You’re not alone. CANDY LIM, a mum of three and founder of The Fashion Collective Singapore, shares her keep-it-real strategies for surviving the holiday hustle.
The festive season is just around the corner. The music blasting in the stores repeatedly reminds me that it’s the most wonderful time of the year! There’s so much I love about the holiday season: gift exchanges, festive parties, catching up with friends, and tables overflowing with treats and warm chocolate chip cookies that melt in my mouth. But wait! Who has the time to bake these things anymore? As a working mum juggling deadlines and deliverables with daily school runs, I barely have time to run to the bathroom, much less bake cookies.
But that got me thinking... Who skipped their lunch break to pick out all those perfectly wrapped gifts? Who threw those amazing themed parties with oven-roasted turkey and homemade stuffing? I’m betting my last cookie that, in most cases, a woman made it happen. And statistics support that. Findings from the American Psychological Association confirm that a woman’s stress levels spike around the holidays. Ironically, there is no time of greater expectations – or disappointment, when those expectations aren’t met – than during the holiday season.
It’s taken me years, and numerous selfreminders, to define my own vision of what’s meaningful, and to stay focused on what really matters: We do not need to give or receive the most expensive gifts to celebrate the season, we are not unloved if our partners do not shower us with luxury items, and we are not bad parents for not getting our kids the most coveted toy of the season. It all boils down to managing expectations versus reality, and keeping focused on making your experience match your vision. There’s a wiser me in the hot seat these days, one who has benefitted from lessons learned over the years. So if I may share:
1 REALITY CHECK
Anything That Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong
Murphy’s Law exists for a reason. It doesn’t matter how well organised you are, things won’t always go exactly as planned. Flexibility is the key to riding out Murphy’s waves of turbulence. Advises Artika Sulaiman under of Artika Events & Celebrations: “Don’t freak out if something doesn’t go 100 per cent right. No one will know. Instead, laugh it off and find the most efficient solution.” And here’s the thing: December will come and go all too quickly, so embrace those precious moments with family and friends. My kids have long forgotten the times I failed to bake them gingerbread man cookies, or put up the Advent calendar for the annual countdown to Christmas. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.
2 REALITY CHECK
You Are Not The Flash!
Leaving everything till the eleventh hour is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for extreme stress. I make it a point to shop for things ahead of time, be they wrappers, presents, or non-perishable ingredients for a cook-out. Shares Ng Yi Mei, a 36-year-old mum of three who enjoys making home-baked treats for friends and family, “I find it very helpful to make food lists before hitting the supermarket.
This lessens my chances of wasting time on repeated grocery trips.” She adds, “In fact, if you’re making a dish that can be refrigerated, like cheesecake, make it ahead of time so it’s one less thing to worry about.” I concur. In fact, my favorite go-to homemade dessert is tiramisu. I make it the night before and leave it to chill overnight. Can’t go wrong with this crowd pleaser!
3 REALITY CHECK
You Are Not 7-11
Unlike the popular 24-hour convenience store, you’re not always open; you need rest, and there’s only so much you can do in a day. I’ve learnt the hard way that when you spread yourself too thin, something, somewhere, is compromised. No matter how much of a perfectionist you are, learn to delegate and allow others to help you with the less important tasks. Heard of the phrase “divide and conquer”? Husbands can be tasked with logistical errands such as grocery shopping (with a detailed list from you, of course), while kids can help to decorate the tree (so it won’t turn out the way you wanted it to, but hey, it’s their masterpiece!).
4 REALITY CHECK
It’s The Thought That Counts
Save time with gift cards
I keep a small backup stack of gift cards on standby. This stash keeps me sane in times of emergency, and saves me the hassle of rushing down to the mall for last-minute gifts. Artika says, “You know that old saying, ‘It’s the thought that counts’? It really is. Think about who you are giving this present to, and put yourself in their position,” she suggests. “If they are obsessed and particular about makeup, for example, a Sephora gift card would be amazing. They can geek out and spend an entire day in there.”
