Simply Christmas

The holidays are fully upon us, and we all know that December can be a crazy time for families! Parents have work party commitments, friends they’d like to see, and extended family get-togethers. Kids have school parties, extracurricular activities, and church programs. Volunteer efforts abound. And all around us is the pressure to create the “Perfect Holiday”.

While the most renewing part of this season is the time spent with family and those we love, by the time we show up we’re exhausted from cooking, buying, wrapping, etc. So I’ve compiled some wonderful tips and tricks for how to Simplify the Holidays from myself and some of my fellow romance authors! I hope one of these little nuggets of wisdom from women who struggle with the same balance of time and obligations that we all have will make your holiday season just a little bit easier!

Share your own tip in the comments for a chance to win an Amazon or B&N gift card as a little reward for all your hard work!*

jingle bells

SHOPPING & PRESENTS:

From Laurie Kellogg, author of the sexy, sassy holiday story No Exchanges, No Returns

I believe families bond over shared experiences, not exchanging THINGS. This gift can be a little pricier, but it’s worth the extra cost. To simplify holiday shopping, find an event or activity (play, circus, ice show, concert / bowling, skiing, rollerskating, movie, etc) that the entire family will enjoy and give everyone a ticket to attend as a group. If you can afford to be really extravagant plan a shared vacation.  I like to attach each ticket or invitation to a favorite snack or treat to personalize the gift. (It’s only one trip to the grocery story, but you have to KNOW what each family member’s guilty pleasure is). If you use tissue paper and small gift bags, your shopping is done for the entire family in less than two hours.

From Betty Bolte, author of the combination YA historical fiction and biography Hometown Heroines (True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure)

Years ago, after one memorable year trying to stuff all the presents into the trunk of the car so we could make the trip home from grandparents’ house, we started including family activities in lieu of so many “things” under the tree. So we go to see the Galaxy of Lights then go to a nice restaurant for dinner. We also try to go to a Christmas concert – at the university or a professional production – this year we’re seeing the Celtic Woman Christmas performance. This way we’re creating memories rather than filling up the house with objects, which means less time spent shopping and wrapping and more time together as a family.

From Vivi Andrews, author of the paranormal romance Finder’s Keeper

If you have a big family (like mine), consider a Secret Santa or White Elephant Gift Exchange to avoid breaking the bank while still having fun and celebrating the season.  And if your family is spread out all across the world (also like mine) and shipping costs are getting out of control, you might want to try what we do – ask for volunteers to be “designated shopper” in each city (continent, whatever works for you).  That shopper buys and wraps the presents locally (with consultation and reimbursement from the gift giver).  The giver saves on time and shipping, while the shopper gets the fun of a gift shopping binge with someone else footing the bill.  😉  We started this when my grandparents began having trouble handling the malls during the season and it has snowballed to be a family-wide phenomenon.

From author Marilyn Puett

I shop all year long and keep track of it with a list.  I made a Word document with a table with three columns:  Name, Gift, Bought.  I list all the folks for whom I need to buy a gift and print off the document.  I may pencil in gift ideas for some folks.  Then during the year when I see things on sale or see the perfect item in a mail-order catalog or online, I get it, mark what it is in the Gift column, put a check mark in the Bought column and put the item on a special shelf in the closet.  This year the bulk of my shopping was done by the end of October.  I actually bought two gifts in November of LAST year.  I saw them in a catalog, thought they would be perfect for my brother-in-law and nephew and went ahead and bought them because I was afraid they wouldn’t be available this year (they are, but they’re more expensive – WIN!).  Once all the shopping is done, I type all the info into the list and save it on my hard drive.  I have
lists going back quite a few years.  This way Uncle So-and-So doesn’t get flannel lounge pants three years in a row.  And I’m spared the stress of shopping at the last minute in all the crowds.  I have to mail gifts to a lot of my family so the early shopping means I can also beat the long lines at the post office.

