The clock is ticking, and with Christmas just around the corner, there’s a familiar buzz of excitement mixed with just a hint of panic. You might be feeling that despite your best intentions, you’re staring at a ‘to-do’ list that rivals Santa’s famous checklist.
With gifts still to purchase and decorations waiting for their showcase moment, it can seem overwhelming—even for the most seasoned holiday heroes.
But take heart—I know exactly what you’re going through! Did you realize the average person dedicates roughly 38 hours prepping for Christmas?
That’s almost like adding a full workweek into our already busy lives! So I’ve been on an elf-like mission, scouring every tip trick I could find to help us both navigate this festive season without losing our cool.
To help make this season a little easier, I’m sharing some last-minute prep strategies, stress-melting activities and self-care essentials to keep your spirits merry and bright. Prepare yourself for some serious yuletide cheer!
Use the table of contents below to jump to the section you’re most interested in.
Holiday Baking Tips
Simplify Your Recipes
Choose recipes that require minimal ingredients and steps. For example, opt for drop cookies instead of ones that need rolling and cutting, or go for simple brownies or bar cookies that can be baked in one pan. Look for recipes labeled as “one-bowl” or “no-mixer-required” for maximum convenience.
Make Use of Pre-Made Ingredients
Don’t hesitate to use pre-made doughs, pie crusts, or cake mixes as a base. You can add your own twist with a few additional ingredients like spices, nuts, or fruit zest to give them a homemade feel. For example, turning a simple sugar cookie dough into festive treats by adding orange zest and cranberries.
Batch Baking and Freezing
If you’re really pressed for time, bake one type of cookie or treat in a large batch, rather than multiple types. You can also make dough ahead of time and freeze it. Then, when you’re ready to bake, just thaw, slice, and bake.
Use simple but effective decorations. A dusting of powdered sugar, a drizzle of melted chocolate, or festive sprinkles can add a festive touch without much effort. Edible gold or silver leaf can also add a touch of elegance with minimal effort.
Timing is Key
Organize your baking process efficiently. While one batch is in the oven, prepare the next. Also, use time-saving tools like parchment paper for easy cleanup, and a cookie scoop for quickly and uniformly shaping cookies.
Holiday Decorating Hacks
String lights are a quick and effective way to create a warm, festive atmosphere. Drape them over mantels, around doorways, or even in glass jars for a twinkling display. If you don’t have traditional Christmas lights, any white or warm-toned fairy lights will do.
Use what nature offers. Pine cones, branches, holly, and evergreen sprigs can be gathered and arranged in vases, or laid out on tables for a rustic, cozy feel. You can even spray paint them gold or silver for a more glamorous look.
Paper can be easily transformed into beautiful decorations. Create paper snowflakes, stars, or garlands. You can hang them from the ceiling, stick them to windows, or use them to adorn your Christmas tree. Colored or patterned paper adds an extra festive touch.
Candles and Lanterns
Candles create a warm, inviting atmosphere. Place them in safe areas around your home, using varying heights for visual interest. Lanterns can also be used, either with candles inside or filled with baubles, fairy lights, or pine cones.
Apart from decorating the tree, ornaments can be displayed in other creative ways. Fill a large glass bowl or vase with colorful baubles, hang them at different lengths from a light fixture, or scatter them across a mantelpiece. This repurposes what you already have for an additional decorative element.
Printable Wall Art
One of the easiest ways to decorate your home and update it for each season is with printable wall art. Buy some pretty, inexpensive frames and change out the designs each season.
Last Minute Gifts
Gift Cards or E-Certificates
A classic last-minute gift that can be purchased online and delivered instantly via email. Choose from a wide range of options like retail stores, restaurants, online subscriptions, or streaming services.
Experiences Over Things
Gift an experience, like tickets to a concert, a movie, a play, or a virtual event. You can also consider gifting a class or workshop, like cooking, painting, or pottery, which can be a unique and memorable gift.
Homemade gifts can be quick and thoughtful. Consider baking cookies, making a photo collage, crafting a handmade card, or creating a personalized playlist.
These are a great way to give something that keeps on giving. There are subscription boxes for virtually every interest – from gourmet foods and wines to books and beauty products.
