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The 12 tips of Christmas

This year, at the ripe old age of 38, I hosted my first ever Christmas at home.  It was nerve-wracking, exhausting, exciting, fulfilling and well, wonderful.

We didn’t have a big crowd so I was eased in gently.  My brother and his girlfriend joined us on Christmas Eve for some festive fizz and a gorgeous baked ham (can I call it gorgeous if I cooked it? Oh well, my blog, my rules!)

Then on Christmas Day, after a simple breakfast and some stocking opening, they left and both lots of parents arrived – bringing with them many and varied offerings towards the day’s eating and drinking.

Only 30 minutes later than originally planned, we all tucked into our roast turkey and trimmings.  Plates were cleared, so I take that as a good sign. Although there are several tweaks I will make next year.

So what did I learn?  After much pondering, I have decided that there are 12 key things that I’ll take away for next year.  The 12 tips of Christmas if you will…

Those of you who are seasoned Christmas hosts may smile wisely at these and please feel free to add more of your own in the comments!

Before the big day

Christmas

1) Plan for space invaders

Before you plan your Christmas food extravaganza, make sure you actually have both the fridge and oven space to cope with it all.  If, like me, you only have one oven then it makes things trickier – it’s not impossible, but careful planning is required. Thankfully, turkeys can rest for a good hour or two without any harm coming to them so you can do all your potatoes and parsnips etc once the bird is out and relaxing in its foil.

Fridge-wise, if you have a garage or shed then make use of these for veggies etc. Those of you with any outdoor space can fill a bucket or crate with water and leave it outside with all of your drinks.

Oh, and before you buy your ridiculously expensive turkey, for goodness sake, make sure it’ll fit in your oven! Just sayin’..

2) Do what you can in advance

Of all the Christmas feast and festivities, there is very little that cannot be at least partly prepared beforehand.  Puddings and cakes – obvs.  Perhaps less obvs, prepare all your veg the day before.  Potatoes need to sit in water once peeled and chopped, then just pour out and give fresh water when you’re ready to par-boil. Carrots, parsnips and sprouts (or most other veg) can be peeled, chopped and stored in freezer bags in the fridge quite happily for a day or two.

Check your recipes and where possible, make what you can in advance!

3) Yes. You’ve done enough food

Throughout the whole process, I found myself constantly questioning whether there would be enough food to satisfy my guests.  Would the turkey be big enough (despite the fact that I’d purposefully ordered one that would serve 2 more people than were actually coming).  How many potatoes to do? How many parsnips?  The fact is, with so many different things on offer, people tend to have smaller portions of everything and chances are, you’ve done more than enough!

4) Don’t forget the non-drinkers

I come from a family of drinkers.  I’m not saying we’re booze hounds but we like our wine…and our gin…oooh, and a spot of port…and Champagne for goodness sake, it’s Christmas after all.  With that in mind, I was sure to get in plenty of supplies to see us through.  Chances are though, there will be at least someone who won’t be partaking, be it due to driving, pregnancy or infancy.  These poor folk shouldn’t feel that they’re being left out of the frivolities so make sure there’s something special for them too.  This year, I did a combination of 1 part orange juice, 1 part apple and 1 part cranberry in a large jug with plenty of ice.  It went down very well with children and drivers alike!

It may be that you and yours aren’t big drinkers and so the non-alcoholic choice is plentiful.  If that’s the case – then you should reverse this and remember to provide for your more boozy buddies!

decorations

5) Ambiance is easy

I’m not at all creative or arty but I really wanted people to arrive and feel surrounded by festive spirit and cheer.  Short of plying them all with sherry at the door, I was a little stumped.  It turns out that it really isn’t too tricky (or expensive) to create a spot of festive sparkle.  A few fir cones, a bunch of baubles and a whole table (well not quite) of tea lights and suddenly your home is like a little corner of pure Christmas.  

6) Write a timetable

I see you rolling your eyes but seriously, this will make  you feel so much more in control and will also let you know when you have free time for important things like unwrapping presents and drinking Champagne Cocktails (more on those later..)

It’s a bit of a pain to do – you need to work out all of the timings for all of the things you need to prepare.  I mean everything.  When do you need to pre-heat the oven? When does the water go on for the veg? When do you heat the fat for the potatoes?  Once it’s done though you’ll feel calmer and more relaxed – and if you’re calm and relaxed then your Christmas guests will be too.

Oh, and keep it for the following year! It’ll make life easier when you’re doing your next timetable.

The big day!

Christmas table

7) Forget the stupid timetable!

Huh?  Ok, so I don’t mean completely forget it, but DO allow yourself to be flexible.  The chances are that something will happen to throw the timetable out slightly. Don’t let this ruffle you.  The timetable is there to put YOU in control, not to control you. If a few tweaks are needed along the way, then go with it – show that timetable who’s boss!

