There are the holidays, and then there is preparation for the holidays. Let us share our favorite "holiday hacks" for you.
Sift through the million-and-one holiday hints on social media or blog sites about easy table settings, DIY wrapping paper storage, snowman cookie recipes, or make-it-yourself ornaments, and you’ll feel either inspired to rev up your glue gun or sit back with a hot toddy and wait for the new year.
Whether you cherish preparing your home for entertaining or find holiday prep a stressful ordeal, everyone can use more time for enjoying the moments when family and friends are together. With this aim in mind, we’ve pulled together ways to prepare for, and enjoy the holidays with those you love for some memorable holiday moments. And, lest you end up consumed by hosting duties, we’ve selected a few time savers to help you in the kitchen and leave you free to savor the season.
Holiday hacks to enjoy holiday traditions that gather families
The greatest part of the holidays is spending time with your family and that means participating in customs and observances that celebrate our heritage or bring families closer together. Traditions allow us to be present with one another and are especially important in today’s sped-up culture, says Abigail Brenner, M.D.
“Traditions establish and strengthen family bonds by providing a solid structure, a sense of continuity, and a feeling of belonging,” Brenner wrote in Psychology Today.1
For some families, a tradition may be a special dish, a game, or a gift-giving ritual, and for others it’s simply the way a holiday unfolds, from conversation at the table to cookies near the Christmas tree.
Teaching your holiday traditions to grandchildren
Children especially crave the sense of love and belonging that family traditions inspire. Teaching your grandchildren how to make a holiday recipe or reading them a holiday story (try Guess Who’s Coming To Santa’s For Dinner by Tomie dePaola or Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel) make bonding easier. Other ways to emphasize your relationship include giving a special ornament to each grandchild or walking around the neighborhood together to look at holiday lights.
Traditions that draw everyone together are usually the best entertainment too. Playing games, competing in quizzes, giving white elephant gifts, singing carols, or decorating for the holidays create connection and fond memories. Here are a few ideas for gathering people together:
Playing “Would You Rather” (e.g. “Would you rather swim with stingrays or explore the jungle?”) can provide lots of insight and laughter. More questions here.
Host a cookie swap (everyone brings home a selection) or exchange ornaments wrapped up as secret Santa gifts.
Pictionary using a holiday-related theme (such as holiday movies) for drawing topics.
“Guess Who” with a holiday theme. The host makes a list of things people may do around the holidays (for example, “returned a gift she/he received last year” or “loves to sing carols”) and then each guest must find someone at the party for whom the description fits.
Make time for the special moments
Hosting any holiday gathering is hard work. It’s easier to savor the peace and joy of the season if you’ve added some shortcuts into your preparation. As a Good Housekeeping, 1939 Christmas issue2 suggested timesaver was to do the last-minute shopping three days before Christmas, which was when the cook could have had to prepare for a three- or four-course Christmas dinner. They also suggested a Christmas wish list of “...many...fascinating electrical devices—roasters, waffle bakers, toaster sets, and heat-regulated irons. They never fail to bring joy.” Whether receiving these devices joy can be debated, but today's home cooks do enjoy the benefits of time-saving, modern kitchen appliances, such as convection ovens, microwaves and dishwashers.
Holiday hacks that cut down on prep time
Today, finding appliances that can cut down on prep time has given way to finding apps or “hacks” that can help with our organizing, shopping, menu planning, and gift selecting (and there are several apps that do each of these; try TeuxDeux for organizing; Wish for shopping affordable accessories, electronics, and home goods; and Giftry for gift lists). Here are a few more tried-and-true holiday hacks:
Bring out the slow cooker.
Clean out your refrigerator and pantry two weeks in advance and donate non perishables.
Download the Epicurious or Mealime app to help with menu planning.
Schedule more time than usual for errands and last-minute shopping; traffic can be heavier than normal and parking scarcer.
Stumped for gift ideas? Cut “gift clutter” and consider giving an experience like concert tickets or cooking classes, a trip to a museum or try planning a holiday adventure.
The art of achieving stress-free holidays
It’s important to remember that slowing down and managing your expectations of yourself and others during the holidays will go a long way to keeping you happier even when you’re juggling dozens of holiday details.
