You probably headed into this holiday season with the best of intentions. Perhaps you even made a list of Christmas-related tasks months ago, determined not to procrastinate. From shopping to decorating to keeping the kids entertained, you pledged that this year would be different.
Fast-forward to December, and you’re panicking. Time got away from you, and now you’re in a mad dash to make the holiday magic happen. We’ve all been there.
Fortunately, even if you’re overwhelmed and running behind, you can take plenty of clever shortcuts to help you catch up. Here are some tips to help you hack the holidays:
For parents, the holidays present an opportunity to enjoy precious moments with the kids. On the flip side, entertaining the little ones all season long is no easy task. Here’s some tips for keeping the kids happy and occupied throughout this busy time of year:
• ENGAGE THEIR CREATIVITY WITH ARTS AND CRAFTS
Set up a designated craft area with supplies like colored paper, markers, glue and scissors. Encourage your kids to create holiday-themed crafts or simply let their imaginations run wild. You can find plenty of craft ideas online or create your own.
• LET THEM HELP IN THE KITCHEN
Involve your children in holiday baking and cooking. Let them assist with mixing ingredients, shaping cookies and decorating gingerbread houses. It’s a great way to teach them some basic cooking skills while enjoying delicious treats together.
• PLAN A HOLIDAY MOVIE MARATHON
Choose classic holiday films or newer releases, make some popcorn and cozy up on the couch. Don’t forget to include some holiday specials and animated classics.
• ENJOY THE OUTDOORS
We’re fortunate to live on the Coast, where winters are relatively mild, so the outdoor fun can continue year-round. Outdoor activities can be a great way to burn off energy and enjoy the season’s beauty. Take walks to check out the Christmas lights in your neighborhood, or plan a winter-themed picnic.
• GO ON SCAVENGER HUNTS
Create indoor scavenger hunts with clues and hidden surprises. This activity develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills while keeping your kids entertained. Give your hunt a holiday theme.
• DECORATE TOGETHER
Get the kids involved in decking the halls. Let them hang ornaments and string lights and set up holiday displays. They’ll have a ball transforming your home into a festive wonderland.
• ARRANGE VIRTUAL VISITS
If you can’t be with friends and family in person, set up virtual visits. Your kids can catch up with grandparents, cousins or friends through video calls. It’s a great way to stay connected and spread holiday cheer.
• SET ASIDE READING TIME
We all can benefit from spending time with books, so create a cozy reading nook with blankets and pillows. Encourage your kids to read holiday books or stories. You can also take turns reading aloud, starting a special family tradition.
• MAKE DIY GIFTS
Help your children make homemade gifts for friends and family. These could be personalized ornaments, hand-painted mugs or photo albums. This teaches them the joy of giving and receiving heartfelt presents.
• SING AND DANCE
Play your favorite holiday tunes and have a dance party in your living room. Your kids will love showing off their moves!
• BRING OUT THE BOARD GAMES AND PUZZLES
It sounds a bit old school, but what’s more fun than playing a several rounds of Scrabble, Monopoly or other favorite games with your favorite people? Dust off your collection of games and puzzles and teach the next generation how it’s done.
• VOLUNTEER TOGETHER
Foster a spirit of giving by helping those in need. Whether you’re serving at a food bank or collecting toys, it’s a great way to aid others while building character.
• CAMP INDOORS
Set up an indoor campsite in your living room with blankets, pillows and flashlights. Tell campfire stories and have a “camp-in” with games and snacks.
• GO ON PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURES
If you have a camera or a smartphone, go on holiday photography adventures. Encourage your kids to take pictures of the decorations, landscapes or even family portraits.
• DRAFT LETTERS TO SANTA
Sit down with your kids and help them write letters to the Big Guy in Red. Encourage them to share their holiday wishes and dreams. You can either mail the letters or use one of the many services online that send responses from Santa.
• HAVE THEMED DRESS-UP DAYS
Get the whole family involved in dressing up according to a specific holiday theme. Whether it’s staying in pajamas all day or wearing ugly holiday sweaters, it’s a fun way to get festive.
• RELAX AND MEDITATE
The holidays can be hectic, so teach your kids the importance of slowing down and being mindful. Introduce them to meditation or deep breathing exercises. It’s a skill that can help them manage stress and stay grounded.
When you’re short on time but still want to create a festive atmosphere, there are plenty of quick and easy ways to spruce up your home and get it holiday ready:
• STRING LIGHTS EVERYWHERE
- Wrap string lights around stair railings, door frames, and mantels.
- Fill glass jars or vases with string lights for a cozy glow.
• MAKE DIY ORNAMENTS
- Make paper snowflakes and hang them from the ceiling or windows.
- Personalize plain ornaments with markers, glitter, or ribbons.
• USE AVAILABLE GREENERY
- Gather branches or pinecones from your backyard and place them in vases.
- Wrap garlands around banisters, doorways, or fireplace mantels.
• SIMPLIFY TABLE DÉCOR
- Place a bowl of ornaments in the center of the table.
- Fold napkins into fun holiday shapes, like Christmas trees or stars.
• SET THE MOOD WITH SCENTS
- Light scented candles to create a warm atmosphere.
- Place candles in glass containers filled with cranberries or pinecones for a rustic look.
• DECORATE WITH PRINTABLES AND SIGNS
- Print holiday quotes or signs and frame them for instant decor.
- Create a “hot cocoa bar” sign for a cozy setup with minimal effort.
• EMBRACE EDIBLE DÉCOR
- Fill glass jars with holiday candies and place them around the house.
- String popcorn or cranberries for a classic, natural garland.
