Some say it’s possible not to freak out about holiday preparations. Skeptical?
With good reason. You’ve been around this block before. So maybe the goal is to at least reduce the freak-out quotient, to actively choose to skip some portion of the anxiety — and cost.
We’ve collected ideas from readers and a few holiday specialists in four areas: organizing; decorating; cooking and baking; gifts and cards.
Ann Roll of Kansas City, Mo., says decorating is one matter you can get your head around without having it explode. Besides their worries about time and money constraints, many people don’t want to deal with an overabundance of stuff, hauling it out and then storing it again. Focus attention on just a few impact areas. Hit those hard, and call it done.
“With or without a decorated tree, you have a home ready for the holidays with minimal effort,” she says.
Barbara Rodts of Leawood, Kan., is sold on deep-frying the turkey. It tastes great and gives the menfolk something to do outside, monitoring the fryer. Most important, it frees up the ovens to prepare the rest of the meal. The biggest holiday meal challenge is having all the parts ready at the same time.
For presents, Sue Farley, who lives near Weatherby Lake, Mo., has switched from gift bags to reusable shopping bags — two gifts in one, and cheaper. Sarah Beyer of Leawood uses newspaper for gift wrap. Louise Meyers at Pryde’s in the Kansas City, Mo., Westport neighborhood, buys rolls of holiday-colored cellophane for quick and easy wrap jobs of baked goods and other stuff.
“It’s saved my life many a time,” Meyers says.
We think she’s exaggerating. But this is the way people talk at holiday time. Maybe some simplifying will save you.
Two words, one hyphenated: three-ring binder. Or its digital equivalent. This does not make you a holiday nerd. Rather, your mind can relax a bit if your plans are written down and all in one place.
The heart of holiday meals is traditional and predictable year to year, so maintain a holiday meal master grocery list in your binder or on your laptop. Take the list to the store early so you can spread out the expense. Buy and store a little at a time, including wine and liquor.
Wrap those Christmas lights around something (if not this year, then next). Even rolled-up newspaper works.
Ornament organizer bins — an ornament per slot — aren’t expensive and make decorating and undecorating the tree much less of a chore. If you have hundreds, or thousands, of ornaments, they might not be practical.
The dining table will be more fun to set days ahead — assuming you don’t need the table for daily use — when there is time to make it pretty. On the “day of,” let it be a decorative highlight.
Choose three elements and repeat. For December, pick beautiful ribbons, pine cones and candles, say. Now you have a theme and a holiday signature. Place arrangements of these in several locations around the house.
Focus on four or five areas for treatment and leave the rest alone. No need for holiday tchotchkes on every horizontal surface. Walk the house and choose your “impact” areas, including a wall near the front door, the entrance to the dining room, etc. Do a swag over a doorway, say, and spread some greenery around a Santa collection in the kitchen.
Tie colorful satin ribbons of varying lengths to ornaments or anything else — cookie cutters, pine cones, berry bundles — and hang from a chandelier or next to a window.
Let nature inspire you. Shiny dishes, sparkly glasses and richly colored cloth napkins already adorn the table, and you need most of the space for the food, anyway. So just make one or two conspicuous strokes, such as a baby pumpkin at each place setting and leaves, fake or real, around the turkey platter. Find a southern magnolia tree in the neighborhood or do a little pruning on your holly or azalea bushes.
COOKING AND BAKING
Fans of deep-fried turkey swear by the process, which can take just 90 minutes in an outdoor fryer, thereby freeing up your ovens for vegetables and casseroles.
Most oven-baked items can be prepared early, refrigerated and heated. Use your slow cooker, too.
Rolls can be warmed in the microwave, but carefully or they’ll come out hard and dry. Wrap the basket in a damp cotton towel, and mind the time.
Say it three times: It’s OK to buy pies. It’s OK to buy pies. It’s OK to buy pies. They’re darn good from your favorite local bakery, supermarket, Costco and so forth.
Go to the websites for Nestle, Kraft and Better Homes and Gardens, to name a few, for recipes that combine packaged and raw ingredients and save time. Google “cake mix cookies” for easy cookie recipes that start with cake mixes.
Make cookie-baking day simpler by preparing the dough a few days ahead. Keep it in storage bags or reusable plastic containers in the refrigerator.
GIFTS AND CARDS
Snap your holiday card photo at Thanksgiving, which makes it timelier than the vacation photo, and you’re probably better dressed.
Stop racking your brain trying to come up with gifts for adult relatives who don’t need more stuff. If they live in town, schedule a fun outing with them to buy toys and clothes for agencies that help families. It’s a great feeling, too.
Cheaper if not simpler: Save newspapers, including advertising inserts, and use them as gift wrap. Try matching the newspaper to the recipient, outdoor article with photos for the nature lover, say, or jewelry ad for the person who likes sparkle.
When you look at that pile of raw gifts, think “decorate” rather than “wrap.” So: one artsy bow, one tied ribbon, one silver bell. Use old Christmas cards, and, again, try to match image with recipient.
Give gifts in reusable shopping bags: More than a few of you already do this, so maybe this serves as permission for the rest. Many are just 99 cents; others are fashion statements.
Invest in decorated printed boxes, and use them every year for family members.
Thanks to the tipsters: Sarah Beyer of Leawood, Kan., Paula Burger of Lee’s Summit, Mo., Sue Farley of Platte County, Mo., Jayne Gier of Kansas City, Mo., Brenda Lall of Overland Park, Kan., Louise Lloyd of Shawnee Mission North High School, Louise Meyers of Pryde’s in Westport, Barbara Rodts of Leawood, Ann Roll of Kansas City, Diane Stewart of Color Sense Consulting.