings?

The solutions

Go vintage “I think a successful party is one where someone asks you where you found that fabulous outfit,” says Julia Grieve, co-host of Prime’s Diva on a Dime and a Toronto boutique owner who designs duds using vintage pieces. “Wearing vintage clothing or accessories is an easy way to create a one-of-a-kind outfit and only spend a few dollars.” Her favourites to spiff up a little black dress: vintage jewelry – especially glamorous sparkly brooches – and unique classic handbags. Go raid your grandma’s closet or drop by your local vintage or consignment shop and have a blast.

Keep it simple Dougall swears by the simple V-neck. “It’s a nice neckline that shows a bit of cleavage, but doesn’t give away the family secrets. Besides, my grandfather always used to say, ‘Every woman should show off her neck. It’s the most kissable place there is!'” she says. When December rolls around, Dougall reaches for a basic black V-neck shirt or sweater and combines it with a colourful scarf or jewelry for wear-it-anywhere style.

The dreaded family dinner

Every family has a least one: the aunt who drones on about her medication, the stoner brother-in-law, the mom who continually snaps at the kids – whether they’re hers or not. Sure, you love your family, but they also know how to systematically fray you to your very last nerve. It’s enough to make a girl commune with the eggnog.

The solutions

Choose your behaviour Michelle Ray, a Vancouver keynote speaker and seminar leader who helps organizations such as McDonald’s and the City of Victoria deal with difficult people, says that workplace techniques can carry over to the dinner table. Her tips: decide to respond by using logic and fact rather than your emotions. You should also give yourself permission to leave the situation by taking a walk or just cruising over to a different room. “One other effective strategy is called fogging,” she says. “Respond to a criticism by asking a question in a very neutral tone of voice. It works very well because it disarms the person who’s bugging you.” For example, if your great-aunt Hilda demands to know why you didn’t use her recipe for the Christmas cake, say, “I know your recipes are delicious, but I decided to give a different one a try. Do you have any suggestions for appetizers?”

Get through it Cinda Brown has about 30 people over for Christmas dinner at her family’s home in Aurora, Ont., including siblings and step-siblings, her divorced parents, her stepfather, her stepfather’s ex-wife, assorted spouses, offspring and friends. “The only way to really explain all the relationships is with a diagram!” she says, only half-jokingly. “It’s very much a ‘yours, mine and ours’ kind of family but somehow it works.” Cinda finds that fun activities get everyone laughing and help banish any lingering awkwardness or tension. Her group plays a zany gift-exchange game, sings carols around the piano and gathers to hear ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas read aloud. Don’t think your family is a play-games-and-sing-carols-around-the-piano gang? You might be surprised at how a little organized fun can loosen up even the stiffest group. Start with baby steps: a game or a sing-along or reading – rather than all three. And if that doesn’t work? Remind yourself that Christmas comes but once a year – which may just be a very good thing.

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