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Christmas can be the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but it can also be the Most Stressful Time of the Year. All that shopping, planning, decorating, baking and traveling can turn a lovely holiday season into an anxiety-filled nightmare.

I'm as guilty as the next perfectionist. I want everything to look, smell, and feel just as it did when I was growing up. And when it doesn't, it means I am a failure. I have failed to "do" Christmas well.

I can't tell you how many times I found myself depressed on Christmas afternoon after the presents had been opened, the food had been eaten, and my house had been destroyed. I wasn't sad that Christmas was over; I was depressed that Christmas didn't live up to my overblown expectations. And I realized that this was NOT the message I wanted to send my kids about Christmas. I don't want them growing up thinking Christmas has to be the Greatest Day of All Time where All Your Dreams Come True. We aren't living in a Disney movie, for Pete's Sake!

So this year I made the decision to take it easy for Christmas. I was going to keep it simple, keep it pleasant, and keep it stress-free. And so far, I have succeeded. I'm actually enjoying the Christmas season and looking forward to a nice, relaxing Christmas day. Here are some of the things I have done differently this year:

Christmas Gifts
I used to be one of those people who loved to venture out on Black Friday. It was fun to collect the sales ads and brave the crowds before dawn. But after going through it for the past couple of years, I realized that the deals just aren't that great and the best items are sold out before I even get through the door.

So this year I did ALL my Christmas shopping BEFORE Black Friday. I actually took the kids to Toys R Us one Sunday afternoon, and I had them make their Christmas lists. I started checking the sales ads at the beginning of November, and I got some fabulous deals. I can't tell you how much fun it was going through Toys R Us with NO CROWDS! It was practically empty! I got almost everything on their lists, and I didn't overspend because I stuck to the lists. I also got lots of great deals online with Amazon, and I got free shipping to boot! And when Black Friday rolled around, it was a great feeling to know all my presents were already tucked away in the closet.

Christmas Decorations
I'm not much of a decorator, but I like having a nice tree and a few Christmas nick knacks around the house. So I had the kids do all the decorating this year! They have much more time and energy than I do. And once I gave up my perfectionist attitude, it wasn't hard to let them have some fun with it. Are the ornaments on the tree perfectly straight and uniform? Of course not! But it's fun to tell people my daughter decorated the tree all by herself.

Christmas Cards
I didn't even send Christmas cards this year because I was on such a no-stress kick, but I'm not against sending some jolly messages to my friends and family. The trick is to keep it simple. I take my own Christmas photo (see last year's picture above), upload it to Shutterly, and create colorful cards with them. There's no getting everyone all dressed up and dragging them to Sears for some fake-looking family portraits! We do it all ourselves for a few cents apiece. Then all you have to do is address the envelopes and send them!

Christmas Parties
I usually throw an elaborate Christmas party on the night of the Christmas parade that runs through our town. Our neighborhood is right on the parade route, so we usually have folks park at our house and walk to the parade. Afterward, we have a party. It's really fun, but it's also very stressful to do all that cooking and cleaning. So this year, I decided to just offer the parking incentive. I bought some onion dip and chips and a bucket of fried chicken, and everyone had a great time. There was no need for me to spend a week cooking every item in the cookbook! Everyone just wanted to see the parade anyway.

I'm really enjoying my stress-free Christmas, and I especially like showing my kids that Christmas can be fun, but it's not some magical, perfect day of bliss. It's simply a nice day to spend with friends and family.

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