When I moved in October, 2009, a friend helped me pack.  She saw a box in my closet marked “Playfriends’ Christmas Gifts” and said, “Really?”  All I could do was nod and smile.  I didn’t tell her they’d been in that box for several months.  Now she’ll know.  <G>

From author Jannette Spann

We have tall men in our family, 6 ft. 1 to 6 ft 7. I carry a card with their sizes in my purse year round, along with a tape measure. I don’t dare depend on manufacturers tags to get the sizes right.  I measure for myself. It saves time on returns.

christmas cookies

FOOD:

From Tamara Hogan, author of the paranormal romance Chase Me

My tip has to do with COOKIES. A good friend and I get together for a full day in early December and bake holiday cookies together. We choose three recipes each, and at the end of a day spent cooking, gossiping and generally catching up, we have six kinds of cookies to to divide between us. With a beautiful collection of cookies already made, it’s a simple matter to arrange a pretty plate for the neighbors, or to bring to an impromptu holiday gathering.

This sounds great, Tamara! My sister and I have done this a couple of times, not just with cookies but with pumpkin bread, chocolate covered pretzels, etc. Then we can split them into holiday containers to give out. Much more fun than cooking all day alone!

From Andrea Laurence, author of the paranormal romance Sexy as Hell

When Christmas comes around, a lot of people like to bake cookies and make candy. Unfortunately, the time is tighter that month than in any other and pre-made dough can be pretty pricy (and not that tasty, if you ask me). Save yourself time and money by making your own cookie dough ahead of time. You can probably start as early as October if you need to. It usually only takes about fifteen minutes to make a batch of cookie dough, so when you get a chance to make it, get out a cookie sheet and scoop balls of dough onto it. Stick it in the freezer for a couple hours. Once they’re frozen, you can put the dough balls in a large ziplock bag. The dough won’t stick together because it was pre-frozen. Put it back in the freezer until you’re ready to bake. Make another batch of cookie dough whenever you can and do the same. When you have the time or the need to bake, just pull out the bag and pop as many as you need into the oven. It may only require an additional minute or so of bake time from frozen. Watch your first batch’s progress and adjust accordingly.

Great idea, Andrea! This could also be done now on a weeknight, then frozen and baked later for a weekend party.

From Dani Wade, author of the contemporary romantic suspense Snow Bound

This is a combined food + present idea, but when I make up lots of food gifts, I like to use some of them for Teachers Gifts. Instead of waiting until the last day of school, I go ahead and send them with my children the next day. That way, I know teachers’ gifts are taken care of, the food is still fresh, and its one less thing my teachers have to carry home on the last day of school.

Consider making your family get-together less about meal preparation, and more about spending time together. Serve delivered pizza or have everyone bring a simple finger food, then enjoy an evening of games and conversation rather than clean-up.

One family I know makes their Christmas Eve get-together “Soup Night”. Each family brings a different soup, including several different chilis, potato soup, and beef stew. The great thing is, these can all be made in advance and frozen until the day before, then heated in crockpots. The hostess provides the “extras”, like cheese, crackers, croutons, etc. Very quick and easy!

DECORATING

From author Ella Sheridan

The past few Christmases, as my kids moved into their teenage years, have become increasingly busy. My family has simplified Christmas by going designer. What do I mean? Instead of hauling out the three tubs of family Christmas ornaments and home decor, we keep it simple and elegant: a real evergreen swag over the hearth, dotted with white candles, a real evergreen tree, decorated with 7-8 clumps of poinsettia, twigs, and feathers I save from year to year, and our nativity on the entertainment center. We can sit in the living area and enjoy Christmas without the hassle of having to work for hours to put it together or put everything away, and it looks like we spent a fortune when all we have to buy are the evergreens!

From Dani Wade

I recently received a tip from a friend when I was complaining about the hassle of decorating outside. She told me to simplify my decorations by choosing items that were easy to put out/take down and gave a lot of bang for their buck. No more ladders or hard-to-reach work. For instance, net lights for my bushes – lots of lights and all I have to do is throw them over the bush and plug in. A wreath on the door. Maybe a couple of lighted trees set on each side of the door. Voila! Done!

GET-TOGETHERS WITH FRIENDS

From Dani Wade

I don’t know about you, but I have lots of friends that I love to see over the holidays. But we all have very busy weekends that are already packed full. TWO possible solutions: 1) Get a big group of you all together on a weeknight at a restaurant. Then there’s no cooking/clean-up and fewer conflicts. 2) Put off the get-together until January, when schedules start to unwind. Christmas doesn’t only have to happen in December! Exchange gifts while you eat out, catch a movie, or whatever you had been wanting to do in December but didn’t have time for.

