How can I better plan for holidays this year?
January 1, 2019 11:17 PM   Subscribe

I would like to start celebrating the big American holidays (Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s). As an adult, I’ve tended to let these holidays sneak up on me and end up scrambling, half-assing, or skipping them altogether. Need practical tips of when (and how) to start planning!

A bit about my lifestyle: I’m not religious, an introvert so big parties aren’t my thing, in a long term relationship and both of us have tiny families who aren’t into holidays (also, my ladyfriend has chronic illnesses and permanent physical disabilities, so for practical reasons we don’t travel a lot or plan too many things back to back).

I know this is a broad question but all tips are welcome. My parents let holidays slide and I feel like I don’t know things that I should, like how far in advance to book a dinner for Valentine’s Day, or Easter brunch, or how an introvert can enjoy Halloween if costume parties don’t sound fun. When do you acquire decorations and do you decorate for minor holidays? How much time do I need to dedicate to making holidays feel, well, like a holiday? I feel overwhelmed by how to make meaningful traditions fit when I’m often very worn out or broke, but I really would like to make these holidays feel more special instead of feeling wistful at another one gone.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One detail that might be obvious already but I should mention to help focus answers: I don’t have kids so this question is strictly about advice geared towards two adults.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:49 PM on January 1, 2019

What helps me plan is getting a list of the public holidays in my state off the Internet at the start of every year, so I can work out for example when Easter is, when school holidays are (to avoid the crowds and high prices)

Are you likely to be travelling for these holidays? If so you might benefit from booking your fares and organising your accommodation for the first few soon.

You could set reminders in your phone at the beginning of the year to start planning for any given holiday, say 6 weeks beforehand. So in January you would set up a reminder for mid September telling you to get a costume sorted before Oct 31st.
posted by EatMyHat at 1:37 AM on January 2, 2019

It might help to think of these holidays as seasonal markers. Halloween is near the beginning of the dark time of year and so can be thought of as a time to connect with or appreciate those we love who have "gone into the dark" unknown... Some people make a little altar to their ancestors for instance. Easter is a time of yearly new beginnings, it is anciently a fertility rite in fact. Buy a plant? Have a meal of fresh seasonal offerings of some kind? Valentines Day could just be about finding a new way to express love. Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, and could be a time to be thankful in a focused way to the original dwellers on this land. Christmas is a marker within a Season of Light when the light we have stored from the previous year is shared out and danced with, and when we gladly welcome the new sunlight to come.... New Year, for me, is kind of part of that whole winter celebration.

Any decorations could arise from these connections, and only if they also help you have the feeling of a special marking of time. Some people go all gaudy and decorate hugely for every possible occasion; others are minimalist and if they decorate it will be for Christmas alone and tastefully calm instead of flashing lights. But the key, I feel, is to do what makes it feel special to you. I agree that marking calendar and giving some thought in advance will help.

Mainly, find what it is that makes you want to do this, and let that be your guide. Costumes are fun but can be a hassle. If you want to go out to a meal, for instance, do make reservations pretty far in advance so that you are assured of the venue you want. As well, some places have lovely performances, musical and theatrical, at various holiday times. If what you want is more of a social infusion, paying attention to these might help.
posted by luaz at 3:06 AM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I only really do Christmas in a big way. Christmas decorations are usually in the shops here from mid-October, and the best ones are gone by the end of November. My decorations go up in early- to mid-December and stay up for 3 weeks or so. I have a tree, a wreath on the front door and decorations on the mantelpiece. I like to go to one Christmas thing for which I need tickets. If it mattered enormously which one I went to I would book in September. As it doesn’t I booked a month or two in advance. I plan the food for Christmas about 2-3 weeks in advance and have groceries delivered a few days beforehand. In an ideal world I get my gift shopping done before early December. I can rely on Christmas movies being on tv during December, I catch whichever ones are on at a time I want to watch tv. I plan family/friends meet ups in October-ish.

