Jump-Start Your Holidays

Every year, to me, the holidays seem to arrive more suddenly. A few years ago, we almost forgot to make our graham-cracker holiday houses, even though it’s one of my favorite traditions. I kept thinking we had plenty of time—until it was almost time to get on the plane for Kansas City.

I’ve learned that by planning ahead, I can make sure that I take time for everything that’s important to me. Plus, I can stay calm and relaxed, so that a time that’s supposed to be fun stays fun.

Consider these easy prompts each day to plan ahead, check items off your to-do list, and find ways to be present and enjoy the season.

7 Days of Planning

  1. How do you want to feel this holiday season? Pick a one-word theme to set your intention for the coming weeks. Some ideas: grateful, present, vibrant, slow, connected. (My word is “merry.”)
  2. The holidays begin at different times for everyone. To help yourself prepare and enter into the spirit of the year, choose a particular date to kick off your holiday season, such as the day after Thanksgiving or the first day of Hanukkah or Advent.
  3. Make a list of don’t-miss holiday activities or traditions that you want to incorporate. What steps can you take now to ensure they happen? Do you need to schedule time on the calendar, gather supplies, or send invitations? (I added graham cracker houses” to my calendar.)
  4. If you plan to host guests, start clearing clutter now so you don’t have to rush before a party starts or relatives arrive. Once a week, spend an hour chipping away at tidying tasks. Don’t forget to stock extra items and gifts for unexpected visitors.
  5. Write a packing list. Especially if you don’t travel often, a packing list helps ensure you don’t leave anything behind, or bring anything you don’t need. (Tip: Always bring snacks, and always leave room in the suitcase.) Staying put? Plan your gift list ahead of time so you can shop efficiently rather than making multiple trips.
  6. Schedule a time to decorate. Planning and anticipating will make holiday decorating feel festive rather than chore-like. Make sure family members or roommates save the date, and make a list of what you’ll do: trim the tree, put out candles, unearth decorations from the basement, hang lights, add evergreen boughs.
  7. If you’re feeling anxious about family gatherings, make a plan ahead of time for dealing with difficult relatives or reducing conflict. You can’t control how others behave, but you can prepare yourself to act in a calm, patient, and loving manner.

7 Days of Doing

  1. Go through your wrapping paper collection and see what you have and what you need. Kraft paper makes for simple and affordable gift wrap, or you could repurpose newspapers and magazine pages. Keep dedicated storage containers for wrapping paper, and label everything so you can find it easily next year.
  2. Pick a theme for gift-giving. Buy multiple people the same gift—a book you love, a useful tool, a favorite food item—or purchase the same item for everyone in a different color.
  3. Watch your favorite holiday film. Don’t have one? Pick one to watch for the first time. Maybe this new movie will become a yearly ritual.
  4. ‘Tis the season for giving back. Consider donating time, money, goods, or skills to a cause you care about. Caring for others is a good way to boost your own happiness, as well as the happiness of those around you.
  5. If you’d like to start sending out holiday cards, hang on to the envelopes of the cards you get from other people and store them for next year. That will give you a great start on your address list.
  6. Surprise someone with a treat. Bake bread for your mail carrier, give a candle to your dog walker, write a note to your barber.
  7. Invent a new tradition. It can be as small and whimsical as you like. Maybe you’ll invite neighbors on a walk to look at lights, make your kids cocoa before bed, create a new dish out of Thanksgiving leftovers, or turn Black Friday on its head by donating items you no longer need.

7 Days of Appreciating

  1. Enjoy one of your favorite seasonal food items. Bake cookies, make pumpkin bread, simmer cider, or buy something that’s only sold this time of year.
  2. Create a five-senses snapshot of the holiday season. What do the holidays look, sound, taste, smell, and feel like to you? Write down one experience for every sense—like listening to a favorite carol or wearing a warm sweater—and plan to appreciate each one this season.
  3. Take a photo that captures the essence of this holiday season. Save it to print, use it for next year’s holiday card, or frame it as a gift for someone else. 
  4. If you observe a tradition that has run its course, allow yourself to leave it behind. Enjoy the space this creates for being present, slowing down, and connecting with others.
  5. Put screens away during quality time. Turn off the TV during family gatherings or leave your phone in a different room when sharing a meal with friends. 
  6. Practice gratitude. Write down a dozen of the experiences, people, and lessons this year for which you’re most grateful. Can you tell someone what they meant to you, or write a thank-you note?
  7. Make a time capsule of your year. You might include printed photos, a list of favorite songs, special objects, or a letter to your future self—anything that encapsulates 2022 for you.

With a little forethought, we can help keep the holidays a time of light-hearted fun—and appreciation for the people and traditions we love.



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter “5 things making me happy”.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.