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Trick or Treat: Plan the Holidays

I used to roll my eyes at women who shop for Christmas gifts all year long. Such a woman starts with the January sales until by December, her lucky friends and family have stockings and packages full-to-bursting with interesting little finds from travels, quirky boutiques and estate sales. This is the type of woman who uses vintage wrapping paper and makes nifty gift tags with buttons and tiny glassine envelopes. She has a repertoire of cookie recipes. Garlands, wreaths and studded citrus are no strangers to her mantle. She knows how to brine a turkey. It’s worse if she’s your sister (the domestic goddess, not the turkey).

I still haven’t got a knack for baking without scarfing down the majority of the goodies myself, and a successful dinner for more than six eludes me, but I’ve got the card sending, decorating and gift-wrapping down pat. It definitely helps that in the current economic crisis my loved ones and I have agreed to keep the gift-giving to a minimum with a focus on the children. But there are still many, many ways to create a magical, abundant holiday season. Most important — start planning early.

If you are a card sender, get your address list in order. If you haven’t already, put your list into Microsoft Excel or another program that will let you make quick and clean deletions, additions and changes and will also format into printable labels. Oh so easy! Send some quick e-mails to check on any mailing addresses that are missing or in doubt.

In addition to a card list, you might want to create a party invitation list, with a column to indicate if the person is on your list for all parties, family gatherings only, big bashes or what have you. Think about whether you will host any holiday fetes this year and if so, what type — cocktails, meals, cookie baking, kids’ tree trimming, etc.

Something else that is low-cost and easy to do on the computer is to select music for the season. Go through your holiday CDs and put together a few play lists — either on an iPod or by burning a few custom CDs. Download any tunes you found yourself missing last year.

Think about where your holiday decorations are and gradually start unearthing them. Take a quick look at your gift wrapping supplies and make a note of things you need — Scotch tape, ribbon, gift tags, etc.

If you have a file of “Great Ideas for the Holidays,” pull it out now. December is too late to start gathering your supplies and deciding to handcraft all of your gifts. In fact, October may be too late. Take a look at all those great ideas you’ve clipped and decide which ones are doable for this year.

Can you let go of any holiday traditions that have caused you stress in the past or that are just too expensive this year? Maybe this year, you are traveling at Christmas, so a Christmas tree can be something you live without in 2009. Instead, put a few pine boughs around or light some pine incense. Maybe you throw a cocktail party instead of your usual sit-down dinner for 16. Maybe you decide with your family to limit gifts to just the kids and make those gifts extra special with carefully chosen wrapping paper and interesting tags.

Instead of baking several types of cookies to gift Martha Stewart-style in sumptuous stacks, maybe you bake mini-loaves of pumpkin bread to wrap in waxed paper and tie with string. Start thinking about what your favorite traditions of the holidays are and start planning early to execute them with thoughtfulness, ease and attention to detail, and let the rest go.

With early planning you will save time and money, greatly reduce stress and will experience a much more joyful season.