Other holidays, if I want to go somewhere specific I will book up to 3 months in advance, if I want to go somewhere but don’t mind where, then I’ll book about 2-3 weeks in advance. Otherwise I might do a card and nice dinner for eg Valentines Day and organise that within the week before. Similarly for Easter.

Agree that it’s important to know the dates of the holidays you want to celebrate and how big you want to go. Small things, start thinking about a month beforehand, big things more like three months?
posted by plonkee at 4:26 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question a little while ago and you might find the answers useful.
posted by peacheater at 4:56 AM on January 2, 2019

Most holidays are just one thing (if you're not going to have a gathering)--Valentine's Day is just a [card/present/flowers/dinner reservation]; July 4 is just [attending fireworks/buying sparklers/grilling dinner], Thanksgiving is just a fancy meal. Not that these things are necessarily easy, but it's just a thing--I wouldn't decorate ahead of those events or anything. So a reminder two weeks ahead to plan whatever it is so you're ready on the day is usually fine.

Christmas/winter holidays are bigger, and I have to schedule myself to be ready to start prepping right after Thanksgiving if I'm going to do a credible job. So the day after Thanksgiving is Christmas card planning time (getting the list together, putting together a photo card if that's what I'm doing). Lights and a tree go up that week or I won't get to them.

Also, watch your town newspaper or website for things they do. I find that a lot of feeling like I've "done" a holiday involves attending something that is done--the caroling at City Hall, a choral concert at a church, fireworks at July 4, even watching kids do an egg hunt at the library. Volunteering to help at these events can give you a sense of participation if you're interested in that.

This is also why I like having special dishware--using your "best" can make a meal feel festive and give things an air of special occasion. So can things like candlelight and dressing up for dinner at home. Reading specific things at specific times of year--a poem or story or something that seems seasonal--can give it the feeling of a ceremony or occasion.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:04 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

One introvert-friendly way I like to mark the holidays is getting a fun book of postcards and writing a quick note to a bunch of loved ones. It's a good little check-in, and you often will get a flood of notes coming in over the next while in return.

So, for example, if you wanted to send pal-entines, you could look now for a collection of postcards to order and start gradually addressing and writing as you have time and energy.
posted by ITheCosmos at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Lots of people enjoy decorating and celebrating holidays. I really love string lights, so I say get LED string lights and go nuts. Flowers for Valentine's day. Potted flowering plants for Easter. For Valentine's day make a dinner reservation a month ahead of the restaurant is popular. Easter, a couple weeks should be enough lead time. Plan a really nice picnic and go watch fireworks on the 4th of July. Pour up door decorations or seasonal flags. If you decorate for Halloween, give out good candy. I can't be stressed most of the time, but I love my neighbors' holiday lights for Christmas. If your sweetie can go, a Messiah sing is great.
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on January 2, 2019

Two suggestions:

1. For decorations, you don't really have to go all out, unless you want, but get some banker's boxes or plastic crates, and build up a stock of supplies you can put up each holiday, instead of buying new stuff every year. This makes it easier... when you see other people put up their decorations, you think, oh yeah, get out the Halloween decorations.

2. Differentiate between holidays and choose to celebrate those you actually care about. There's a big difference, in many people's minds, between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. Easter is a religious holiday, I am only vaguely aware of it when it passes b/c I see rabbits.

Put your efforts into the holidays that matter to you so you aren't stressing yourself every Arbor Day.
posted by RajahKing at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Works well for me:

Changing small soft things made of cloth to meet the seasons -- different napkins, tablecloths or runners, throw-pillow covers, even slipcovers. Up till you're changing sofa slipcovers and curtains, a whole lot of stuff will fit into a small drawer or hollow hassock or the unhandy top shelf somewhere. Also, eyeballing everything for wear/dirt/tired of it before you put it away gives you months to stay on top of things.

Someplace easy to see where you can put seasonal and meaningful things and nothing else. Can range from a bibelot table to a little ledge above your monitor or bed or stove. I put such a table in an entryway spot that previously attracted depressing kipple and I am so much happier now. (The kipple has migrated to behind the front door, but at least I don't see it first thing every time I walk in the house.)