8) Delegate and accept all help gratefully and gracefully

If you’re anything like me then it will be easy to turn into a bit of a control freak.  You’ve done your planning, you’ve got your timetable and everything is under control goddamit! The only thing is, there are probably a few people there who would actually quite enjoy being involved, getting stuck in and well, helping you.  Don’t see this as showing weakness or failure.  Christmas is very much a team event.  Let people help, get everyone involved and share the fun!

Equally, people don’t like to turn up empty handed so if they ask you what they can bring – don’t say ‘oh nothing!’.  Christmas is pretty pricey and frankly, any offerings should be gratefully accepted. Your guests will feel happier that they’ve been able to contribute and your bank balance will definitely thank you.

9) Make mistakes and move on

I hate to break this to you but something will go wrong. It may be a whopper, like forgetting to buy the turkey, or it may be something so small that no one will even notice.  Whichever it is, don’t let it ruin the day.  If something doesn’t go according to plan, then change the plan, have a laugh about it and get on with enjoying your day.  It’s not about the perfection of the meal, or the beauty of the decorations.  It’s about you and your loved ones being together and sharing Christmas.

10) Use disposable foil roasting trays

Who wants to be scrubbing greasy toasting tins on Christmas Day?

11) Champagne Cocktails

This is a tradition passed down from my parents.  I’m not sure which side it came from originally but I am sure that it’s an absolute essential.  Here’s what you need:

In your Champagne glass;

Add 1 sugar cube and a couple of drops of Angostura Bitters. Cover the sugar with brandy, add a slice of orange and then top up with Champagne (or any other fizz that you have to hand).

Drink and be merry!

IMG_0081 (1) (2)

12) Enjoy yourself – it’s Christmas!

Hopefully, you’ll have spotted this as a general theme throughout.  It can be so easy to get completely caught up in the plan and in the moment, that suddenly the day ends and you realise that you didn’t speak to your loved ones apart from in barked orders or sharp retorts.  So fraught were you, that you didn’t notice your children as they frolicked with their wrapping paper.  So tense were you that you completely missed the hilarity when Dad fell asleep and his paper hat fell on to his face.

Don’t miss these moments.  Let the potatoes burn.  Let the sprouts go cold.  Enjoy your family. Love your people.  Happy Christmas xxx

A Stress Free Christmas – Part 10: Christmas Dinner

Turkey & Trimmings…

Well we’re nearly at an end to my 12 Part Guide to a Stress Free Christmas!  Hopefully you’re feeling super organised, with most (if not all) of your present shopping done?

Now, it’s food shopping on the agenda.  Whether you’re hosting the whole of Christmas or just a small part of it, now is the time to get your food and drink ordered for Christmas dinner and all the trimmings so there’s no disappointment later on.

If you read Part 7 of My Guide to a Stress Free Christmas then you should already have your menus planned and have a good idea of what your shopping list is going to be.  So now it’s just a case of deciding where you’ll be buying your Christmas food and drink from.  Here’s a quick reminder…

Chances are that if you want to, you can just order the whole shabang from your local supermarket, but seeing as we’re being really organised here, it’s worth checking if that’s actually the best way to go.

Before I go on, I would like to stress that my suggestions below are NOT based on any commission and neither are they based on any experience of the companies I refer to.  I am just sharing the results of my own research in the hope it will help save you a bit of time 🙂

Meat/Fish

Do you have a local butcher of fishmonger?  If so, chances are, you’ll certainly get better quality fare from them than from your supermarket.  It may even work out cheaper too so it’s definitely worth looking into.   Another option to consider is whether you can order any of your meat or fish online – again, potentially it could be cheaper and/or better quality.  Plus, I’d much rather support a small business or local farmer than a massive supermarket!  I’ve been doing a spot of gentle research and have found a few Christmas deals worth a look…

Stilton Butchers – 30% off Christmas Earlybird Hamper

Farmison & Co Christmas Shop

Piper’s Farm – 10% off first order

Donald Russell Online Butcher

Fish Fanatics

Booze

Supermarkets tend to have some good deals on alcohol, especially around Christmas but again, always worth having a little lookie to see if local off licenses can offer you something better.  Online options also tend to offer good savings so it definitely pays to shop around.  A few more of my findings below:

Bargain Booze (the name says it all!)

World & Craft Beer (got to be worth a look, if only for the great punnage – ‘Good Libations’)

Majestic Wines – their offers are always worth a little look

Naked Wines – get a good bargain AND support independent wine makers!

