- Holidays and Celebrations
Top Christmas Planning Tips
Need help with your Christmas Holiday Planning?
My family love Christmas time. We love getting together with extended family and friends we don't seem to be able to make time to be with throughout the year. We love seeing the new babies or remarking every year, how the children are growing. Attending the school nativity play and carol services are some of the highlights of our year, and I'm going to let you into the little secrets of how my family get organised without me being the one to do all of the work, stress free and enjoyable.
I find that for me to relax and enjoy Christmas it's all down to my Christmas Holiday Planning.
Make that your mantra. Planning. Planning. Planning.
Remember it's OK to order things on-line or to make lists. I try to buy gifts when I see them rather than wait unitl the last minute. If I'm on vacation in August and I see a gift I know my sister or friend will love, I buy it and put it away in my Christmas box.
Some might say you don't get the "feel" of Christmas doing this, I say anything that makes my life easier is good by me.
I make a list for everyone in the family and then expect them to complete their list. From the youngest being told his job is to think of treats for Christmas Eve, to my husband being told to make sure that all of the Christmas lights are working before the house is decorated. Thank goodness they always complete their list because I rely on them.
Don't be hard on yourself. Believe it or not no-one will notice if you forget to put out the bread sauce, or if you have bought the vegetables already pealed and chopped. If they do notice they will probably congratulate you on your ingenuity as it means that you get to spend more time with your family and friends.
All the photos are my own work taken on the NIKON D90
Do you get excited by Christmas?
I find it helps to use a little notebook throughout the year. If I buy a present then I enter it into my notebook with the would-be recipients name against it. Sometimes I might see a would-be gift but I can't make up my mind whether to buy it or not, I enter the name of the store where I saw the gift.
Sometimes I write down an idea of a special course I've had when I've been out to dinner and try to re-create it for my own Christmas table.
You always think you will remember these little things, but if your daily life is as manic as mine is sometimes, then you do forget.
Advent - it's only the beginning
1 December - Advent Calendar time.
This is the traditional Calendar which is used to count down the days of advent. Advent calendars begin on 1 December regardless of when advent actually begins, and continues until 24 December. As most advent calendars are made for children these days each window now tends to contain a picture or chocolate or sweetie.
Remember advent can actually begin anytime between 27 November and 3 December, not always on 1st December to co-incide with the calendars.
Place your food order with your butcher/fishmonger as soon as they start accepting orders. One more thing ticked off your list.
There is always great anticipation for my family on 1 December. Christmas Season has begun, or 'Big Season' as my youngest son calls it, as we also have several family birthdays in December.
Advent Calendars always bring a smile to my face
In our house we have used several styles of advent calendars over the years. We have had a fabric style with little pockets which we filled with a surprise goody for the lucky recipient each morning
Does a little piece of chocolate every morning appeal to you? If so try these advent calendars.
We then moved onto chocolate advent calendars, but due to food allergies in the family we had to move on from them. They are slightly missed, mostly by me I must add.
We now have a wooden advent calendar.
Now we have a traditional looking wooden advent calendar which is lovingly brought down from the attic each year. Even although my oldest son could be rather cynical about this, he makes sure that he joins in for the sake of his younger brother. I love hearing them reminisce about the time they "mislaid" pieces so tried to draw wooden sleighs to stick onto the calendar so that I wouldn't notice. They did find the "mislaid" pieces eventually in the lego box.
Try these advent candles for a change this year.
Last year we gave our folks an advent candle which they took great pleasure in lighting every evening as they ate dinner. You're never too old for advent.
I find it interesting when speaking to friends about how they manage their Christmas shopping. Which category do you fall into?
Are you a last minute Christmas shopper, or do you plan your Christmas gift list like a military exercise?
Ordering Gifts on-line
We have family and friends all over the world who we wish to remember at Christmas. Unfortunately as they are all over the world we don't see them very often, so buying for them can be tricky. A couple of years ago we put our heads together and came up with the idea of sending our loved ones food presents. The recipients of these food presents were delighted to receive them and it's now become a tradition for us to send these gifts. You can order the presentson-line and get them sent directly to your loved ones, which saves you another trip to the post office. Which in itself saves you stress.
This has worked with us sending presents to addresses in New Zealand, United Kingdom and Italy, as well as in the US.
The Christmas Letter
Not everyone's cup of tea but we like it. It's a nice summary of the family year. We don't send this to everyone. Just to the people we haven't had much contact with during the year. The people who receive our Christmas letter change from year to year depending on whether we've seen much of them and been able to chat throughout the year or not. I try to write my letter as if I'm speaking to someone, makes for interesting reading as sometimes I am a bit scatty. Make your letter fun without being boastful of your families achievements. Remember your friends want to hear your good news, not a guide as to how much better your family is than theirs. If you've had a good vacation then why not print a picture onto your Christmas letter? One year we used a happy family vacation photograph as a watermark on the paper we used to send the letter. It was very well received.
Sometimes a Christmas Letter is better than a Christmas Photograph Card as people tend not to keep the letter, but can feel obliged to try to keep a photograph of you and your loved ones.
Another little touch I think people appreciate is to hand write the name of your recipient and to sign it personally with a brief sentence pertaining to the recipient. It really is appreciated as it's now no longer a generic Christmas letter, it's a letter for a friend from a friend.