Taking notes right after each party/celebration/wevs: what would I like for next time, what should I have started earlier to reduce hassle, what can you only get at the last minute and where? I use one of the to-do lists that lives on your cellphone/computer and can add notes to a recurring reminder. On paper, probably needs to be a perpetual calendar with notes on stickies.
posted by clew at 12:46 PM on January 2, 2019

I enjoy "celebrating" holidays as a way to just enjoy the different seasons, and being more aware, and just being more joyful, so I think this is a worthwhile effort and can be as simple or complicated as you like. Start small and it can grow as you learn bout your likes. I am also an introvert (thus the quotes around "celebrate" as I'm crowd-and noise-averse), and non-religious, so here is how I plan and enjoy holidays: First, I think in terms of seasons and group holidays together whenever possible, and/or overlay the decorations. For decorations, have fun, with string lights, tablecloths or placemats, or just the use of certain colors. Saving them for re-use is good. I buy them from thrift stores year round, and or after the holiday when they are on sale and save them till the next year. Also, take pictures and bring them out every year. I have a picture of my dog with the Easter Bunny I took on a whim several years ago, and I love displaying that every year - so funny with the hideous giant easter bunny and my dog (now long gone) looking like wtf. Also, start traditions of making things, or cooking certain foods, or doing something on that day every year (for example, a hike on Thanksgiving, making cookies around Christmas, or always making fancy appetizers on NYE) because it's fun to think back on joyful times, and it's easier to do when you repeat them (and take pictures). For Winter/Christmas I tie this into ancient theme of winter solstice, with lots of lights, candles, and greens, but I have a regular tree, some santa stuff, snowmen, stars. Same with Spring/Easter/St. Patrick's, where my theme is growth, renewal, and I decorate with light colors, bunnies, flowers, eggs. Around memorial day, I go with patriotic stuff, most of it silly, but fun. Same with fall/Halloween/Thanksgiving. I go a bit overboard for Halloween though and take those specific decorations down before Thanksgiving while leaving the autumnal lanterns and other fall decorations up till Xmas. Oh, and I avoid going out on Valentine's day - so crowded in restaurants, but I cook a nice meal and enjoy my heart string lights! I think celebrating holidays is a long-term activity that is great way to have fun with friends and family - have fun!
posted by j810c at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2019

Gretchen Rubin from the Happiness Project has holiday breakfasts for minor holidays
posted by saturdaymornings at 6:26 PM on January 2, 2019

If you're really having an issue with your planning, put something in your calendar/phone/whatever a month in advanced of each holiday to start planning them out. I have no idea how early one has to call to make reservations for Valentine's Day and Easter meals, but maybe start checking when you see ads for these things going around. It probably depends on how fancy you want the meal to be. One month in advance is usually a good move for planning things like Christmas and Halloween, i.e. the heavy decorating holidays. Stores will definitely have merch to buy a month in (if not earlier) so I'd go with a good month as a guideline for decor. If you like cooking/are having others over, maybe a few weeks in advance for Thanksgiving. New Years, I dunno, that seems to be kind of an impulsive sort of holidays that boils down to "hit a bar" or "buy tickets to something" or "throw a party" or "hide in my house to get away from drunks." I don't know what floats your boat there.

I honestly don't know what the hell you do about Halloween if you don't like costumes. The two main things about Halloween are usually putting together a costume and/or decorating your domicile for guests coming over, whether it's a party on the inside or for trick-or-treaters inside. If you're not into either of those things, uh...tell ghost stories to yourselves at home and listen to "The Monster Mash?"
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:41 PM on January 2, 2019

I often do Halloween solo. I live in an apartment so I don't get trick-or-treaters, but I carve a jack o'lantern and watch or read something spooky.

Your house doesn't have to be super decorated for trick-or-treaters, though. Just put a pumpkin or two out front, have a bowl of candy ready, and compliment people's outfits as they come and go.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:39 AM on January 3, 2019

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