Here are some suggestions:
- For coffee lovers: Atlas Coffee Club (Use code CACTUS50 to take 50% off the first month) or Bean Box
- For escape room fans: Finders Seekers or Deadbolt Mystery Society
- For people too busy to cook: Blue Apron or Hungryroot
- For bakers: Bake Eat Love
- For beauty enthusiasts: Birch Box (Use code CACTUS5 to take $15 off a monthly, 3-month or 12-month subscription) or Ipsy
- For crafters: The Adults & Crafts Crate
- For kid crafters: We Craft Box
- For tweens:
- For wine lovers: California Wine Club
- For cocktail lovers: Shaker & Spoon or Premium Alcohol Cocktail Kit
- For book lovers: Book of the Month Club
E-books, audiobooks, online courses, or memberships to online platforms can be purchased and sent in minutes, making them perfect for last-minute gifting.
Themed Gift Baskets
Quickly assemble a gift basket with a specific theme – like a movie night basket with popcorn, candy, and a streaming service gift card, or a spa basket with bath bombs, candles, and lotions.
Plant a Little Love
A potted plant or a beautiful bouquet can be a quick yet thoughtful gift. They’re readily available at local supermarkets or florists and add a touch of life and color.
Charitable Donation in Their Name
If the recipient is passionate about a cause, making a donation in their name can be a meaningful gift. This can be arranged quickly online.
Create your own vouchers for services you can offer, like a night of babysitting, a home-cooked meal, or a day out together. It’s personal, thoughtful, and can be created at home.
Local Artisan or Specialty Shops
Check out local craft fairs, artisan shops, or specialty stores. You can often find unique gifts while also supporting local businesses.
Same Day Delivery Gifts
If you don’t have time to put something together but really want to provide something tangible, look for places with same-day delivery like:
- From You Flowers (Take $15 off for with code MB1)
- Edible Arrangements
- Cookies by Design
- Harry & David
Fun Family Holiday Activities
Holiday Movie Marathon
Choose a selection of favorite holiday movies, make some popcorn, and have a movie night at home. You can even make it a themed night with matching pajamas and hot cocoa.
Baking and Cookie Decorating
Spend a day baking holiday cookies or treats and then have fun decorating them. You can even have a cookie decorating contest for added excitement.
DIY Ornament or Craft Day
Get creative with a craft day. Make homemade ornaments, holiday cards, or decorations. This is a great way for family members of all ages to get creative and make something special.
If weather permits, go for a family walk or hike to enjoy the winter scenery. Building a snowman, having a snowball fight, or going sledding can be great ways to enjoy the outdoors.
Visit Holiday Light Displays
Many communities have light displays or decorated neighborhoods. Take an evening to drive around and see the lights, or visit any local holiday events.
Family Game Night
Break out the board games or card games for a family game night. For a holiday twist, you could play games that are holiday-themed or have small prizes with a holiday flair.
Holiday Story Time
Gather around and read holiday stories or books. This can be especially magical for young children and can become a cherished family tradition.
Cook a Special Meal Together
Choose a special meal to prepare and cook together as a family. It could be a traditional holiday meal, or something new and different that everyone is interested in trying.
Volunteer as a Family
The holiday season is a great time to give back. Consider volunteering at a local food bank, shelter, or community center as a family.
Create a Family Time Capsule
Reflect on the past year by creating a time capsule. Have each family member contribute something to the capsule, then decide on a future date when you’ll open it again.
Easy Holiday Meals
Dishes that can be cooked in a single pot or pan, like stews, casseroles, or a one-pan roast, are great for saving time and effort. Consider a one-pot roast chicken with vegetables, or a beef stew that can be left to simmer while you take care of other tasks.
Sheet Pan Meals
Utilize your oven with sheet pan meals. You can roast a combination of proteins and vegetables together on a single pan. For example, roast salmon with asparagus and cherry tomatoes, or chicken thighs with root vegetables.
Combine store-bought items with homemade touches for a meal that feels special without all the work. For instance, buy pre-made pie crusts and add your own filling, or enhance a store-bought soup with fresh herbs and a swirl of cream.
Slow Cooker or Instant Pot Meals
Utilize kitchen gadgets like slow cookers or Instant Pots. These devices do most of the work for you and are perfect for making tender meats, soups, and even desserts.