AND FINALLY…My Favorite

From Rita Henuber, author of the romantic thriller Under Fire: The Admiral

I suggest everyone stop listening to the media hype about what you should be doing to have a perfect holiday. There is no such animal. Relax. Hug your family.  Do what makes you and your family happy. If you want Taco Bell, KFC, or Subway on paper plates for the family feast, DO IT!  Think back to your most memorable Christmas as a child. Do you remember how perfect it was or something else? Admittedly, I am not the norm but I remember the Christmas my aunt’s furnace blew spewing oily back soot through the house and helping to clean up the mess.  My husband remembers the year his flying squirrel got loose and took out the Christmas tree. I remember when my three year old son got loose at mass, crossed over the alter and went to sit in the life size nativity scene.  My Midwest aunt kept her house at 89 degrees in the winter. At Christmas, my cousins and their families came in shorts and Hawaiian shirts. The pictures are hysterical.

Enjoy your day and hug your family – a lot.

So what steps do you take to Simplify Christmas? Comment for a chance to win an Amazon or B&N gift card!

*Prizes must be claimed within 5 days of being notified you’ve won.

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18 thoughts on “Simply Christmas

  1. Thanks for all the tips; there are some really great ones. This year finances are tight so 75% of the gifts I’m giving will be ones I’m crocheting. I started early to match the gift I’m making to the recipient – there are Minnie Mouse hats, John Deere Christmas stockings, fingerless gloves,slippers, snowman ornaments. Luckily, my circle of family and friends is not that big. My kids (17 and 18 years old) may get 1 store-bought present but they know the balance will be things mom made with love. My son has already put his order in for the things he’s seen me make for others that he wants too. I’ve already told them that all I would like from them is a story written especially for me from my daughter and a drawing done especially for me from my son. I think it will be a very special Christmas and this will help them see the true meaning of Christmas.

  2. Cheryl, That’s a beautiful way to approach the holidays! And wow on the talent! Creativity obviously runs in your family! I can’t imagine being able to crochet a line, much less a hat. 🙂 I’m sure those around you will be blessed to know you put so much time and effort into your gifts. Isn’t it funny how, when money gets tight (as it does around my house often), we start to focus on what’s truly important?

    Thanks for sharing this morning!

  3. For grandparents and great grandparents, especially if they don’t live close by, sometimes the best gift is a picture. Every year I go through every picture I’ve taken (some I’ve scanned in from really old photo albums) and choose a few to have printed. Some are normal size, some are poster, it just depends on the picture and who it’s for (If I think they’re going to put it on their desk I do a normal sized picture for instance). Then I buy some very plain, very cheap frames, carefully take them apart (as in take the glass out so they can’t mess it up) and let the kids decorate. It’s personalized, and they love it. It’s not just a great present, it’s also a great way to get the kids involved in the giving part of Christmas. My favorite was last year when my daughter solemnly handed over the gift, looked her great grandmother in the eye and said very proudly “I made this for you.” My grandmother (who is not an emotional or affectionate woman) cried. It was perfect.

  4. I’m not the most organized person (*cough cough*) so, I don’t shop early, my Christmas gifts are usually wrapped the night before, and my lights are always in a tangle when I go to put them up the next year. LOL. So, I guess my ‘advice’ would be in line with Rita’s–to slow down and just enjoy the moment. We get so wrapped up in trying to make everything perfect that we forget what the season is about in the first place.

    I also think, this year, we’re going to do small gifts, and wait until after the holiday for any big ticket items. For instance, my boys want a laptop and I refused to stand in massive Black Friday lines to try to score some sort of a deal that turns out to not be much of a deal after all. Everything that I’ve been reading says that electronics are actually cheaper after the holidays (and a lot of toys go on clearance in the new year too!), so I think we’re going to do a few small items with a special note that they’ll be able to pick out a laptop in the new year.

