Even the most relaxed and resourceful ones of us could use a little help every now and again, so we tapped into our most valuable resource – our readers – to put together a list of some of the best ways to get prepped, look put together, and most importantly, free yourself up to enjoy your loved ones during the most wonderful time of the year.
Make the deep freezer your best friend
Stay-at-time mom Rebecca Painter hosts up to 24 people for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. To prepare for all the people she has to feed, she starts as early as September to create freezer meals, like casseroles, and desserts for the holidays, wrapping up her food prep two to three weeks before the big event. She also makes double batches of food when she does cook, freezing the extras.
She rallies her two children, who bake with her during chilly or rainy days in October and November. Because of Painter’s preparedness, all she has to do is stuff a turkey and put it into the oven on the day of the gathering. “(It) lets me host everyone without losing my mind and still be present for my kids on their day,” she says.
Carleton Place’s Bonnie Thompson starts shopping as early as September and October. “I also pick up things throughout the year for stocking stuffers and small gifts,” says Thompson, a home daycare provider and mother of 12-year-old Cian and four-year-old Chloe. “Spending small amounts long before spreads out the purchases and makes it a little more financially manageable.” When shopping, she shops from a list of ideas that she adds to all year. “This helps me remember what I wanted for whom, and when it comes time to buy, I just need to go in, buy it and get out,” she says. Sue Carr Tiffin limits her buying to four gifts per child to help cut back on excess, “which is what we find most stressful. Each kid gets “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something you read,” she says. When it comes to where and how, do what works for you. While Ottawa mom of three Ann Timm likes buying local – “you’re helping neighbours around you and you get unique gifts for people on your list,” she says – Ottawa mom of one Lidia Romeo shops “100 percent online if possible.” Stacey Roy agrees – “I don’t go into stores in December unless absolutely necessary,” says the mother of two.
…But consider limiting your buying
Self-employed registered massage therapist and mom of two Frances Tregurtha and her family don’t do gifts for anyone except their kids, and even then, it’s a minimal amount. Also, she says, “my husband and I agreed a couple of years ago that we would each do our own stockings with an agreed-upon price limit. That way, the money goes to something we each really want or need instead of being wasted on junk, and there are no unrealistic expectations or disappointment.”
Father of two Wade McKim also doesn’t do gifts for the adults. “We are all at the point in our lives where we just buy what we want for ourselves when we want,” he says. Ottawa’s Janet Busby’s family has reduced the number of presents they exchange among one another. “Without small children in our family, it is very easy to minimize the stress of Christmas as we scale back all aspects of the celebration.” For families with multiple kids, Linda Luong Luck buys a family gift, “something they can all do together, whether its movie passes or passes to an attraction.”
Limit social media
For some people, the holidays can be stressful, and when you’re keeping up with the Joneses, it can make things worse. “I give minimal attention to social media because it can be distracting and honestly can cause stress,” says Finch mother of two Mariah Little. She’s not alone. Ottawa mom of one Adele Mason lost her mother around the holidays, and because seeing families together can trigger anxiety for her, she stays off Facebook in December.
Get out of town
In the past, former Ottawa resident and York University senior development officer Francesco Corsaro has left the country for the holidays. “You write your cards in November and tell your family and friends you’re leaving for a vacation for the duration of the holiday. Stress instantly reduced when you land at your destination,” he says. Ottawa resident and dad of two grown girls Mark Bucken also opts to leave the country when the snow flies.
Focus on the experiences
Since her children were very young, Kate Baggott has moved the focus from presents to experiences. “Kids will remember singing Christmas carols more than any gift they receive,” says the writer and mother of a 13- and 16-year-old. “Making cookies, visiting people who would otherwise be alone, and finding ways to express gratitude are all no-stress activities. The real pleasures come from experiences around Christmas. My daughter sings in her school choir, so we all look forward to her performances. I have friends who don’t have families, so we plan our calendar around events with them too. Decorating the tree, baking cookies, making cards are all the activities that give us a chance to share time together. We all look forward to it.” Katrina Finnigan likes “watching cheesy (but oh-so-good!) Hallmark movies to destress while [I] wrap or bake.” It reminds her of what the season is supposed to be about, she says. Diana Vann and her family started doing random acts of kindness during December. “Holidays can be stressful but helping the less fortunate really helps put it all in perspective, and adds a dose of happy when things feel overwhelming,” she says. James Thomas makes it a point to “do something outside in nature – ideally something active as simple as going for a walk at night, or doing yoga or meditation to release stress and connect with yourself to find balance.” Mom of one Elsa Mihotic devotes weekends “to being in the Christmas spirit, be it going for walks to see all the lights, skating or just watching a Christmas movie.”
Party games not required
Don’t worry too much about how you’re going to entertain your holiday guests. Rebecca Painter forgoes setting up a formal table for 20 in favour of areas for her guests to congregate and eat. This arrangement also facilitates talking and visiting.
“(Our) entertainment is each other,” says Painter. “Many of us haven’t seen each other in a while, so we catch up with family.”
Prepay for the holidays
In the past, Ottawa’s Alana Walmsley has set money aside each pay week to pay for Christmas in cash. “It was so much less stress knowing it was already paid for by the time Christmas came,” says the mom of two. “It was lovely to see my credit card not racked up.” For the past five years, Ottawa resident Shawn Hoey has saved all his loyalty points to trade for gift certificates to purchase presents. His favourites are PC Shoppers Optimum, Air Miles and TD Points. “When we started, it was to pay for Christmas dinner,” says Hoey, dad of Nayeli, 10, and Carmen, six. “Over time, we have changed our shopping behaviour during the year to get more points. We find that it makes the December budget much more manageable.” Dana Adams also uses her PC Optimum points and Air Miles for stocking stuffers, Christmas meals and special treats they don’t normally have in the house.
Share the load
Since 2002, Ottawa’s Marion Steele has participated in an annual cookie exchange on the first weekend in December. “Twelve couples each bring 12 dozen of the same cookies beautifully wrapped and when you leave, you have an assortment of 12 dozen cookies, and voila, your baking is done,” she says. “These also make great last-minute hostess gifts or something to set with tea when company drops by.” In the past, Brockville resident Blake McKim’s family has met at a resort within driving distance for everyone. “That way, not one person has to deal with the expense and hassle of hosting,” he says.