“Enlist some help in accomplishing some of the tasks on your list and take some time out. Destressing can benefit you and the rest of your family,” advises Medical News Today in an article titled “How to Reduce Christmas Stress.”3 “Focus on doing something that you find relaxing to recharge your batteries, such as reading a book, watching a Christmas movie, listening to music or going for a massage.”
Taking a walk can also clear your mind and reduce stress. A Princeton University research team4 found that being physical reorganizes the brain and reduces activity in the part of the brain that regulates anxiety. Better yet, invite friends along and make it a social outing too. Here are several ways you can be fit after 55.
Of course, laughter is the best way to put yourself in a holiday humor. Sharing jokes or playing games with your family (try holiday-themed Pictionary, above) is the best way to celebrate the season.
Getting the most out of holidays with grandkids
Holiday traditions are a very special way for grandparents to bond with their grandchildren, so it's important to plan for the holidays. If you are playing host this year, you have a golden opportunity to plan some creative things to do with your grandchildren or your entire family. Pinterest has a trove of holiday arts and crafts: two we like are making salt dough handprint ornaments (for very young children) or letting children make their own wrapping paper (here’s one decorated with Santa handprints).
Including children in preparations for the holidays, like creating some fun table settings (here’s an Amazon video for making paper flowers to decorate your table), cutting pie crust dough into shapes to ornament your Christmas dessert, or “grateful for you” cards to place at everyone’s seat in lieu of a place cards, can be a special way to spend time together. Just make sure you are adequately prepared, in terms of time and space (creating a kid-friendly work space is ideal), and use just a few ingredients unless you don’t mind the extra time it takes to clean up.
There are, of course, old standby activities like singing or listening to Christmas carols, driving around to look at the neighborhood’s holiday decorations and lights, baking cookies, and decorating the tree. If the children are eager to have a visit from Santa, pull up the NORAD Santa tracker and watch its “radar map” of Santa’s whereabouts as he whisks around the globe. Google also has its own version with some easy games as well to entertain kids.
Technology detracts from family togetherness
Like many families, your children and grandchildren may live far away from you. Holidays may be the one time, aside from occasional family vacations, when you spend concentrated amounts of time together. Even for families that live near each other, busy schedules and technological distractions can mean that families spend less time together, and more time on computers or cell phones.
Making a comfortable, distraction-free environment for your adult children, as well as your grandchildren, may be one of the greatest gifts they receive this holiday. You may even want to follow this tip from California-based parent educator website, Parents Place, and ask that cell phones get checked at the door.
“In my parent education classes, I often ask parents to...make a promise to themselves and to their children not to check phones until the children are in their beds. I also advise that computers not replace family time to talk and gather, and that they are placed in a central location, so that use can be monitored,” wrote Mechele Pruitt, director of Parents Place in San Francisco.
Beyond the holiday hacks: make sure you savor the holiday season
The holidays signal a special time of year. But it can also be a busy, stressful time if there’s travel involved or unexpected challenges like bad weather or canceled flights. By savoring the best of the season—an unexpected courtesy from a stranger or an exchange of greetings with a faraway friend—we remember the holiday spirit and can inspire it in others.
It’s often said that holidays are for children but the true joy of the holidays—spending time together with those we love—is universal. Whether your turkey is done to a turn or your table settings are grand matters very little in comparison. Here’s to making merry this holiday and may you enjoy all that the season brings.
For more information:
1Brenner, Abigail M.D. “Five Ways to Create Family Traditions,” Psychology Today. May 29, 2014, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201405/5-ways-create-family-traditions. Accessed October 18, 2019.
2Good housekeeping: Volume 109, Number 6. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=hearth;rgn=full%20text;idno=6417403_1411_006;view=image;seq=100;cc=hearth;page=root;size=s;frm=frameset; Accessed October 18, 2019.
3Nichols, Hannah. "How to reduce Christmas stress." Medical News Today. December 7, 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320295.php. Accessed October 18, 2019.
4Kelly, Morgan, Princeton University Press Release. “Exercise Reorganizes the Brain to be More Resilient to Stress” July 3, 2013, https://www.princeton.edu/news/2013/07/03/exercise-reorganizes-brain-be-more-resilient-stress Accessed October 18, 2019.
5Pruitt, Mechele. “Is Using Your Phone Affecting Your Child and Family Life?” Feb. 12, 2015 https://parentsplace.jfcs.org/using-phone-affecting-child-family-life/ Accessed October 18, 2019.