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The Christmas “Not To-Do” List

The Christmas Not To-Do List‘Tis the season for list-making: Lists of gifts to buy. Lists of cards to send. Lists of people to see and things to do. It can be overwhelming. It can seem endless. I have a confession to make: Sometimes I put things I’ve already done on a list so I can cross them off. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.

The lists do help us stay on track when we’re adding the busyness of the holiday season to already overstretched lives. But the demands, requests, and requirements for what it takes to make the season bright were getting to me today. In a moment of rebellion, I came up with a holiday “Not To-Do” list. Yeah, it’s still a list. But it reminded me of some things I need not to do if I’m going to be pleasant to be around and it helped me put things back in perspective.

To reduce stress and increase my holiday cheer this year I promise (in no particular order):

  • Not to bake 12 kinds of cookies when two will do. Yes, it’s nice for the kids to come home to the smell of cookies in the oven. It’s even nicer to come home to a mom who isn’t stressing out over something as dumb as whether the cookies crumbled.
  • Not to overspend. It’s so tempting to spoil our kids, but paying down the credit card can spoil the next 6 months.
  • Not to add unnecessary stress and expense by sending out cards to people I see every day. Cards are great for friends and relatives who live at a distance and for whom a note or letter is an important way to catch up. But saying and meaning a cheerful and heartfelt “Happy Holidays” to people I see regularly is enough.
  • Not to give in to the kids’ pleas for the biggest tree on the lot. (We’ve been slow learners on this one. Too often, we end up cutting off 3 feet when we get home. ) I’ll remind everyone that a 6-foot tree can look puny on the lot but impressive in the corner of our living room.
  • Not to put kids I know on Santa’s lap to get one of those iconic pictures unless they ask to be there. I’ve been telling the kids not to talk to strangers all year and now I want them to get cozy with that big guy in the red suit who they think is kind of scary? Nope. However cute those pictures can be, they’re certainly not worth traumatizing the kid.
  • Not to start a new diet. Oh, I’ll stick to healthy eating and balanced meals but this is not the time to torture myself and everyone around me by trying to lose 10 pounds by New Year’s. Being rigid about food this time of year is often an exercise in self-defeat. Talking about it triggers all kinds of not-so-cheerful feelings in other people. January 1 resolutions will come soon enough.
  • Not to run around trying to find the perfect material presents when time together is what most of my friends and adult relatives want most. Most adults I know don’t need more stuff. We all do need to have more full conversations, to share experiences, and just to have the comfort of being in the same place at the same time now and then.
  • Not to ask my husband to go to my office party. There are few things as boring as listening to other people talk shop about something you’re clueless about. I’ll go and enjoy some down time with my colleagues. He can take the kids sledding or shopping or out for a treat.
  • Not to neglect said husband in our efforts to make the kids happy. We’ll make at least one adults-only date during the holiday season. It can be as simple as going for a walk in the neighborhood to look at lights or as elaborate as a dress-up date to a special restaurant. The point is to put our relationship where it belongs – first in our priorities.
  • Not to become a slave to lists – even this one. I promise to stay flexible, to cross off things I don’t want to do, can’t realistically do, or know I won’t get around to anyway. I think I’ll cross off a few more things for good measure.

There. That feels better.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

The Christmas “Not To-Do” List

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). The Christmas “Not To-Do” List. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.