• GET CREATIVE WITH WRAPPING
- Wrap empty boxes in festive paper and stack them to create a decorative display.
- Use leftover ribbons to tie bows on doorknobs or chair backs.
• CREATE SOME QUICK CRAFTS
- Make a paper-chain garland using colorful construction paper.
- Create a wreath using a wire hanger and ornaments or greenery.
• REPURPOSE EVERYDAY ITEMS
- Use mason jars as candle holders.
- Turn old sweaters into cozy pillow covers by sewing or using fabric glue.
From no one knowing what they want to hunting everywhere for the elusive “perfect” gift, holiday shopping is a hassle – and who has time for that? Not you, which is why you need these handy shopping hacks:
• TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ONLINE SHOPPING
Many local retailers offer a wide range of products and discounts on their websites and social media pages. You can shop from the comfort of your own home, What’s not to love?
• USE CURBSIDE PICKUP
Don’t want to leave your car? No problem! Many stores now offer curbside pickup, allowing you to shop online and pick up your items without going inside. It’s a time-saving option, especially during the busy, bustling holiday season.
• GIVE GIFT CARDS
We know, this is so easy that it almost feels lazy or thoughtless, but hear us out: Gift cards get a bad rap. Everyone has their favorite stores and restaurants, and this option ensures your gift is a hit and lets the recipient choose exactly what they want. Picky teenagers will be especially appreciative.
• SHOP LOCAL
Find unique items, avoid the crowds and cut down on travel by supporting businesses in your own community. You’ll get more personal service and are sure to see special, handcrafted pieces unlike anything in the big-box stores.
• MAKE WISH LISTS
Encourage your loved ones to create holiday wish lists that you and others who are shopping for them can refer to as a handy tool.
• SHOP DURING OFF-PEAK HOURS
Early mornings or late evenings on weekdays can be less busy at physical stores.
• BUY IN BULK
For small items like candles, chocolates, or stocking stuffers, consider buying in bulk. You can then split these into multiple gifts, saving time and money.
• SPLURGE FOR PRIORITY SHIPPING
If you’re ordering gifts late, opt for priority or expedited shipping. It may cost a bit more, but you’ll ensure your gifts arrive in time for the holidays.
• LOOK FOR LAST-MINUTE SERVICES
Search for stores or websites that specialize in last-minute gifts and delivery services. They often have a selection of gifts specifically designed for quick shipping.
• HOST A VIRTUAL SHOPPING PARTY
Lacking inspiration? Consider hosting a virtual shopping party with friends or family. You can share gift ideas and shop together online while enjoying some holiday cheer.
• LET OTHERS DO THE WRAPPING
Many physical and online stores offer gift wrapping for a small fee; some will even include a card. The average person spends up to three hours wrapping Christmas gifts, so this small service can be a major time saver.
• GET SENTIMENTAL
Above all, it’s the thought behind the gift that really matters. A heartfelt card or letter, or even a special framed photo or album, can make the most meaningful gift. Check out services like Shutterfly for customized photo books that preserve your most cherished memories.
The hectic holiday season leaves little room for elaborate cooking and lengthy grocery shopping trips. Here are some shortcuts to help streamline the process:
• PLAN AND PRIORITIZE
- Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Focus on a few key dishes or treats that are your family’s absolute favorites.
- Once you’ve decided on a menu, make a shopping list to ensure you have all the necessary ingredients; check it twice.
• THERE’S NO SHAME IN SEMI-HOMEMADE
Pre-made pie crusts, cookie dough, and sauces can significantly cut down your prep time. Combine pre-made ingredients with a few homemade touches, like a special seasoning or garnish, to make the dish your own.
• TRY ONE-POT WONDERS
One-pot dishes, like casseroles or sheet-pan dinners, are not only easy to prepare, but also reduce the number of dishes you’ll need to wash. They’re perfect for holiday gatherings.
• MAKE SLOW-COOKER MAGIC
Slow cookers can be your best friend during the holidays. Throw your ingredients into the pot in the morning, and by evening, you’ll have a hot, home-cooked meal without much effort. From roasts to soups, slow cookers are versatile and timesaving.
• GROCERY SHOP ONLINE
If time is tight, consider using an online grocery shopping service. Many stores now offer this convenient option, allowing you to select your items online and have them delivered or ready for pickup at your chosen time.
• GET FROZEN AND PRE-CUT INGREDIENTS
Frozen fruits and vegetables are a lifesaver for last-minute sides and desserts. You also can buy pre-cut vegetables and pre-marinated meats to cut down on prep time. These items maintain their quality and taste while reducing the work involved.
• USE MAKE-AHEAD MEALS
Certain dishes can be prepared in advance and frozen. Things like lasagnas, soups, and stews can be cooked, portioned, and frozen. Just reheat when needed.
• DELEGATE TASKS
If you’re hosting a holiday meal, don’t hesitate to assign tasks to others. For instance, many guests are happy to bring a side dish, dessert or even help with cooking. Sharing the load can ease your burden.
• REUSE LEFTOVERS
Get creative with leftovers. Plan meals that use ingredients from your holiday feast, such as turkey sandwiches, soup from the carcass, or a frittata with leftover vegetables.
• SAVE TIME WITH QUICK DESSERTS
Options like parfaits with store-bought pudding and whipped cream or a festive fruit salad with a drizzle of caramel sauce are fast and simple.
• SET UP A SNACK STATION OR CHARCUTERIE BOARD
Instead of preparing a big spread, set up a snack station or charcuterie board with cheese, crackers, nuts and a variety of dips. It’s a great way to satisfy your guests without spending hours in the kitchen.