  5. I love the post ideas!

    Our kids are still young–this may be the first Christmas they actually remember. So I’ve been trying to figure out how to fend off the extended family drama and try to build our own traditions for them. But I’ve been afraid of them getting to caught up in the commercialism. The idea of taking them to some sort of performance is perfect. For whatever reason, the Christmas I most remember is the one and only year we got to go see The Nutcracker. I’ll have to confer with the hubby and see what made his youthful Christmases most special. (I’m just hoping he doesn’t pull out the year he found a parked dirt bike in front of the tree and cranked it up at 5am…in the house.) >.<

  6. These are fabulous ideas – thanks!

    I try to pick one item a week to focus on, from Thanksgiving on. The week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I do a lot of online shopping…by then, I know what my kids will want (and will stick to), and there are some fabulous deals shipped right to my door. 🙂 The second week is decorating. The next week, I work on our family’s holiday letter. The next is gifts for teachers, neighbors, etc. The week before is about wrapping the gifts. Breaking it up into pieces seems to work best for me. 🙂

    Also, my siblings (and their spouses) and I started drawing a “secret sibling santa” each year to cut down on expenses and shopping for everyone. This year, we decided to make it more fun by having a theme, and chose humorous T-shirts for whoever we’d drawn. It was such fun picking one out!

  7. I have just one thing to add to this discussion. DISPOSABLE DINNERWARE..I’m with Rita. Make your life easy and enjoy! All of the big box stores, Sam’s, BJ’s, Costco have great prices on high-quality paper plates, plastic cutlery, aluminum backing pans, plastic cups, etc. Take the stress out of the holidays and forget about going green. I know, I’m a bad, bad person. But I’m also someone who gets to enjoy my company instead of spending the day doing dishes.

  8. TJ, I’ve done this a few times and it always goes over great! When my kids were little, I actually bought a box of plain wood picture frames from an outlet craft store, so we could do them each year (without breaking the bank).
    I’ve also waited until Groupon’s come out for places like Shutterfly, and ordered printed scrapbooks for grandparents! I love to scrapbook, but don’t have the time now. Doing it online is quick and easy, and the groupons are usually at least half off!

  9. A.N. – I think, even if you have a lot of family vying for attention, that making your own traditions puts that very special touch on Christmas! We only have to juggle 2 families, and we are still pressed for time. But we now have a tradition of having people to OUR house for Christmas starting around lunch. We eat finger foods and play games long into the evening. When anyone asks, we say we can’t leave the house on Christmas because people are coming over, but they are always welcome to join us!

    And just 1 thought, since your kids are little (this is neither simple, nor a tip, just a fun suggestion): 1 year when we were extremely strapped for cash (the kids weren’t getting anything exceptional, but several fun small things) a friend suggested doing a scavenger hunt for the presents! So after they fell asleep on Christmas Eve, we hid all their presents and left messages to lead them to the next location. They had a blast! And still ask to do this every Christmas morning. 🙂

  10. Anne Marie, that idea speaks to the organizer in me!!! 🙂 I think maybe I might actually get more done if I had a focus every week (and a week to get it done in) rather than trying to tackle everything at once. Thanks!

  11. Laurie, If you’re bad, I’m even worse. Paper plates is what we eat off of around here. *shame face* I hate doing dishes, and if this makes my life a little easier, then so be it. Now, I get nicer plates for the Christmas Day group (sturdier too), and plastic cups (because they’ll go through 4 apiece just setting them down and forgetting about them.

  12. Hi Dani
    I think we all need to start off with the mindset that nothing is “perfect”. Once I got that in my head, the rest comes easy. As some have noted, I make a list of who I need to purchase for, an idea of what to purchase, list 2 or 3 ideas, & proceed. If time is short, use a gift bag as opposed to wrapping. Do a little each evening, whether related to Christmas details, chores or whatever, so that it’s not so overwhelming.

  13. Great idea, Ginger! I only wish I could get the “nothing is perfect” thing down. I do fine for some things, then I backslide for others. 🙂 I used to wrap packages with pretty fabric bows and decorations, but now I mostly use gift bags! Just so much easier and quicker (and still cute)!

  14. Thanks, everyone, for sharing all your ideas for simplifying the holidays! I know I’ve learned quite a few things I’ll be doing this year and in years to come. And the winner of our gift card is… Ginger Robertson! I’ll be contacting your shortly about your prize!

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