Christmas Countdown: How To Take The Stress Out Of The Season

26/11/2014 15:46 | Updated 22 May 2015

Stressed woman writing Christmas listsRex Features

Will all be well in your house this Christmas Eve?

Will you spend the day sorting out your outfit for Christmas Day, adding glossy finishing touches to the presents, then snuggling up with the kids to a classic Christmas film before leisurely baking a last batch of mince pies for tomorrow (carols in the background) and getting a relatively early night, thereby leaving the coast clear for Santa to pay all a visit?

I thought not. You and me both reader.

Up until quite recently Christmas Eve, and indeed the last couple of weeks in the run up 25 December, were probably some of the most stressful days in the whole year for me.

Ridiculous when you think about what some people have to contend with. But missing the ferry to France and losing my husband's driving licence aside, I wouldn't wish the stress that used to go into Christmas on my worst enemy.

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But then I saw the light. Christmas Day should be a day of great joy for the whole family – that includes you dear Parentdish parent – and so I called a truce on trying to be the perfect hostess, the perfect cook, the perfect present provider and the perfect all-round Christmas Fairy. It feels good.

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I sat down and tried to work out what really mattered and what really didn't matter at all. Out went the homemade cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Out went the time spent making my own Christmas cards – I had convinced myself this was quality time well-spent with the children. In truth they couldn't have cared less and I used to get cross. Out went volunteering to make cookies for after the school nativity plays – I would happily buy them but I wasn't going to make them anymore.

So gradually I have become a dab hand at preparing well ahead as far as Christmas goes, then we all wake up happy on Christmas Day, as opposed to me, as happened a few years ago, waking up exhausted, and with a temperature, and spending the entire day ill in bed.

Here, I happily share some of the things I have introduced which have helped bring the fun back into Christmas, rather than the bah-humbug version.

Top tips for a less stressful Christmas Day.

1. Buy your Christmas cards now and also buy the stamps. There are currently no queues in my post office. There will be queues throughout December. Start writing your cards now too. Writing say five a day is so much easier than trying to write them all in a rush and in a futile attempt to beat the last posting date. This allows you time to jot a friendly but short note in any cards that need it – rather than sending out those dreadful boasting round robins that cause great mirth in our household. You can post them whenever you like – the point is they will have been done.

2. Check last overseas posting dates for parcels and get those presents now, wrap them, get the correct postage and then put to one side and post them at the beginning of December.

3. Preparing food for the holiday period is key to taking it easy during Christmas week. Get your cookery books out, search the web and get cooking now. A great alternative to cold turkey on Boxing Day is a heart-warming beef casserole. You can't really beat it. And the real beauty of it is that you can make it now and put it in the freezer. Similarily soups, pies, puddings can all be made ahead and frozen. In the same vein, buy luxury versions of cranberry sauce and bread sauce and freeze. On the day thaw them and decant into beautiful china. Will anyone notice it's home-made or shop-bought by the time they tuck in? This way you won't spend the festive season slaving away in the kitchen whilst everyone else appears to be laughing merrily in the front room and clinking their glasses.

4. And on the subject of cooking – last year I arranged beforehand with my sister-in-law that she would cook the turkey at her house before she and her family joined us for Christmas Day lunch. It worked perfectly, allowing me to cook everything else without also trying to get the meat cooked, and it kept them away from our house until 1pm, thereby allowing us breathing space and equally giving them some family time alone before we all got together for a truly fabulous celebration.

5. If you have invited family or friends for Christmas Day lunch, or indeed to stay over for one or more nights, you must accept all offers of help proffered. If they ask can they bring food, or table presents, or their own linen and towels to save you extra work – then accept graciously. If you love these people enough to invite them into your home and if they love you enough to accept – then drop the formalities.

6. Begin writing your Christmas present list today. Anytime from September if my brood mention there's something they would like/need/want, I mentally think "Christmas present" and jot it down. I also start buying my presents about now – I would far rather buy three or four presents a week now, thoughtfully and with time, then run around the shops on 20th December in a wild blind panic.

7. If you must, or even would like, to host a Christmas do, think about being one of the first to open your doors to welcome in the season of goodwill to all. How about hosting Sunday lunch drinks on Stir up Sunday – traditionally the day those wishing to make their Christmas puddings do so. This will give it a legal Christmas angle. And if 20th November (this year's Stir up Sunday), seems a tad too early, then why not go for the first Sunday in December? That way no-one is Christmas partied out and everyone will be raring to go. And you'll have done your bit and can sit back and accept all those reciprocal invites.

8. If you are a church goer and your children are getting older, consider attending Christmas Eve midnight services, rather than trying to marry present opening with getting to church on time. Stressful situation avoided.

What tips would you share with others?

How have you honed the stress and increased the fun for you and your family?

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