Holiday PlanningAaah, the holidays. A time for family, friends, laughter, joy, and… what’s that? Cooking? Shopping? Cleaning? Wrapping? Errands?

Let’s face it, parents: The holidays are wonderful, but they’re also time-consuming, energy-consuming, and frankly, sanity-consuming at times.

Give yourself a break by being realistic with your time, knowing what you can take on and what you can’t, preparing early, and having a plan of action. It’s hard work, but it will free up your time for actually enjoying the holiday merriment!

Get Started Early
Getting as much done as you can before the actual holiday can dramatically lower your stress, especially when you’re the host. Taking on chores, like ironing your tablecloths and setting the table the night before, will make for a much smoother party day.

Also consider getting the Christmas cards done ASAP. Who says you can’t get the pictures taken early? No one has to know when they were taken; just break out the red sweaters whenever you have time to schedule those family portraits, even if it’s in August! (Remember this next year.)

Decide on a Menu
Figure out as early as you can what you’re serving, or what dishes you want to bring to various gatherings. It’s best to stick to tried-and-true dishes that you know how to make, and foods you can easily prep in advance. Dice and season red potatoes and refrigerate the day before your eventso they will be all ready to go when it’s time to roast.

Anything that reheats well, like a casserole, will be a great go-to menu item that you can tackle early. Make a lasagna or ziti the day before and just stick it in the oven on the day of your party. “I always freeze an appetizer that reheats well, like Buffalo Chicken dip,” says Rosa, a mom of one from Warren. Get some good storage containers and freeze pasta sauces or pot roast. Just add fresh veggies and a fresh salad, and voila!

Or, if you’re feeling just too harried, consider ordering some trays of various foods from a local caterer to freeze and reheat throughout the month. Tell them what you’re up to, and they can help you select items.

If you’re really determined to experiment with new dishes, just make sure you line up alternate choices for picky eaters. Heat up a tray of chicken nuggets if you need to! You can’t go wrong. Or, consider having a buffet-style meal so diners can easily pick and choose what they want.

Try having Thanksgiving as a sit-down meal, but serving Christmas Eve dinner buffet-style. And, since Hanukkah is early this year, serve up some latkes with your turkey. Mmm!!

Make Time for What You Love
One issue that may arise is finding that there is just too much to do. So ask yourself: What aspects of the holiday do my family and I really love? Then, make sure that these activities don’t get cut when scaling back on seasonal activities. Mom of four from Westfield, Christie, loves making her own holiday cards. “That brings me joy… more than the holiday dinners. And I want to be able to have time to do that, so I have to be super organized to make sure I’ll have time.”

Many moms feel strongly about spending time with friends around the holidays. If that’s crucial to you, try to schedule just one event per holiday season with friends only—sans kids—and take a moment to get back in touch with your peers and yourself. Keep everyone on task with Evites where you can create a chart and guests can fill in what they’re bringing to the party.

Prepare for the Unexpected
Don’t be caught off-guard and feel stressed when unexpected visitors drop by or you receive gifts from people you hadn’t expected. “We always buy a case of wine and some dollar-store gift bags, so if we get any unexpected gifts, we’ll have that to exchange,” says Rosa.
As for easy snacks to serve to drop-in guests, assign a portion of your pantry that’s not for your family to snack on, and keep that for company only.

Keep some nice crackers, fancy appetizer plates, and napkins (again, the dollar store is your friend here!) in this part of the pantry that will remain off limits to the family during the season. Also, remember to grab some Brie when grocery shopping. This
way, you can actually enjoy your company rather than pulling something together at the last minute.

Go Easy on Gifts
Easy on yourself, that is (and your wallet). One mom of three from Clark, Lauren, finds great deals through a Facebook group she joined that serves as an online community yard sale. “I have three girls under 5 years old,” she explains, “so if there’s something they will probably only play with for five minutes, I’ve been going on Facebook and using the group for online garage sales and the buy/sell trade groups in my area, and have been buying good-quality, used toys.”

If the kids are too young to appreciate a brand-new item, don’t feel bad giving them pre-owned presents that are in good condition. “I bought a huge bag of 20 My Little Ponies—in perfect condition—for $15, and that’s a big gift!”

Christie says, “Online shopping is my savior. Paying extra for shipping is worth it, because your time is money, and if I can do something that frees up a little bit of time, I’ll pay the seven dollars to have things shipped to me.”

Plus, searching for specific items online is much faster and easier than going from store to store asking for “that LEGO collector set with the gold guys.”

Know When You Need Help
Communication is key, especially around the holidays. Speak up about needing a little help before you’re completely overwhelmed.

Some ideas: Pay your neighbor’s son to help you wrap gifts. If you can afford it, hire cleaning help if you’re being stretched too thin. “I decided to hire a cleaning lady every other week. Everyone still has to clean up after themselves, but for someone to clean the bathrooms for you takes a lot of pressure off and alleviates stress,” says Rosa. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

And, if you need a sitter, make it happen. “You’ll get more done in two hours of child-free shopping than in five hours with them.” So whether you need help with chores, a quick nap, or just five minutes alone, let it be known before you start screaming.


Lauren Pollack of Morristown hopes the Hanukkah-Thanksgiving hybrid event this year goes (somewhat) smoothly.