Top Tips For A Happy And Relaxed Christmas

26/11/2014 16:01 | Updated 22 May 2015

Top tips for a happy and relaxed ChristmasRex Features

It's nearly Christmas! Yay-arrggghhh! The fact is, much of the organising and preparation falls to mum and, given there are probably not enough hours your day anyway, and you spend a large proportion of your time feeling on the brink of insanity, Christmas really does have the potential to push you over the edge.

Go easy on yourself this year and try these Christmas time/money/sanity savers.

Bin the Christmas cards

There was a time I used to write out and send about 70 Christmas cards every year. These days, the thought of finding time to complete such a task seems laughable. It actually makes me laugh! So just forget about it. Send a Christmas email to the ones you love. (Attach a photo of the children looking mortified with antlers on, people love that). If you absolutely have to send out something with a snowman or Santa on the front, send something fun from one of the myriad e-card websites. And if anyone is upset by you not putting pen to paper and having a card delivered via train/plane/automobile, you have the perfect excuse: "Christmas cards are very bad for the environment and my Christmas gift to you is helping to save the planet on which you live."

Time saving 5/5

Money saving 5/5

Sanity saving 2/5 (You may wrestle with your guilt about not sending cards to elderly relatives who are not online. Last date for second class post is Saturday 17th December)

...and the wrapping paper too

Every year I am absolutely incensed at how much Christmas wrapping paper costs. Yes, it is pretty, sometimes it is even a bit sparkly. But it is PAPER and it is going to be ripped up and chucked in a recycling bin. So get the children to do a bit of DIY. You can buy a 4m roll of strong recycled brown paper for £1. Use your Christmassy pastry cutters to make potato stamps and let the kids get creative with their red and green (ooh, and silver) poster paints. It's not slave labour, they'll enjoy it, honest.

Time saving 0/5

Money saving 4/5

Sanity saving ?/5 (Depends on factors including how willing the children actually are and how much they will be tempted to stamp holly leaves and stars on the kitchen cupboards.)

Do not, under any circumstances, go Christmas shopping with a toddler

Really, do not contemplate it, not even if the local mall has a grotto (Santa will probably be terrifying anyway, and he will charge you a fiver to make your children cry).

Shopping with toddlers is madness, only insane people do it. You will either come with nothing at all (except a migraine), or you will come home with nothing useful because you will have panic bought everyone's presents in your effort to leave the shop before your child scales that carefully crafted tower of merchandise.

Either ask someone to look after the children while you blitz it, or buy everything online.

Time saving 4/5

Money saving 4/5

Sanity saving 5/5

Don't overspend

It seems obvious, especially in these times of austerity, but it is so easy to get carried away at Christmas – and then have the worry of paying off credit card bills and overdrafts. So set limits and stick to them and, if your children are asking for something overly expensive, share the cost with other members of the family and make sure the kids know it's a joint gift.

Doing a 'Secret Santa' with extended family, with a set budget of £5 or £10 or £15, is a good way to keep costs down. Everyone gets a gift and then has to guess who bought it for them.

I am seriously thinking of doing that this year, particularly because my daughter Ava wanted to buy pink wellies for her dad's birthday in July... and I would just LOVE to see his face.

Or do what we did last year and make Christmas marmalade as a family – we found a great spiced orange and pomegranate recipe and made stickers with our picture on. Even if your recipients think it's horrible, they will never, ever tell you.

Time saving 3/5 (You'll save plenty of time by doing less shopping, but not so much if you make marmalade.)

Money saving 5/5

Sanity saving 5/5 (Come the New Year anyway.)

...and don't buy gifts just for the sake of it

Oh lordy, can you imagine how much tat is given each Christmas and then lies around in people's houses just waiting to be set free to take up space in a landfill? Seriously, if you really can't come up with a gift that you know someone will like or enjoy (perhaps you don't really know them well enough to be buying them a gift anyway?!) get them a voucher. You might think a voucher is boring, but it is not. A fiver to put towards clothes or books or music it is considerably better than a lame present purchased just for the sake of 'having something to open'.

Time saving 5/5 (Two minutes to buy a voucher online vs two hours trawling shops and then buying Rudolph slippers.)

Money saving 2/5 (You might be tempted to up the budget so you don't look tight.)

Sanity saving 5/5 (Theirs rather than yours.)

Invest in LED lights

If there is one thing guaranteed to make the language in my house as rich as the Christmas pudding, it is getting the massive Christmas tree into the living room, propping it up, preparing to decorate – and then finding the !*@!#*! lights don't work any more (and the shops are shut). Go and invest in LED ones. They cost more to start with but they don't break (seemingly ever) and so work out better value in the long run. They are also prettier than the normal ones.

Time saving 3/5 (Will save angry trips to shops in years to come.)

Money saving 3/5 (They'll pay for themselves and some over the years.)

Sanity saving 5/5

Have a clear out

If you are slightly dreading the airlift of new toys, make space for them by having a clear out a few weeks before Christmas. Get the children to do it with you, being sensible about the things they no longer play with. If you could do with some extra cash, try selling it on eBay or at a car boot sale, or otherwise donate the good stuff to charities, which will be a good lesson for the kids about the spirit of Christmas.

Time saving 0/5 (But it will be worth it.)

Money saving 3/5 (If you manage to sell anything.)

Sanity saving 5/5

Top tips for a happy and relaxed ChristmasRex Features

Spend time on the magic

Christmas might all feel like a big pressure what with entertaining extended family and feeding the 5,000, but keep perspective on who you want Christmas to be really special for – the children.

Your best memories in years to come will be the looks of wonderment on their faces, so spend time thinking up ways to make it really magical for them. In our house, the girls will come downstairs to find 'snow' around the fireplace and tramped all over the living room floor (carpet is knackered anyway). Santa will have forgotten his hat and there might well be a reindeer poo in the front garden.

Time saving 0/5

Money saving 0/5

Sanity saving 0/5 (The neighbours will think you're mad putting a big fake poo in the garden, and actually, you probably are. A bit).

Let Santa get creative

If you don't want your children to wake you up insane o'clock on Christmas morning, do what my dad did one year and get Santa to do them a treasure hunt.

Instead of stuffing their stockings with gifts and hanging them on the fireplace in the living room, just attach the first clue (along with instructions to stay quiet) and put it at the foot of their bed or on the bedroom door. You can hide all the gifts around their room before they go to bed on Christmas Eve, each one with a clue of where to find the next. It'll take a bit of planning but I seem to remember it kept my sister and I busy for a good hour and a half on Christmas morning.

Time saving 0/5

Money saving 0/5

Sanity saving 5/5

Get everyone to chip in with dinner

The truth is, your mother in law probably wanted to do the cooking anyway. So you do the bird and ask everyone else to chip in with the trimmings and the pudding. Not doing everything yourself does not make you weak, it makes you sensible (and also not half dead by 4pm).

Time saving 5/5

Money saving 5/5

Sanity saving 5/5

Finally, watch Christmas EastEnders

Even if you don't usually watch EastEnders, do watch it on Christmas Day because, if your day has been less than perfect (as most people's will be for one reason or another) it will make you feel better. You might have bickered about making the house presentable before the onslaught, you might have screamed at the children because they are driving you crazy being all jazzed up on selection boxes at 10am, but at least (in all hope) no one in your house will have been murdered or been served divorce papers with their yule log. Christmas Eastenders is genius, believe me.

Time saving 0/5

Money saving 0/5

Sanity saving One million/5

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