Fruit & Veg

I recently started getting a weekly veg box from a local farm and I am so glad that I did.  Guaranteed freshness, guaranteed organic and guaranteed to support local business rather than faceless supermarkets.  Here are a few options to consider:

Green Grocers’ Choice

Farmisons

Riverford Farm

 Some final practicalities

When ordering your food, consider your delivery/pick up date carefully…

Will you be there?  Don’t arrange for the food to be delivered when you’re going to be round at Aunt Marjorie’s for her annual mince pie ‘do’

Do you have enough room? Plan where you’re going to put everything.  Will the veg go in the garage or in a garden shed for example?  If you’re going to struggle for storage space then perhaps consider staggering your deliveries accordingly.

Will your food still be fresh?  While it may be most convenient to get your delivery 2 weeks before Christmas, chances are that most of the food will be past its best by the time the big day rolls around!

Take me to Part 11: Christmas Cards & Mince Pies

Catch Up:

Part 1: Christmas Budget

Part 2: Making 3 lists & Checking them twice

Part 3: Picking Presents

Part 4: Pickling Presents

Part 5: Christmas Party Planning

Part 6: Present Shopping – Round 1

Part 7: Christmas Food & Drink Planning

Part 8: Party Menu & Outfit Planning

Part 9: Christmas Cake

A Stress Free Christmas Part 2: Making Christmas lists

Making Christmas lists & checking them twice

Hello again 🙂

In Part 1, we settled on our Christmas Budget so now we know how much we have to spend on the festive season, let’s start thinking what we’re going to spend it on!

In this section, I’ll be helping you to create the lists that are going to form the basis of your Stress Free Christmas.  If, like me, you love lists, then you’ll be overjoyed to hear that you’ll be making three of them!

LIST 1: Christmas Expense List

First and foremost, you need to highlight ALL of the expenses that you foresee this Christmas so that you can apportion the appropriate amount of your budget and ensure that you’ll have enough to go around.

So, pen and paper at the ready and start jotting down everything that you’ll be spending money on for the festive period.  Here are some examples to get you started:

Christmas presents

Christmas cards & stamps

Wrapping paper & accessories

Christmas Dinner

Other Christmas food & drink (eg. mince pies, Christmas cake, bottle of Sherry…)

Christmas party dress

Christmas party food & drink

Ok, think you’ve got everything covered?  Goodo! Now it’s time to roughly divide out your budget and check that you’ve got a realistic amount for everything you’ve planned.  Here’s my example continued (I’ve used the Example Christmas Budget from Part One)..

TOTAL BUDGET   £755
     
Christmas Expenses    
     
Christmas Presents   £225
Christmas Cards & Stamps   £35
Christmas Wrapping Paper etc   £15
Christmas Dinner & Drink (10 people)   £150
Other Christmas Food & Drink   £100
Christmas Party Dress   £80
Christmas Party Food & Drink   £150
     
    £755

List 2: Christmas Gift List

Now it’s time to break down a couple of the biggest expenses over Christmas – the presents and the Christmas dinner!  We’ll start with gifts.  So, back to your pen and paper and this time, jot down all of the people that you want to buy a present for this year – even if it’s just a bottle of wine for the neighbour.  Don’t worry about what you’ll be buying yet – just who you want to buy for.

All done?  Now, as above, you need to work out a rough amount that you plan to spend on each person.  Here’s my example continued…

Christmas Present List    
     
Hubby   £100
Son   £75
Daughter   £75
Mum   £50
Dad   £50
Brother   £50
Best friend   £30
Mother in law   £50
Father in law   £50
Grandparents   £10
Uncle   £10
Colleagues   £50
Friends & neighbours   £20
     
    £620

Oh dear! That hasn’t worked out quite as planned.  I’ve spent nearly my WHOLE budget on presents.  If I continue with this plan, I’m going to end up with no money left for all my other Christmas costs… Time to go back and reassess…maybe I can cut costs with some homemade gifts…

Christmas Present List    
     
Hubby We’ll get each other something in the New Year instead  
Son   £75
Daughter   £75
Mum   £50
Dad   £50
Brother   £50
Brother’s girlfriend   £30
Mother in law   £50
Father in law   £50
Granny Homemade jams  
Uncle Blackberry Vodka  
Colleagues Chutneys  
Friends & neighbours Mini hampers  
     
    £430

Ok, now we’re making some progress but it’s still over budget.  Maybe I can go back and adjust my initial budget and make savings elsewhere…

TOTAL BUDGET   £755
     
Christmas Expenses    
     
Christmas Presents   £435
Christmas Cards & Stamps   £35
Christmas Wrapping Paper etc   £15
Christmas Dinner & Drink (10 people) Ask guests to bring a bottle £120
Other Christmas Food & Drink   £100
Christmas Party Dress Can wear an old one!  £0
Christmas Party Food & Drink Simple mince pies & mulled wine instead £50
     
   u £755

Hurrah!  Think we’ve cracked it 🙂  Now on to our final list.

