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

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.