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Less Stress, More Joy

To me, the holidays mean work—long, hard, worrying work. Not that I'm a Scrooge: I love the spirit of the season. I love wrapping gifts in colorful paper. I love finding the perfect ceiling-grazing Douglas fir and weighing it down with ornaments that carry precious memories. I love writing Christmas cards with my husband. I love going to church on Christmas Eve, when hundreds of flickering luminarias light a dramatic path to the familiar doors. I love the gleeful abandon of my 10-year-old son's present unwrapping, and even the waist-high tumbleweeds of crumpled paper left in its wake.

I love the holidays, that is, when I'm not harried, trying to orchestrate all those wonderful things and carry the usual load, which already fills each day to the brim. And I'm hardly alone.

Exhausting is how Mary LoVerde, of Aurora, CO, says her holidays used to be: Christmas Eve spent ironing the tablecloth, setting out china, polishing silver, roasting a turkey, mashing 30 (yes, 30!) potatoes, shouting at the kids to put on clean shirts and share those toys. "I felt like I was demanding that they have a wonderful Christmas," recalls LoVerde, the mother of three, the youngest now 12.

One frazzled year she called a family meeting to announce that (a) the holiday work was driving her crazy, and (b) would anyone mind if they toned down the glitz and gorging a bit? No one did. They junked the high-maintenance soiree and replaced it with a festive Christmas Eve dinner of gourmet takeout followed by candle lighting and carols around the table. A traditional ritual was reborn in a simpler, low-stress version that brought LoVerde closer to her family rather than setting her apart on a hamster wheel of chores.

LoVerde, who used to direct the University of Colorado School of Medicine's Hypertension Research Center, is the author of Stop Screaming at the Microwave! How to Connect Your Disconnected Life and one of the many experts who've appeared lately to offer suggestions for simplifying your life so you have more time and energy to devote to the important stuff: spending time with the people you love.

So before you crank up the Happy Holiday machine this year, check out these ideas for doing less but getting more out of the season.

Anne Reeks reviews software for PARENTING and writes frequently about kids and families.