Your Holiday To-Don’t List: Finding Your Balance During the Holiday Season

If you struggle with balance on a regular day, the holiday season — with all its obligations and expectations — can send you into complete and utter chaos. What is aggressively marketed as The Most Wonderful Time of the Year feels more like stress and debt and five pounds of fat around your midsection.

Ask me how I know this.

A few weeks ago, I asked you, “What is your biggest struggle with balance over the holidays?” Apparently, I’m not the only one who struggles with holiday balance. Your answers ran the full gamut, from finances to family dynamics, from busyness to boundaries. I’m sorry/not sorry you have so many balance issues this time of year. Sorry, because I love you and hate to see you struggle. Not sorry, because I’m happy I’m not alone.

Turns out, the holidays tend to reveal whatever balance issues we’ve had all year long — only they’re bigger and sparklier and involve baked goods.

Balance is a spiritual condition (peace) whereby we know our priorities (what we should do) and live our priorities (how we should do it) through freedom in Christ (using our God-given gifts and talents, while also understanding and respecting our limitations). ~Finding Your Balance~

I, for one, would love to get to January, reflect back, and think, “That was a beautiful and meaningful holiday season.” But I know in order for that to happen, I must be very intentional about it. For me, Holiday Balance won’t happen accidentally.

So, today, I’m starting a series that will run weekly-ish through New Year’s Day. This is for all of us who need some help getting a grip, so we can move through the next six weeks with our peace and priorities firmly in place.

First Things First

We will never achieve balance (peace to live out our priorities) if we try to do everything. So, the first thing we must do is decide what we WON’T do. Balance is about saying no to good things so we can say yes to better things. It’s looking at everything on the plate and scraping half of it into the garbage (or maybe putting it into a tupperware container for later).

Balance requires prayerful neglect.

Think about the traditions you want to preserve and the events or activities that mean the most to you and your family, and guard those with your life. Everything else is negotiable.

As families grow and change, so will your cherished traditions. Don’t become so rigid that you can’t let things go from year to year. This isn’t life or death — it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas. Perspective is important while we make our plans.

For me, I have about four family traditions I am guarding this year. They are simple things we do almost every year that all my kids talk about and look forward to:

  • Serving the homeless on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Decorating our home for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, while I make homemade soup, and we bust out the Christmas music.
  • Christmas Eve pasta shells (I know…weird Christmas Eve food. I started this as a newlywed because it was one of about three dinners I knew how to cook), and then driving around to look at Christmas lights.
  • Traveling to our hometown later that week to celebrate with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

We do lots of other things, too. But none of them are sacred, and none of them are too important to toss off the agenda from one year to the next.

With those few activities firmly in place, I consider everything else based on its life-giving/life-sucking value. If it’s life-sucking, it goes directly on The Holiday To-Don’t List. If it’s life-giving, or is super-meaningful to my husband or children, I try to fit it in somewhere.

Your Holiday To-Don’t List should be uniquely yours. Only you know what sucks the life out of you and what makes your heart sing.

If you love writing out personal greetings and addressing envelopes, then you probably should send Christmas cards. If you love baking, then make lots and lots of cookies. If you love decorating your entire house in October or shopping at 3 am on Black Friday or wearing a sparkly dress at a fancy party while you ring in the New Year, then, by all means, get jiggy with it.

But if any of that makes you want to crawl in a hole and die, you should consider adding it to your Holiday To-Don’t List.

After prayerful consideration, here are some items on my Holiday To-Don’t List:

1. Make food no one will eat.

Yes, everyone I know serves that green bean casserole with the cream of mushroom soup and fried onions; and yes, every year I have tried to add some sort of green vegetable to the table. But since my family prefers to eat mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, turkey, and stuffing on Thanksgiving, then I’m making that. It’s one meal. They will live.

2. Eat food I will later regret.

By all means, I very much plan to eat holiday treats. But there’s a fine line between “enjoying a piece of pie” and “eating a pie.” I know where that line is, and I’m not crossing it this year.

3. Over-buy for my kids.

This one is so hard for me. I’ll think I’m finished shopping…and then I’ll take inventory and realize one kid has two more presents than everyone else. So, I’ll shop again to even things out, only to realize one kid has several big gifts, but another kid is getting mostly socks and books. So, I’ll hop on Amazon and order something for the socks/book kid to even things out, etc, etc, etc. No one needs more stuff. No one wants to cram more things into the closets. This year, I will buy meaningful gifts the kids need and want, and I will not buy too much.

4. Attend events I don’t want to attend.

There is no law saying I must attend every holiday event to which I receive an invitation. Amen.

5. Do any “tradition” out of obligation.

Christmas cards? Baking 13 dozen cookies? Stringing lights across every bush in the front yard? If it doesn’t bring me great joy and happiness (or bring my very favorite people great joy and happiness) then I’m not doing it.

6. Let social media decide when I should listen to Christmas music, decorate my home, have my presents bought and wrapped, say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

I get to decide all of this. In fact, because social media tends to steal my joy over the holidays, I will be spending very limited time there. (Take THAT, Facebook and Instagram!)

7. Skip healthy meals, exercise, or rest so I can “get Christmas stuff done.” 

I have fallen into this trap many times in Christmas Past. Neglecting self-care makes me crabby and unpleasant to be around. This does not serve my family well, as you might imagine.

If you’d like to learn more about finding your balance year ’round, I’ve written a book about that. You can buy it here.


This piece originally appeared at, published with permission.

Sandy Cooper
Sandy Cooper is a freelance writer, Bible study teacher and author of her personal blog, The Scoop on Balance. Her passion is to encourage women to live a life of balance through intimacy with God and hearing His voice in everyday life. Her greatest accomplishments include surviving the death of her 9-month-old son (Noah), surviving a seven-year battle with clinical depression, and finding a laundry system that actually works (the search for which may or may not have contributed to the depression). She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with Jon (her husband of 21 years) and her three living children Rebekah (15), Elijah (13) and Elliana (8). But she longs for her eternal home where laundry piles will cease, life’s battles will make perfect sense, she will be reunited with Noah and stand face-to-face with the God who sustained her through it all.  You can connect with Sandy on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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