Christmas can be stressful.It is supposed to be wonderful and magical – and at times it is both of those things – but it can also bring its own unique problems.  Most of what I have learned about managing holiday stress I have learned the hard way. With the sincere hope you can profit from my mistakes, here are a few random thoughts for having as stress-free a Christmas as possible.

Embrace your inner Scrooge. Someone has to. Don’t even try to be saintly and wise, calm and collected.  Throw out a few Bah’s and Humbug’s every now and then just to keep the family emotional level stable.  Otherwise, the excitement and mania will grow until the children are running around the house completely out of control. Be sure and let them know that it is entirely possible every gift under the tree is socks and underwear.  (My kids were pretty sure there would be no bags of coal but socks and underwear were a real possibility.) I remember the stories my dad would tell about how poor they were and what mundane gifts they received for Christmas. The stories were so outlandish we knew he was exaggerating but it both gave us a laugh and kept our expectations in check.  So go ahead and lie to your kids… it’s a family tradition.

If you are traveling for Christmas pack light. You will be bringing back more that you brought. I know you understand this but you need to know you will be bringing back MUCH more than you brought. Your children would rather you left a sibling behind than any present Santa or grandparents gave them.  I used to bring an empty car top carrier because I knew I would need the space for the trip home.

Don’t worry about being creative with the Elf.  If you forget to move him just tell the kids it is because the Elf is pretty sure they were up to something in that room.  That will keep them on their best behavior.  Better yet, throw the Elf in the trunk of your car for a few days so the kids won’t be able to find him and will be good no matter what room they’re in.

Don’t decorate the front lawn. There will always be that one neighbor who goes overboard.  You will never successfully compete with him. To try to one-up that neighbor you’ll have to start decorating before Halloween. And that’s just wrong! Decorating the outside of the house is no longer about Christmas; it has become a holiday arms race that no one can win.  Just don’t even start down that road.

Plan on experiencing some kind of expensive emergency on December 24th. An emergency trip to the dentist or the vet will always happen at the worst possible time. I remember one year I had to buy 4 new tires on Christmas eve so we could safely make the trip out of town.  I felt like putting the car on blocks, taking the tires off, wrapping a bow around them and putting each one under the tree.

Don’t buy the baby expensive toys.  She will be more interested in the box.  Save some money and just wrap an empty box.

The old saying “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy” is especially true at Christmas.  Even more so with my daughters. They’re too much like their mother.  You can adjust your own expectations but you cannot adjust someone else’s expectations. One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how stressed out your mother-in-law becomes life always returns to normal on the 26th.

Don’t buy anything that needs to be assembled.  If you have already broken this rule then start now.  I mean right now.  Tonight. Put the kids to bed and head out to the garage while you still have time to run to the hardware store or return things.You don’t want to be the dad that shows his kid a picture and promises this is what they will get as soon as the stores open tomorrow.

Always remember the correct order of Christmas day events: presents, lunch with the family, and a nap. Children learn by watching. They do what we do, not what we say.  So be sure and model appropriate napping behavior.  It’s for the kids.

Relax. Have fun. Let my grandchildren eat too much candy and stay up too late.  Christmas only happens once a year and a little sugar induced mayhem hasn’t killed anyone. Yet.