I have a love-hate relationship with the winter holidays.  I love the hustle and bustle of shopping for the perfect gift, making cookies and candies, decorating the house and going to special events.

But every single December, I find myself completely overwhelmed with all that I’ve attempted to achieve.  Some years are worse than others.  There was that time that I was frantically trying to finish up a scrapbook for my sister — at 11:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  And then there was the year I sobbed because I didn’t have enough time to string cranberries and popcorn for the tree.


Like most 40-something folks who celebrate Christmas, I’ve spent the last few years trying very hard to get and stay organized during December.  I’ve prioritized what’s important to me and my family, and I’ve tried to let go of the things that we just don’t have time for.  (We no longer send Christmas cards.  We wait until February, sending Valentines cards.)

This month, I’ll spend a great deal of time here at Math for Grownups looking at the math that is used during the holidays — from making cookies to planning a holiday buying budget.  You’ll meet a candle maker, a personal shopper and (hopefully) a pastry or candy chef.  I’ll introduce you to some fun activities, as well as show you how math can help make some of these bigger tasks much easier.

(This is a good time for a little disclaimer.  In December, I celebrate Christmas, the Solstice and, if I’m not too worn out, New Years Eve.  But not all of my dear readers do.  During this month, I’ll make all attempts to be inclusive, however, I’ll often refer to my personal preparations, which are not all-inclusive.  I hope everyone will understand.)

But first, organization.

Organizing your tasks for the month may not seem like math.  And in some ways it isn’t.  But it does draw on your problem-solving skills — the very same abilities you put to work when solving a word problem in school.  Do you need to make a table? Draw a picture? Make a list?

For me, holiday planning revolves around the calendar.  Already I have certain deadlines to meet and events that are set in stone.  For example, my family is purchasing gifts for another family who is currently living in a shelter.  Those gifts must be delivered no later than December 9.  That means, I have to shop well before then.  And we travel to my mother’s house on Christmas Day, so all wrapping and making and buying and cooking must be done by then.

What is easiest for me is to create a weekly calendar.  I could dole out tasks for each day, but inevitably I end up with far too many changes in my schedule.  It’s easier to think about things one week at a time.

So here goes:

Week of November 28: Finish shopping for adopted family, string cranberries and popcorn, get Christmas tree, decorate tree and house, make sugar cookies, start shopping for my family, help daughter make her Christmas gifts.

Week of December 5: Ice sugar cookies, make little cakes, make peppermint patties, continue shopping, rehearse singing for Solstice and Christmas services, attend neighborhood party, attend cookie exchange, help daughter make her Christmas gifts.

Week of December 12: TAKE WEEK OFF OF WORK! Make peanut butter balls, rehearse for Solstice and Christmas services, help daughter make her Christmas gifts, continue shopping, send cookies to parents-in-law, finish crocheting scarf.

Week of December 19: Finish shopping, finish daughter’s homemade Christmas gifts, make Kiss cookies, package tins of cookies for friends, make Solstice cookies, wrap gifts, get car ready for the trip to Virginia, pack, make potluck dish for Christmas Eve.

Week of December 26: RELAX!

Now I can look at that list and see if anything is out of order — I’m not wrapping gifts before I buy them.  I’m not attending the cookie exchange before I make the cookies.

I can also ask myself if there is anything missing. Or does any one week look overly burdened?  Ideally, I’d like to get most of my preparations done before December 19, leaving that week to tie up loose ends.

How do you organize your time when you have way too much to do — and too many other things that you want to do?  How do your problem-solving skills help?  Respond in the comments section.

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