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It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather!”

Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” has always stirred my own Christmas memories, for Mama was also a fruitcake maker, mixing the mass of dough by hand in her well-scrubbed kitchen sink, several dozen loaf pans lined with greased brown paper cut from old grocery bags, using an ice pick to punch holes in the baked loaves to better absorb the bourbon that would preserve the fruitcakes until spring.

Mama used her grandmother’s recipe, and I made it myself a time or two after I married, but since neither I nor anyone else I knew actually liked fruitcake, I quickly abandoned the tradition. Instead, when December rolled around, I turned into a candy-maker and cookie baker. My goal each year when the children were growing up was to make a different sweet every day in December, right up until time to start preparing Christmas dinner.

On the second day of Advent, I stocked up on all the sugars, flour, flavorings, eggs, butter, nuts and chocolates I would need. My big challenge in our warm, humid climate was always the boiled-sugar candies—pralines and toffee. Therefore, when that cool, dry day dawned—and it inevitably did—I was ready. It’s candy-making weather!

I was not a mom who stayed home and baked cookies and inaugurated artsy-craftsy projects with the children year-round. But I loved Christmas and treasured the Season’s traditions. November was my month to take care of the business of Christmas—stocking up on Christmas ribbons and papers, candles, stamps; buying presents; addressing Christmas cards—so that December could be devoted to the joyous tasks of cooking, decorating and wrapping packages.

After the children left home, I cut back on the baking and candy-making, but I decorated and entertained more than ever. I still had a Christmas project every day. Then came 2009; and for the first time in my 68 years, I was alone in my house at Christmastime. I made it through. I got the tree up. I cooked Christmas dinner for the family. I even had a couple of small parties. But it was hard. In hindsight, I realize that with some intentional planning, I could have created more moments of joy during the month. It is what I am doing today.

I start with imagining, dreaming:

  • What do I want my house to look like when the family gathers to celebrate?
  • Who are the people I want to spend time with this month?
  • What are my favorite, happiest Christmas activities?

And then the ugly realities:

  • What business/responsibilities/obligations cannot be postponed?
  • Where are my sinkholes? What events or dates are emotionally threatening?

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
Stephen Covey

I am making my lists, and I am planning my personal Advent calendar of activities, penciling in at least one happy experience each day, spreading out the onerous chores as much as possible. I will be sure to pamper myself on the difficult days. I will not have any empty days, but I will avoid over-crowded days as well. I’ll put my favorite Christmas music on the CD player. I’ll make a few cookies and candies.

And one afternoon during the Season, I shall make a pot of hot tea, play the Messiah and read the Christmas story from the Gospels—my personal tradition of solitude and meditation for the past 15 years.