11 days, 16 hours, 25 minutes…

…That is this hour’s official countdown to Christmas. 

And tomorrow is the busiest mailing day of the year. That means my procrastination at getting those last two packages mailed might involve a wait in line at the Post Office.  It shouldn’t, because I make my labels online using paypal shipping, but I like to avoid those dirty looks I get when I budge ahead of the line to put my boxes on the counter. Even after they realize my packages are ready to mail and I can just leave them, I can hear those waiting muttering to themselves.

Gift-giving in my extended family is not complicated; some years we have gifts to give, other years we don’t, but no one is obligated to give a gift. Unlike other large families, we’ve never drawn names or done elaborate gift exchanges.  I like to be able to give each of my siblings a gift but that isn’t always financially feasible. Because I am always hunting for good deals, there are those years it is easier than others.  There are a lot of gift-type items that are frugal finds with coupons; Celestial Seasonings tea with $1 coupons (pair with a nice mug), expensive chocolate bars from Walgreens bought with combined store and manufacturer coupons, or body wash paired with a nice sponge.  One year I was able to get enough inexpensive Suave body wash  with Target and manufacturer coupons that I could fill a gift bag for each family at little cost to me. I splurged and bought the nicer bath sponges to add to each bag. Another trick I have up my sleeve is using the Walgreen’s catalina coupons towards gift cards. Normally, a store manager won’t allow it, but if that gift card is added to an already large order with a dozen coupons in hand, then it really isn’t going towards the gift card, per se.  I do this all the time, especially when I have those $8 and $10 catalina coupons. I’ll carefully plan my order around the weekly ad and my coupons, noting that my total after coupons and the catalina will be significantly less than $10, even with a $10 gift card added on. I might even have a cart full of the buy one get one free and 50% off specials that I have coupons for. Even if my total is over $10 after coupons I can still pay less than $15 or $20 for a cart full of merchandise plus the $10 gift card. 

My mother’s house gets crowded and crazy on Christmas day, so much so that passing around gifts isn’t as much fun as it used to be.  Gifts get lost in the shuffle, along with thank-you’s.  A couple years ago I decided to do something different and I gave each of my sisters a gift ahead of time, mailing them a little pick-me-up during one of the busiest weeks of the season. For one sister it was a bath set, for another a good book.  They were surprised to have something fun in the mail besides Christmas cards and I enjoyed being able to let them know I was thinking of them even before Christmas Day. After all, I mail out several friend’s gifts ahead of time (and don’t mind if they open them before Christmas) and who is a better friend than a sister? (or brother)  I’m doing the same thing this year, though I won’t be mailing all the gifts, a few will be hand-delivered.  I won’t reveal the details of the gifts themselves as I have siblings reading my blog, but suffice it to say that these gifts are something I hope will fit their individual personalities and maybe bring a spark of enjoyment to a hectic day. 

Gifts don’t have to cost a lot to bring that kind of joy. My daughter Beth knows that when she sneaks a little bag of molasses cookies into her Dad’s car at work.  There was a spring in his walk and a glint in his eye the evening he came home (and hid) that bag.  Knowing his daughter was thinking about him and putting those cookies into his car while he was inside working meant a lot to him.

What about you? Would you like to make someone’s day during this holiday season and not wait until Christmas? It isn’t too late, despite that clock ticking away.

11 days, 16 hours, and now, 15 minutes…

Monday the 14th promises to be the busiest mailing day of the year. If you haven’t yet sent out your Christmas cards, maybe you’ll be doing that tomorrow. If you already sent them, how about sending a cheery card to a shut-in?  There are lots of nice gifts that can be included inside the envelope, like a gift card to a bookstore or restaurant. How about a book of stamps? A pretty bookmark?  Amazon has some great $5 a year magazine subscriptions going right now.  Subscribe for someone and send them a note telling them you’ve done so. Have some December magazines sitting around your house? Check inside to see if there is a Hallmark ad with a $5 coupon inside, then head to your local Hallmark and make a game of it to see what you can find for $5 or less. If nothing else, buy a couple rolls of wrapping paper.  Our Hallmark has a shelf full of Marjolean Bastin gifts on sale for 50% off and their big mugs are normally $14. At half-price you’d pay only $2 for a whopping big mug. There are many holiday teas that can be picked up on your next grocery shopping trip that could be added to a gift bag with the mug for an inexpensive gift for your favorite tea drinker.  Even the tightest budget can accomodate that greatest gift of all: a real letter. Use pretty stationery or have your kids decorate the borders of some plain white paper. Brighten up the envelope with stickers. On the worst day ever, a long newsy letter in my mailbox can cheer me up.

And if you are really feeling frazzled by Christmas countdowns such as this, take the time to remember the real reason for the season.  It isn’t about things at all.

Maybe it is now, in the midst of the hurry and flurry of the season, we should attempt to consciously slow down a bit and enjoy the best gifts of all; the children around us that make the season magic, the spouse that is our best friend, the family and friends that we care about.  Maybe we should make December 14th that one day every year when we relax and unwind, play Christmas music and drink hot cocoa, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with the family. Mid-holiday Sluff Off Day, we could call it. Then moms like me, who are under the delusion that it is THEM who “makes” the Christmas magic could take the day off and not do anything at all associated with Christmas chores or holiday to-do lists. Instead, they could just spend the day doing all the other household chores they’ve neglected in preparing packages and baking cookies and not worry that Christmas wasn’t going to come without their elaborate preparations. 

Sometimes you have to make it happen.  I did, one year, when I invited all my sisters, my daughter, and my nieces to my house for a day unfettered by any Christmas preparations, or even Christmas-related talk.  I even encouraged my guests to come wearing pajamas. It remains one of my best memories of December fun.

Perhaps it is time for a pajama party again.

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