Create a fun and interactive meal with a build-your-own station. Set up a taco bar, a pizza station with various toppings, or a sandwich board. This not only makes preparation easier but also caters to different tastes and dietary preferences.
Save time by using pre-chopped vegetables, pre-marinated meats, or pre-cooked grains. These ingredients can be found in most grocery stores and are a great shortcut for quicker meal prep.
Festive Pasta Dishes
Pasta dishes are usually quick to prepare and can be dressed up for the holidays. Consider a creamy Alfredo pasta with shrimp, or a hearty Bolognese with a sprinkle of Parmesan and fresh basil.
Simple but Elegant Salads
A well-composed salad can be both easy and impressive. Mix greens with elements like nuts, cheese, dried fruit, and a simple homemade vinaigrette. Add grilled chicken or salmon for a more substantial meal.
Desserts Made Easy
Opt for easy desserts like chocolate fondue with fruit, no-bake cheesecake, or puff pastry tarts with store-bought pastry.
Plan and Prep Ahead
Do as much preparation as possible in advance. Chop vegetables, marinate meats, and make sauces or dressings ahead of time. This will significantly reduce your cooking time on the day.
Remember, the holidays are about enjoying time with loved ones, so these tips are designed to help you spend less time in the kitchen and more time celebrating!
Prepare for unexpected guests
The holidays often result in impromptu or unexpected guests. To be ready, I always keep a few extra gifts wrapped and labeled in case someone stops by. Stock up on easy-to-make snacks and drinks too.
It helps to have a spare set of festive plates and napkins handy for impromptu gatherings. Being prepared makes me feel less stressed when visitors pop in!
I keep some simple activities on hand like holiday-themed movies or games that everyone can enjoy together. If I’m hosting dinner, having a few extra place settings already arranged can save time and hassle.
Self-Care During the Holidays
Set Realistic Expectations
Remember that it’s okay not to have a ‘perfect’ holiday. Be realistic about what you can achieve and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s more important to enjoy the moment than to meet every expectation.
Take Time for Yourself
Amidst the hustle and bustle, carve out some time just for you. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a long bath, practicing yoga, or simply sitting quietly with a cup of tea, make sure to have some alone time to recharge.
Regular physical activity can reduce stress and improve mood. This doesn’t have to be intense exercise – a brisk walk, a short yoga session, or even dancing around the house to your favorite holiday tunes can be beneficial.
Connect with Loved Ones
The holidays are a great time to reconnect with family and friends, but remember to engage in these interactions in ways that are fulfilling and not overwhelming. Video calls, sending holiday cards, or even writing emails can be a good way to stay connected.
Limit Holiday Indulgences
While it’s tempting to overindulge during the holidays, try to maintain some balance. Enjoy your favorite holiday treats in moderation and don’t forget to include healthy meals and plenty of water in your diet.
Get Enough Rest
Ensure you’re getting enough sleep. The holidays can be exhausting, and lack of sleep can add to stress levels. Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible.
Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude
Take a few moments each day to practice mindfulness or gratitude. Reflecting on the things you are thankful for or spending a few minutes meditating can help maintain a positive and grounded perspective.
It’s okay to say no to activities or obligations that are too stressful or draining. Setting boundaries is crucial for maintaining your mental and emotional well-being.
Seek Professional Help if Needed
If you find yourself feeling consistently overwhelmed or anxious, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for support.
Plan for Post-Holiday Relaxation
Often, there’s a letdown after the holidays. Plan something relaxing for after the holiday season, like a mini-getaway or a spa day, to give yourself something to look forward to.
Remember, self-care is not selfish; it’s essential. Taking care of yourself ensures you have the energy and spirit to enjoy the holiday season to its fullest!
Merry Christmas! Today, I’m leaving all of the links from yesterday intact so you can download any of my printable family activities. PLUS, I’m giving you a FREE 2024 Digital Planner to help you get ahead for the new year.
Click the link for the printable(s) you want, it will take you directly to the PDF.
- Christmas Games
- Christmas Scattergories
- Christmas Would You Rather
- Christmas Gift Scavenger Hunt
- Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt
- Christmas Tic Tac Toe
- Christmas Chatterbox
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow. I have one final Christmas gift for you!