5 REALITY CHECK
You’ve No Time To Shop
I was born to shop. Put me in an outlet mall and you’ll never hear from me till the cows come home. But gone are the days of endless hours roaming in the malls. It’s online shopping I do now. Want in on massive online promotions? Artika recommends staking out Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Now here’s another tip to take your e-shopping to the next level: www.fellowshoppers.com, a new US shipping service, offers a handy drag-and-drop shipping tool, which cleverly combines all your purchases from different e-stores for consolidated savings on postage. I’ve tried many international shipping services and I must say, its intuitive calculator is one of the most convenient tools I’ve ever come across.
6 REALITY CHECK
You Cannot Please Everyone
Can you make it to four Christmas parties in one day? Sure, you can. Will you be able to relax and enjoy any of them? Chances are almost zilch. “Decide what is meaningful to you and what your priorities are when it comes to gifting or accepting party invitations,” advises Elaine Victoria Yang, a reiki teacher and healer at Reiki Glow Singapore. “Ask yourself who – or what – is more or most important to you, and take action accordingly.” We all have the same 24 hours a day. Make that time count.
7 REALITY CHECK
You’re Last On Your List
Give generously... to yourself
As contradictory as it may sound, treat yourself to some “me-first” time. Think of it as giving to yourself. “Women have a tendency to nurture and take care of everyone, so that can naturally translate to more stress, and a heavier sense of responsibility during the holiday season,” shares Elaine, who recommends healing practices like reiki, yoga or meditation, to help destress and de-clutter the mind. “Clarity comes when you are balanced. When you have a practice that helps you to feel centred, there is a lot more awareness on the stressors in your life, which then helps you to make that mental shift towards equilibrium,” she adds.
8 REALITY CHECK
We Can’t All Be Nigella Lawson
Take shortcuts I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve baked brownies with my kids, straight out of a Betty Crocker box – just add water, stir, and bake! Yes, a homemade cake is delicious, but the ease of using an off-the-shelf solution and doing it quickly is a nobrainer (and it tastes just as good). Don’t be afraid to use shortcuts where you can. No one will know the difference – nor care that it’s not 100 per cent made from scratch). Or, instead of cooking up a storm for a party, break tradition. Anna Tan, chief executive officer of Coaching Go Where, suggests: “Host an organised potluck party. It’s my favourite. It ensures variety and active participation from everyone.”
9 REALITY CHECK
To Wine Or Not To Wine?
Buy wine in cases
Save time and money when you see a great deal on a good wine. This can easily save you anything from $30 to $50, as compared to buying individual bottles every time you have a party to attend, or a lastminute gift to purchase. A word of caution: skip this tip if you can’t be trusted with multiple bottles of wine at home. Just saying, you know, in case you love cooking with wine, of course.
10 REALITY CHECK
You Overspend At Christmas
Be generous with your love
Not your credit card! There is no greater stress than the one that comes with the feeling of not being able to pay your bills. “Don’t give for the sake of giving, or it’ll become a stressful chore,” Anna cautions. “And don’t get into debt either.” She suggests trying these practical ideas with friends and family:
• Agree on a limit for each gift, like $20 per person.
• Have a Secret Santa – good for groups! Everyone buys just one gift for a nominated person. There’s also usually a cost cap to ensure fairness and manage expectations.
• Call a truce and agree to no gifting, other than to children under the age of, say, 16. This eliminates the sense of obligation, reduces the wastage of buying things people actually might not want, and saves you money.
• Donate to a charity in their name to help the less fortunate, and tell or present them with the receipt for the contribution.
KID-FRIENDLY PARTY IDEAS
A supervised kids’ corner or dedicated room is always a great way to keep the little ones entertained in a safe environment. This allows adults to relax without worrying. Check out these fun ideas from Artika Sulaiman.
PRINT OUT ACTIVITY BOOKLETS
Websites like www.colorcutandcreate.com have lots of fun and free templates you can use.
TREASURE HUNT WITH A TWIST
Give each kid a disposable camera and a list of things to find. Keep instructions simple: find someone dancing, find two people kissing, find someone laughing, and so on. Not only will you keep them occupied for at least an hour, you’ll also get awesome photographs.
THROW A DANCE PARTY
Once dessert is served, gather the kids in a room, give them glow sticks, and turn up the music. Hopefully, this will help them to burn off some energy – and have them ready to hit the sack as soon as they get home.