About the Christmas Countdown

Christmas. The holidays. Chances are, those words send happy images straight to your heart!

Children's faces, breathless with wonder and delight. Shining lights on a beautifully trimmed Christmas tree.

Delicious scents of fresh cookies and hot cider. A bounty of gifts, wrapped and beribboned. The cheerful hubbub of family members gathered from far-flung homes.

Problem: Stress and the Holiday Season

To those happy images of Christmas, many add another: stress! For many people, the holiday season adds a whole new set of challenges and chores to already-busy lives.

Shopping for gifts. Wrapping gifts. Mailing gifts, and having a nice long chat with the other sore-footed folks in line at the Post Office.

Preparing holiday meals that require two extra ovens, three extra hands and every serving dish in the house. Baking enough cookies to provision the entire National Football League.

Bedding down houseguests in their choice of Little Mermaid or G.I. Joe sheets--no matching pillowcases--and setting the firstborn to guard the doors of jam-packed closets from curious visitors.

Do I Have To Think Christmas--All Year? Yuck!

Some propose a solution for Christmas organizing: plan, shop and bake for the holidays the year around! Christmas carols warble in the heat of July as these paragons of holiday planning pull a batch of sugar cookies from an immaculate oven.

Christmas Year-Rounders buy their gift-wrap in January and they remember where they stored it, come December. They craft tree ornaments in February, knit sweaters in July, and have their freezer stocked with goodies by October, at the latest!

Then there are the rest of us, who just can't get with this admirable plan.

We wince when Christmas gift-wrap hits store shelves in July. Each and every January, we promise to spread gift-buying over the year's 12 months, but each November, we open that special "gift drawer" to find a single jar of home-canned peach salsa, a pair of slightly melted handmade candles, and two freebie watches acquired with cereal box tops.

Are you one of us? Don't be ashamed! We love the holiday season, really we do. But for one reason or another, we simply can't find our holiday spirit outside the holiday season. We resist the Christmas Year-Round approach, recognizing that the preparation, as much as the celebration, is a component of a joyous holiday.

We just wish we had a little more time!

Answer: Simplify Your Holidays With A Christmas Plan

Be of good cheer! It is possible to get organized for the holiday season without thinking "Christmas" 365 days a year.

Our Christmas Countdown is based on sixteen years' observation of the actual holiday preparations of thousands of families. By tracking the rhythm of the weeks before the holiday season, the Countdown provides a day-by-day road map to follow for an organized holiday.

In the six weeks between the last full week of October and the first Saturday in December, we will simplify the holidays into small weekly checklists. Week by week, we'll organize, decide, budget, buy, prepare and celebrate in a natural cycle designed to bring us to the height of the season in a calm, unforced way and without making holiday preparation a year-round preoccupation.

If you follow the Countdown, will this be the year you scoop your Christmas Year-Rounder neighbor for the newspaper's holiday decorating award? No, and your home won't be mistaken for Martha Stewart's, either!

Accepting life's limits--and reaching for a simpler, more meaningful celebration--is an essential element of the Christmas Countdown. The Countdown aims to debunk feel-good holiday myths that catch us up in November, only to dump us flat on a cold day in February with nothing but a fistful of credit-card statements to show for the ride.

We won't try to do it all, but to do what is valuable, what is meaningful, and what is central to our hearts, our families and our vision of the holiday. We'll do less ... and enjoy it more.