CLINE: Shopping and cards and baking, oh my!

Remember when you couldn't believe they were already putting Christmas decorations out at stores? And everyone was repeating the "they're rushing the season" line?

Still feel that way?

Here we are, a little more than two weeks from Christmas, and we're down to two shopping weekends before the big day. Like a jolly ol' fat man running downhill, we're picking up momentum, and most of us won't stop until we finally break the tape sometime on Christmas Eve, panting and wheezing across the finish line.

Between now and then you'll likely attend multiple parties, take part in a gift exchange at work, bake some cookies or fudge, have the kids' picture taken with Santa, visit some sort of Christmas attraction, donate to charity, help out at the church and squeeze in as much mall time as it takes to complete a list that you'll check much more than twice.

You'll also plan for your trip out of town or for the visit by the in-laws, or both. You'll have to buy treats for the trip or food for the big gathering and did you remember the gift bags? Have to have gift bags. And wrapping paper. And time to wrap.

If you're lucky, there will be a Christmas movie on while you prepare -- my favorite is "Holiday Inn" -- but since most of the holiday specials air well before Christmas you better make sure you didn't loan your DVD of "Christmas Vacation" to anyone last year. Enjoying that movie while you're wrapping, cooking, baking, planning, etc. will probably be your only time to relax over the next 15 days.

And there's the problem. "The most wonderful time of the year" is also the most hectic. So while we should be relaxing by the fire, enjoying the decorations and hot chocolate and the pleasantness of the season, we're working and thinking, and in many instances, stressing over an observance that calls for the opposite.

Many ministers will preach about this in the days leading up to Christmas. And while their words will make perfect sense, you may find yourself thinking that the only way you'll truly be able to reach that feeling of peace is if the minister and a few members of the congregation would be so kind as to come over to the house, wrap some gifts, write some cards and finish making the cheese ball that has to be taken to the work potluck.

But that will just be the stress talking. And that's the point.

This shouldn't be a fight to the finish line, but a time to reflect and relax. It's easier said than done, but you can make it work for one night at least. Build a fire, roast some marshmallows and listen to Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas."

You may just be delaying the inevitable when it comes to the stress of the season. But whether you're ready or not, Christmas will be here before you know it.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.