One Christmas job I try to get over and done with is writing the cards. I always try to write a witty little ditty in each one
My husband and I take two extra days holiday from work to wrap Christmas presents and finish buying last minute gifts and little treats for Christmas stockings. Yes, the boys, despite their age, still put their stockings out with a carrot, mince pie and glass of milk for Santa Claus and his reindeers. I am aware that they are aware I know they are only humouring us as parents, but I still think it’s a sweet thing for them to do. All part of keeping our family traditions alive.
Get organised. During the damp autumn nights start writing your Christmas cards.
Time for lights and baubles
Our tree is normally decorated on the weekend following 9 December, this is the last family birthday of the year. Whilst no-one else might think my tree is amazing, I do. It won't win any style prizes but it lights up my families faces.
I gave up on the idea of having a sophisticated color co-ordinated tree many years ago after seeing the pride and love on my little boys face when the first decoration he made at nursery school was given pride of place on our tree. That's more important than impressing anyone.
If you look closely amongst our multi-colored lights, Disney decorations and hand made decorations made by my children, you may glimpse the odd sophisticated glass ornament. No longer given pride of place. That's given to the decorations made with love by my sons.
One of my favourite ornaments is a piece of wood covered in Christmas paper with the following words written on it.
A Special Gift
This is a very special gift that you can never see
The reason it's so special is it's just for you from me
When we are not together, know that this is true
You only have to hold the gift, and know that I love you
You never can unwrap it, just keep the ribbon tied
Just hold the box close to your heart
It's filled with love inside
The words always move me
I have no idea where the words are from, but I received it when my now 18 year old was 3 years old and he still looks to make sure it is put on our tree. I know I am a big softie.
Can you imagine your child making an ornament like this with you and then giving it to a beloved elderly relative? Tissues would have to be handed all around.
I love seeing Christmas lights on trees and houses in the neighbourhood
The boys wooden play shed in the garden is usually decorated with snowball lights and looks wonderful if it snows or when darkness falls and it's a crisp day.
I always think candles look beautiful flickering in the evening light
These can look very effective on a fireplace or Christmas table
If you have small children or pets running around the house you may not be comfortable using candles, try these battery operated tea-lights. They can look very pretty in little groups on a table or window ledge.
Start The Crafting
When my children were younger and it was getting near to Christmas, we would sit down for an afternoon and do some Christmas crafts. One of their favourite things to do was making Christmas paper chains. From trying to make the longest one, or to making a regular pattern using the different colors of paper. Lots of laughter usualy accompanies this activity.
It doesn't matter if it all goes wrong, the laughter and your time are what make the happy memories for your children.
When they got a little older another activity for your children to do, that will need your patience and assistance, is to make a clove orange. Get a good sized orange and tie a colored ribbon around it. Secure the ribbon in place with a clove, then make little holes all over the orange with a skewer or toothpick and get your children to press the cloves into holes. A wonderful looking ornament that will scent your room for weeks. I love hanging these in guest rooms in anticipation of my guests arriving.
Now to the serious organising
By 15 December I try to have all the non-perishable groceries bought. Presents are wrapped and placed in bags ready to distribute when my diary is updated, cards have all been posted and school is about to end for the term.
Remember to buy a couple of small gifts for when you have that unexpected visitor or drinks invitation. It will save you running to the mall at the last minute. I also find it handy to stock up on a few scented candles, a lovely tin of cookies or a box of chocolates in case the children are invited over to a friend's house around Christmas time. It's nice for them to get into the habit of taking a small gift for the "lady of the house" at such a busy time to show they appreciate being invited at such a hectic time.
I personally love Yankee Candles, especially the ones that remind me of Christmas.
Truffles, mmmmmmmm. Yes as you may guess I love my chocolate, maybe a little too much.
Who can say no to a yummy cookie with a nice cup of hot chocolate?
Not long to go now - remember the little things
On the last day of school we have made it a tradition that we take the boys out for lunch, school normally finishes early, and it's my job to pay. It's a fun day when we're all relaxed and ready for the fun ahead.
Remember it's only fun if no-one in the house is stressed from doing , or trying to do, everything themselves. Make it a family occasion in planning and in celebrating.
Give everyone a job, and if you're offered help take it. If someone offers to bring something for a meal graciously accept the offer. Guests feel as if they're part of the family if they're allowed to contribute.
Set the table early, don't leave it until the last minute. Setting a table always takes longer than you think it will. If you don't have room for a flower centre piece, use little tea lights. If you don't want to use candles use the tea-lights that run on batteries.
The Children are responsible for the Christmas Menu - The Santa Watermark was their idea
We give my youngest son the job of making place settings and menu cards for everyone, nothing elaborate but it makes him feel as if he's doing an important job. No, we wouldn't normally have a menu card whilst we are eating at home, but it keeps him quiet for an hour or so whilst I do something else.
The excitement is growing.
On Christmas Eve we prepare as much food as we can. Everyone helps with the vegetables. If the dessert can be made on Christmas Eve, then it is. A favourite for my family is raspberries and jelly atop panacotta. Delicious, looks very impressive, but is so easy to make.
Have a cold starter. Who doesn’t love fresh seafood atop crisp salad leaves with a lemon dressing?
The one thing we always try to do is take lots of photographs. Remember to download them if you’re using a digital camera, or better still get them put into a photobook. They are your memories of tomorrow. We love sitting around after the Christmas excitement has passed, the tree is down, although you’re still finding pine needles in the carpet, and going through the photographs.