List 3: Christmas Dinner

So, as before, you need to list all of your expenses for Christmas Dinner.  If you’re lucky enough to be going to stay with family or friends this Christmas then whoopee!  You’ve got extra for other festive fun.  You could do the same exercise for a Christmas Party that you’re either hosting or attending (eg. outfit, drinks, ticket, taxis etc)

Here’s my example Christmas Dinner expense list…

Christmas Dinner (for 10)    
     
Turkey (5K) Fresh from butcher £40
Fizz Cava (cheaper than Champagne £10
Wine & Beer Guests bringing a bottle £10
Soft drink   £5
Veg   £10
Christmas Pudding   £5
Christmas Cake   £10
Cheese & Biscuits   £20
Christmas Crackers   £10
     
    £120

If you start off over budget again, then just go through the same exercise of looking where you can make savings as we did with the Christmas gift list.  Perhaps you can get a frozen turkey or use supermarket club points that you’ve saved over the year.

All done? Excellent! I hope you found that a useful exercise and that it will help you to keep within your budget during your Christmas preparations.  You may decide you want to continue with further lists – perhaps to plan for a Christmas Party or Christmas trip that you’ll be taking.

Some Extra Resources

Tips on keeping Christmas Dinner to budgetBBC Good Food’s Top budget tips when making Christmas dinner

Party planning on a budgetGood Housekeeping’s Budget Party Planning Tips

Christmas gifts on a budgetMoneySavingExpert’s 50 Festive Fivers

Please like and share!

If you’ve found Part 2 of my Guide to a Stress Free Christmas useful then please do hit the like button and share with your friends.  It’s very much appreciated 🙂

I’d also love to hear your feedback – how are you getting on with your planning?  Do you wish my guide included anything different?

Missed Part 1?  Read it now!

Part 1: Guide to a stress free Christmas – Budget

Take me to Part 3! Picking Presents

Your Weekly Guide to a Stress Free Christmas

Stress Free Christmas? Yes please!

I will lead you by the hand from now until Christmas Day and together, we’ll achieve a relaxed and joyful festive season…

For too many years, I’ve panicked and stressed my way through the whole Christmas period.  I’ve forgotten to write cards, I’ve left my shopping until the day before, I’ve overspent on presents that I’m not sure people even want.  I’ve flicked through recipe books, planning parties that I’ll never get around to organising…

Well, NO MORE!  This year, I’m putting my foot down and getting organised.  If you’d like to join me in my stress free Christmas, then great!  I’d love to share my step by step guide with you.

All you have to do is subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss a thing 🙂

What does the guide include?

Along with regular opportunities to chat, share experiences and support each other on Facebook and Twitter, my Stress Free Christmas guide will take you through each of these steps:

Part 1: Budget for a Stress Free Christmas 

Making sure you’re planning your spending now so you can spread the cost and avoid nasty shocks!

Part 2: Making 3 lists & checking them twice 

If making lists is good enough Santa,  then it’s good enough for us!  Can’t hurt to check it twice either…

Part 3: Picking Presents 

Browsing the online Christmas shops and picking your way through what Pinterest has to offer.  Hardly stressful, right?

Part 4: Pickling Presents 

Giving a few homemade gifts is a great way to save a bit of money whilst at the same time, giving someone a really thoughtful present

Part 5: Party Invites 

Want to throw a Christmas get together without the stress?  Well, planning when, where and who is a good place to start

Part 6: Christmas Shopping – Round 1 

Beat the rush, take your time and actually enjoy buying gifts for your family and friends

Part 7: Christmas Eats & Drinks 

Get ahead by planning your food shopping in advance.  I’ll give you a head start with some great recipe ideas and inspiration

Part 8: Party Food & Clothes 

Party planning phase two – you know the date, place and people.  Now the important stuff – what you’re eating and what you’ll wear! Hurrah! More recipes coming up!

Part 9: Christmas Cake

Have you ever made your Christmas cake in advance and fed it booze, the old fashioned way?  If not, then this is the year to embrace tradition and give it a go.  Guess what – I’ll have a few recipes to share..

Part 10: Turkey & Trimmings

No last minute panic about not having enough for Christmas dinner. You’ve planned what you need, now’s the time to get it ordered.

Part 11: Christmas Cards & Mince Pies

No day should go by in December without the consumption of a mince pie so it’s time to get stocked up.  Writing your cards will go by so much faster and more pleasurably with a glass of mulled wine and a warm, flakey, sticky, spicey mince pie by your side. What’s that I hear you cry? You’ll need a recipe or two?  Consider it done!

Part 12: Decorations

Time to really start feeling festive.  Get the tree up and give your house a Christmas makeover

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