Sometimes I feel like Christmas could be spelled B-U-S-Y. There is always plenty to do, parties to prep for, and gifts to buy. Never mind that I have 364 days to prepare for the big event.

This year there’s an extra element of planning involved, as my family has added the gift of a foster daughter. Her new place in our family means I want to make things extra special for her, without overdoing it.

Now that I’m parenting two kids that attend different schools, Christmas seems to have doubled—parties, performances, and gifts for the girls’ amazing teachers, tutors, and small group leaders. Plus it’s that time of year for church events. This is a fantastic conundrum of course, but it is also in conflict with my intentions of making these months slow and saturated in sweet, intentional family time.

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As the primary shopper, calendar manager, and event planner of the house, I’m committed to working smarter and not harder this Christmas so that I can be present instead of overwhelmed. I want to soak in every moment we have together as a family and seize each opportunity I have to make these months magical. Here’s how I plan to thrive, not just survive, this holiday season.

1. Shop online as much as possible.

How awesome is it that I can browse, compare prices, and check off my list from the comfort of home (in my Christmas jammies)? Instead of spending my usual way-too-long amount of time browsing social media after my girls are asleep, I can close those apps and open others to knock out my shopping in one evening.

2. Minimize wrapping.

A fellow mom told me she saved a ton of time last year by ordering each child a customized “Santa sack” for their gifts instead of wrapping them individually. Her kids were thrilled to have their own special monogrammed bag, and this saved her from spending hours holed up in her bedroom wrapping each gift separately.

3. Pick your signature dish.

Decide now which one or two go-to, crowd-pleasing dishes you’ll make this year for every gathering you attend. Pick a savory dish and a dessert so you’re ready for whatever the host calls for, and buy several sets of the non-perishable ingredients in advance. This will save you the cost of buying random ingredients you’ll only use once and the time you’d spend on late-night recipe searches and grocery runs.

4. Simplify the gifts.

Make a list of every teacher, boss, bus driver, neighbor, small group leader, and coach you’d like to give a Christmas gift, and then find a one-size-fits-all kind of gift they will appreciate. Think a classy ornament, gift card, or an edible treat. And if you go the treat route, save time by ordering from a bakery.

5. Utilize freezer meals.

Beginning this week, prepare a double portion of whatever you’re serving for dinner and freeze it. Then you’ll have something easy to whip out on nights when everyone gets home late due to a concert or holiday service project. This will also give you freedom to do fun family activities some evenings when one of you would usually be in the kitchen.

6. Start now.

Spoiler alert: Christmas comes at the same time every year. We don’t have to wait until December 20-something to shop and make plans. Plan ahead to free up mental energy and time you can use investing in people around you. Plus, giving yourself margin will make those unexpected events less stressful. Oh, and don’t forget to shop the after-Christmas sales so you can get a jump start on 2019!

Try adopting just one of these ideas into your holiday planning and see how it works for you. Or, try asking some of your friends how they manage to slow down, simplify, and soak in the beauty of Christmas. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

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