Simplifying the Season
How to Enjoy a Stress-Free Christmas
Losing focus at Christmas is easily done. There’s just so much to organize: the majority of holiday-wishers will overwhelm themselves. One minute you’re basting the turkey that’s been roasting for three days, and the next - you’re floundering in a pit of stress as big and bottomless as Santa’s magic sack. We’ve all been there.
But help is at hand. With a pinch of planning and the right tools at your disposal, you can say a glad goodbye to all those years of clawing your way through packed supermarkets and scouring the ends of the earth for that must-have toy, at little cost.
So, here is our very own Christmas basket of sage advice: expert strategies to help you simplify Christmas, taking the stressful sting out of the holidays.
Shopping online is quicker, more convenient and considerably more cost-effective in some cases. Compared to the high street, there’s a huge amount of more variety too.
Websites are a great source of ideas for those wanting in inspiration, on everything from Christmas fruit gifts to computer games. Hundreds of quirky, individual shops have popped up online, catering to a multitude of diverse tastes and age groups, making it possible to do all your shopping from a home computer.
Most online stores tell you immediately if what you’re after is in stock and discount heavily on the best-selling items (Amazon.com in particular), often offering very decent gift-wrapping services as part of the bargain.
Think outside the box...
Store-bought paper offers little value for the money. Check your house for alternatives - you’ll be surprised what you dig up: old sewing patterns, sheet music, maps and fabric samples. In times of desperation, don’t panic - there’s always something to use.
Undecorated, neutral toned-wrapping is also much cheaper, and can be jazzed up with small touches like ribbon, greenery sprigs, leftover yarn and rubber-stamp designs.
To save on the nightmare of wrapping, invest in gift boxes - a square or rectangle is the easiest shape to wrap, and will give your presentation a professional polish.
Tackle your address book in good company...
If you consider writing Christmas cards a chore, don’t suffer alone. Scour your cupboards for left over art materials and get all the family involved - have a card-making competition, and use the spoils for all your distant friends and family.
Or - for those shy of post offices - invite adult friends over for an evening of card-swapping and cookie-baking. With some creativity and companionship, otherwise tedious tasks will become enjoyable ones.
Think green shoots, not towering oaks...
Buying a large tree is often more trouble than it’s worth. What is supposed to be a fun outing can often end in multiple injuries and the realization that you’ll have to stick the tree out the back window just to fit it in the house.
Little trees can make just as big an impression - think how lovely a row of small, twinkling potted greens arranged along a hallway would look. And after the holidays, smaller trees can be planted in your back garden, avoiding unnecessary waste.
Take your time...
Instead of struggling to find time to meet up with all your friends in a small four week window, stake out an evening in January - when the holiday mayhem has subsided - to catch up with all those who weren’t available.
Why not forgo host-playing responsibilities altogether and arrange a mass group outing to a restaurant or concert, or an expedition to the January sales? Or even, for the really adventurous, a last-minute, cut-price New Years city break?
Don’t cook if you don’t want to...
Just because Christmas dinner isn’t all home-cooked doesn’t mean it’s any less a loving gesture. The yearly difficultly putting together a meal, shopping for the ingredients, and then preparing and cooking it all on the day is no enviable task.
Pace yourself and shop for what you can in small amounts. Non-perishables like candy and chocolate can be bought over a month ahead; fresher produce can be ordered weeks ahead and then picked up a few days before Christmas.
If you prefer something a little more luxurious, why not order from your favorite caterer or supplier? There are many fine food mail order companies specializing in fresh, traditional produce from small, independent producers. Just think of it: a plump turkey, stuffing, organic vegetables, sauces, Christmas pudding, mince pies, award-winning cheeses, all to your door, with the minimum of fuss. Some dinners even come with complete cooking instructions!
Finally, why not consider ditching the turkey? There are many delicious alternatives, such as spiral ham, roast beef or even spaghetti and meatballs (depending on your family's preferences), which are arguably more familiar and easier to cook.
A few final tips...
Don't drink too much if you’re stressed. It will spoil Christmas for you and everyone else. Delegate some of the tasks, share the responsibility and relax.
If money is a worry, put spending limits on presents. Perhaps introduce a gift amnesty - in some households, there is a moratorium on presents above an agreed-upon price without discussing it first with the receiver.
Stock up on universal gifts, ready for last-minute visitors. Choose items that would appeal to everyone, like a bottle of wine or homemade soaps.
Turn off television - it's full of ads designed to pressure you into spending excessive amounts of money and to snare you into thinking that whatever you have is not enough. Board games and winter walks are better.
If you make the effort to "simplify your holiday season", you just might find the time to enjoy all of the brand new memories you'll be making with family and friends.