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Holidaze

I saw something slightly disturbing at the de Young Museum in San Francisco this summer, and it was not the anatomically-inspired leotards or the black leather outfits at the Gaultier exhibit. It was the display of holiday cards in the gifts shop and the sign announcing the arrival of the Christmas and Hanukkah papery. In mid-August. I’m a planner, yeah, but even I felt accosted and rushed. Do we really have to think that far ahead? What are the benefits if we do — or, could it be possible — don’t?

The joy (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) of late November through December’s frenetic shopping, creating, writing and wrapping is having a distraction from cold winter weather and a feeling that we’re all in the craziness together. Those smug types who finish their holiday shopping in June and have their cards ready to post on Halloween sort of miss out on the fun. The lack of stress may give them an extra week or two of life, but like they say, it’s tacked on to the wrinkled, tired and cranky end of life. Is it worth it?

For some holiday chores, yes, checking them off ahead of time is a good idea.

It’s never too early to do the thinking part of the task. Create your list of people to buy gifts for and maybe do a little brainstorming for those who are difficult to shop for, maybe focus on experiences or edibles that are interesting and original. Give thought to the menu, invitations lists and perhaps decorating, if you get elaborate with lighting and other decorations that need scheduling and perhaps updates or repairs.

Consider whether you will be traveling and make your reservations and other plans now.

Get your address list up to date and well in shape before you even think of sending out the holiday cards. Nothing saps the joy and spontaneity out of Christmas greetings like having to make frantic calls to friends of friends to track down addresses. If you can have your address list in shipshape by Halloween, you’re in position to have a stress-free, even enjoyable, card-writing experience.

Another item that should definitely be tackled in advance is recipe testing. Take a few months, or at least a few weeks, ahead of the meal to test any new dishes or bake any new desserts you are planning to contribute to the festivities. Have every last ingredient on hand. Recipes for special occasions need to feel like old friends to you, even if they are new to your guests.

Try leaving the actual card writing, gift shopping, baking and decorating for November and December. If you get the thinking (very important) and the more tedious chores done in the fall, there will be a lot more time for the joyful tasks in November and December.