When Does Christmas Start at Your House?

Whether you hang your stockings by the chimney with care the day after Halloween or the day before Christmas, what does it matter? . Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Most of us have one of those neighbors — the ones who have their outdoor Christmas decorations up the weekend of Thanksgiving, with every piece of greenery, red bow and twinkly light neatly in place. And most of us have that friend or relative — the one who boasts about having all their holiday shopping done with weeks left to go. And not only are they done, but their packages are topped with homemade bows and their freezer is already stocked with dozens of Christmas cookies just waiting for holiday guests to arrive.

There's no right or wrong way to handle Christmas, of course. But the pressure to have a Pinterest-worthy holiday seems to come from every direction about every aspect of the celebration, whether it's feeling like you put up your tree too late or worrying that you haven't taken a family portrait yet to put on your holiday cards. (I dread the annual photo card chore.)

Such expectations load the holidays with too much stress, so I say we stop trying to keep up with it all and stick to our own Christmas timelines, whatever they may be. We all have our traditions, and honoring those may mean ignoring social trends.

The tree timeline

Father and daughter decorating Christmas tree
For centuries, people have used evergreens to decorate inside their homes in the winter as a reminder that plants would return in the spring. (Photo: Kiselev Andrey Valerevich/Shutterstock)

My family puts up our tree in the first week of December. We do this because we like real trees, and getting them any earlier means it may turn brown by Christmas morning. (Also I'm terrible at keeping plants alive.) Plus, we host a dozen people for Thanksgiving; with six children under the age of 10 stampeding through my house, a tree adorned with treasured ornaments most certainly would not survive. And I have a toddler who will either try to climb the tree or pull everything off it, so the later it goes up, the less time I'll spend keeping her away from it. In short, my tree timeline means I'm tree-shamed the day after Thanksgiving when, it seems, everyone else puts up their Douglas fir.

The stage of life we occupy also plays a role in our timelines. I was chatting with a twenty-something woman recently who is single and doesn't have kids, and she was saying that she decorates for Christmas on the day after Halloween because her Halloween decorations are in the same storage box as her Christmas ones. Not only was I floored by the thought of red-and-green going up so soon after black-and-orange comes down, but I couldn't believe her supplies for both holidays fit in ONE box?! I have like seven, but then again I'm storing 12 years of accumulated holiday memories with my husband and two kids.

The shopping timeline

Christmas shopping
Do you shop ahead for the holidays, or are you a Christmas Eve shopper?. Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock

Now, let's address the pace of shopping. There are just so many different ways to handle the shopping, and everyone has their reasons for doing it their way. I have a mom friend who finishes her Christmas shopping in October because she shops all year long as she finds deals, and she says this method makes less of an impact on her monthly budget. She doesn't finish early to brag about it; she does it to be frugal because she has three kids and a huge extended family to buy for. (And speaking of kids, this is another area where your life stage may impact when you start shopping.)

I remember hitting the local grocery store for a few supplies on the day after Thanksgiving. There was a man in front of me buying a large pile of gift cards, each with $50 or $100 on them. As he counted hundreds from a wad of cash in his hand, I envied the simplicity of this shopping strategy. But while grocery store gift cards are practical, they sure aren't personal. I'd prefer to spend more time shopping or working on a gift if it means a more personal present. What about you?

Personally, I have a few people I'm able to shop for early. I can schedule floral arrangements or gourmet food gift deliveries weeks in advance for far-away relatives while saving the month of December to find items on my kids' wish lists.

The decorating timeline

House decorated with Christmas lights
These homeowners went all out decorating their Southern California home for Christmas. But not everyone has that ambition (or time, or money), and that's perfectly OK. Doug Meek/Shutterstock

The practice of showing up your neighbors when it comes to holiday light displays is nothing new, of course. Maybe your neighborhood is even part of a competition, though hopefully it's more good-natured than the 2006 movie "Deck the Halls," where neighbors Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick go to war over who can make the biggest, brightest Christmas display.

Bravo to all the people who make their homes more beautiful this time of year, whether inside or out. But I have to admit this is where I cut calories from my Christmas to-do list. I live in a cold, snowy part of the country, and the exterior of our home takes a beating from the weather. We've tried putting up strands of lights, but they usually freeze to our home and plants. And we have indoor and outdoor cats, so you won't find poinsettias around our house. Our decorating strategy is simple: LED candles in our windows, wreaths on the doors and decorations on our tree. No inflatable Santas, no plastic candy canes, no animated reindeer. Though this year we did try one of these Christmas light projectors, which is nice but not as elegant as a house outlined in miniature lights.