Marc Royce
Megan McCafferty
September 06, 2001

tkMarc RoyceHeres how I almost set my kitchen on fire last Christmas. I began the evening listening to Nat King Cole on the stereo and mixing a supersize batch of chocolate-chip-butterscotch batter because I had volunteered to make six-dozen cookies for a holiday bake sale. So far so good.

But while the third batch was in the oven, I started wrapping presents when I realized that Id bought practical gifts (clothes) for all four of my nieces but had forgotten to buy them something fun (anything from the American Girl store).

I was down the hall on my computer debating whether it would be more practical to pay for overnight shipping or drive an hour to the closest American Girl store when … BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP! The smoke detectors started blaring, waking everyone else in the house because it was nearly midnight.

So, you see, for me tis the season to have a nervous breakdown. And I bet you know exactly what Im talking about. According to an American Psychological Association study, nearly half of all women in the United States experience heightened stress during the holidays.

With the exception of Mr. Claus, men just do not work themselves into such a Yuletide frenzy. (Actually, now that I think about it, Santa schedules in regular milk-and-cookie breaks, so I doubt hes stressing as much as the missus.) I love my husband, but is he volunteering to bake 72 cookies from scratch? Is he budgeting, buying, and wrapping any of the gifts? Is he calculating how many hours well spend in the car—and how many dollars well spend on gas—if we attend all the gatherings and parties were invited to? Ho, ho, no.

Its no wonder that by the time the New Year rolls around most women are, as my friend Alix bluntly put it, “broke, spent, and hella tired.” And thats because, while were under the do-it-all stress of the holiday season, its way too easy to make unwise choices that leave us feeling far from jolly in the end.

Next Page: Not-so-merry memories [ pagebreak ]

Not-so-merry memories
Im thinking of the year I stayed up so late comparison shopping for a hard-to-find train set for my son that I actually fell asleep during his preschool holiday sing-along the next morning. And I have only the foggiest memory of the year I was so busy cleaning and prepping for a holiday cocktail party I was hosting that I forgot to eat all day, which contributed to the embarrassing chain of events that culminated with me boozily putting myself to bed barely an hour after all the guests arrived at the house. Instead of making merry, I was making messy.

So this year I vowed to give myself the gift of slack: permission to opt out of the holiday madness. Im not totally Scrooging it, but Im being wiser about where I put my time and energy. Instead of obsessively comparison shopping for my sons video games, I just Googled the best-selling ones for his age.

When party invitations started coming in, I politely turned down the ones that promised to be more ho-hum (or hellish) than holly jolly. And for this years bake sale, Im cranking up my Motown Christmas CD and asking my husband and son to shake and bake alongside me—and keep an eye on the timer.

Still, I couldnt help feeling guilty about downsizing Christmas. But my friend Colleen helped me snap out of it by telling me, “I realized last year that, while the thought of baking dozens and dozens of charming Christmas cookies is a sweet holiday ideal, in reality, it makes me a cranky beast after batch three.”

Like Colleen, part of me really wants to bake the cookies and send the cards and transform my house into a dazzling winter wonderland. But without the help of a team of Martha Stewart–trained elves to do my bidding, Ive accepted that it aint gonna happen. Just dont hold it against me when you dont get a holiday card, OK?

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