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VIEWPOINT: Beginning to look a lot like....

Christmas is a mere two weeks from yesterday! Yikes - are you ready? It seems like, even though we had an extra week to prepare, the festive season still snuck up on us. Have you mailed all your cards and gifts, made a few dozen cookies, sent out the invitations for your holiday gala and purchased a new dress for the company party? If not, you have two more weekends to get everything "all buttoned up," which is the terminology our new daughter-in-law uses.

And how do you complete all these tasks and continue to honor the essence of this special day? I'm sure there's some trick to it, as well as employing it without feeling overloaded, crabby and exhausted when the big day finally arrives.

So how do we get everything done and still find time to visit with friends as we pick up our kids from school, without feeling like we have to run off and can't complete a sentence? How do we make time to cherish each person or family as we write their name on an envelope, or take time to read their name on the label, as we send out the Christmas cards? How do we warmheartedly bake an extra dozen cookies to donate to the church bake sale or bring to the neighbor the kids call "Grandma?" It just seems sometimes that we miss the purpose of Christmas because it gets so hectic and harried, especially as it gets close to the end.

What can you do this holiday to create a little more time to spend with family and friends, filling your life and theirs with tenderness and deep sentiments of love and appreciation? Maybe it all starts with remembering the core of the day, which it seems is to celebrate the tried and true family rituals that everyone clings to, even if they're years old and seem a bit worn out. Perhaps like some of the homemade, pasty ornaments that hang on your tree, year after year, because you wouldn't think of parting with them.

Rather than spending more and going more, this may be the year to settle back a bit and treasure those who fill your life with joy and contentment. Purchase or create gifts of great meaning that will be appreciated and esteemed throughout the year. Some families make photo calendars, that each month reminds those who use them of the fun times from the previous year. Maybe you will make a photo calendar for a loved one's computer so they can enjoy fond memories of children and grandchildren whenever they sit down to work.

As you read this and steady yourself not to go into panic mode when you realize this "less than two weeks until Christmas," remember there is only one you and that you can't do it all. Look at the list you have yet to accomplish and think about something you could live without and unwaveringly remove it. That item might be to choose not to bake the little loaves of bread and purchase a dozen cookies for each person instead. It might be to suspend your annual trip to the mall to listen to the carolers and stay home to watch, "It's a Wonderful Life" with your family instead. It might be to forego the yearly Christmas play or movie you always attend and go to see the lights in downtown St. Paul instead.

Whatever it is, let it go and enjoy the waning days of this season with gentleness and calmness. You will quite likely begin a new tradition, as well as have very fond memories of the year you did a little less and chose presence instead.

Soucheray is a Woodbury resident and a licensed family therapist.