Christmas gift can be such a stressful time: with the trawl around the shops, the card-writing, gift-wrapping, turkey-buying, relative-visiting, work parties and nativity plays to think of, sometimes it can all seem too much. Well, fear no more, our clever ideas and time-saving tips will have you smiling right through to the New Year.
Write a list
Many of the goodies we all love at Christmas will stay fresh in their packets for weeks. Instead of putting strain on your budget by loading up on sweets, chocolates, nuts and selection boxes all at once, buy them over the whole month. Write a list and each time you go shopping pick one item to buy from it. This trick also works for presents, drinks and decorations.
Shop smart (cheat!)
Consider buying an easy-to-carve turkey crown, pre-made stuffing, bread sauce and gravy mix etc. While it would be great to be able to serve everything home-made, there are many pre-made elements of the meal in the shops which taste as good as your own, are cheaper to buy, and will save you time and stress on the day itself. Marks and Spencer has a delicious selection to make life easier.
Why traipse around town in the cold when you can curl up on the sofa with your laptop and credit card. Make sure you check delivery times and stock, especially on this year's must-have toys and games. Visit http://www.lastdelivery.co.uk for last delivery dates for all the major retailers such as Amazon, Argos and Hamleys.
If a dinner for six turns into a party for 12, don't panic. A sit-down meal for six easily makes a buffet for many more, so have paper plates and napkins in reserve and lay out all the dishes at once. If you need a few more nibbles you can't go wrong with nuts, pretzels and olives. For drinks, pick up a couple of wine boxes (look out for offers in the supermarkets) and decant into a carafe in the kitchen when needed.
Don't think everything is up to you. Christmas should be a family time where everyone chips in and does their bit. Even the youngest children can join in - get them to lay the table with placenames and crackers. Even if you could do it quicker yourself let them use their imagination and feel part of the preparations.
The big day
For most December 25th revolves around food and gifts. Pressies don't need planning but mealtimes do. Decide what time you are going to eat and work backwards from that point. Most cookery books will give you an idea of how much time you'll need to cook the Christmas gift baskets feast - aim for at least 2pm or you'll be up at the crack of dawn.
Have a secret weapon
At seven o'clock on Christmas Eve younger children (and many grown-ups) may be getting a bit over-excited. As a treat (and bribe) let them open one special early gift from under the tree. Then put on a relaxing family DVD they can watch quietly before going to bed.
Have some me time
No matter how much you love your extended family, too much of a good thing can be a recipe for disaster. Make sure you schedule in some time for yourself, and your immediate family. Take the dog for a walk, meet friends for coffee, or pack everyone off for the day and enjoy the whole house just to yourself. Your family will thank you for it later.
Don't make a meal of dinner
Peel and trim your veggies the day before and store them in water so that they don't go brown. Wrap the sausages in bacon on Christmas Eve and make sure your meat is ready to go straight into the oven - and that everything is defrosted properly. This way, when it comes down to it, all you'll need to do on Christmas morning is cook.
Stock up on batteries
There'll be tears before bedtime if the toys don't work on Christmas Day so make sure you have a couple of packets of spare batteries or charge up plenty of rechargeable ones.
Keep a list of handy numbers by the phone just in case something goes wrong. Your regular plumber or electrician may also be on holiday so find an alternative; http://www.reactfast.co.uk is a UK wide (excluding Northern Ireland) 24-hour emergency call-out company specialising in all domestic disasters - from blocked drains to broken ovens. Before queuing for hours at the local A&E or surgery, call the NHS Direct helpline for expert advice on 0845 4647.
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