Stress-free and Creative Holidays

by Patty Sachs

I love this time of year when I share some of my best ideas and suggestions on the art of "thriving and surviving" during the holidays. The stress that is created by a long "to do" list and a jam-packed schedule can easily drain some of the joy out of one's festive season. The amount of demand for your time, energy, budget and emotional reserve that following such a "list and schedule" requires will be lessened considerably when you adopt some of the following tips, suggestions and strategies.

Along with practical and clever ways to save time, money and effort I've also included tidbits of information to enhance your "oooo and ahhhh-ability"--great ways to produce fabulously delicious or decorative party and gift items. Craft queens and klutzes alike will get inspiration from this eclectic collection of holiday how-to's. Getting together to create easy holiday craft projects is an ideal way to celebrate with friends or family. Among the ideas you may find the perfect theme for your festive gathering, in case you are looking for one. There are even simple tips to follow in the effort to be ecological and altruistic.

Make Entertaining Easier for Yourself

**Choose a non-Saturday night for your entertaining: cocktails on a weeknight right after work, a weeknight dessert party, a weekend brunch or lunch, or a tea.
**Entertain cooperatively with one or more of your friends. Each host invites an equal number of guests and shares all work and expense.
**Don't make your menu too elaborate. (Dazzle 'em with dessert, since it will be the last impression.)
**Do as much as you can in advance. Bake and freeze in microwaveable containers.
**When guests ask if they might bring something, let them. Assign specific items, though, to avoid duplication.
**Organize a "you help me, I help you" club to share entertaining duties.
**Prioritize your cleaning by spiffing up only what's visible and saving your deep cleaning for after the holidays.

Add Pizzazz to Refreshments With Simple Touches

**Fill a sparkling stemmed glass with a deli-delight or easy-fix dessert (spoonable), tie a festive ribbon around stem.
**A festive dessert feast: Fresh fruit in a big bowl, nuts for cracking, chocolate nibbles and sweet champagne or dessert wine.
**Accessorize your simple menu with some beautiful breads and gourmet condiments from the "fancy food" section of your grocery store.
**Serve prepared foods on elegant plates or platters, add interesting herbs
**Sprinkle desserts with a dusting of powdered sugar. For larger dry surfaces sprinkle on top of a paper doily for a snowflake design.
**Add cinnamon-stick stirrers to hot chocolate, apple cider or mulled wine.
**Bake stuffing or vegetables in a hollowed out pumpkin.
**Season popcorn with garlic powder, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

Decoration Without Frustration

**Nestle fresh apples, pears, oranges, lemons in with greens; add tall candles for an easy, elegant arrangement.
**Tie tiny bunches of fresh herb sprigs with green garden twine or raffia and attach them to napkins.
**Hang those beautiful and festive greeting cards to frame a doorway, mantle, stairway or pass-through.
**Trim a pine bough garland with family snapshot cutouts and brightly colored ribbons.
**Festive holiday lights called luminarias are simply paper bags ( tops cuffed down) with a votive candle (in glass is best) placed in the sand that fills the bottom. Decorate the paper bags with paints and glitter, and cut out shapes for light to shine through.
**Add festive bows to almost everything standing still--easy and economical.
**The glow of candles will tie it all together when placed around, especially in the bathroom.

Don't Just Dream of a Green Holiday 

**Don't buy or use what you can manage without.
**Reuse or recycle what you can.
**Evergreen trees in pots can be replanted and cut trees can be mulched.
**Send cards of recycled paper, use white paper if you are crafting your own.

**Save cards that you receive for craft projects.
**Use real plates and cloth napkins at dinner parties. Mix and match patterns can be very festive.
**Save beautiful wrappings, cartons and mailers for future gift giving. Even the smallest scraps of paper and ribbon will prove valuable.
**Wrap gifts in the Sunday funny papers, brown bags, natural-fiber fabrics, trimmed or decorated boxes; omit paper, skip the box and "wrap" gifts in reusable containers such as tins, plastic storage boxes, baskets and bags.
**Save and reuse any bubble wrap or foam peanuts. Popcorn is ideal for packing short distance packages but not any that will be in transit a long time.
**Avoid foils, velvet-flocked, aluminum foil, stickers, shiny/crinkly/metallic ribbon.

Take Your Party On the Road

**Organize a group to take a tour of the holiday "light show" either in limo, bus or auto caravan. Wind up the evening at a casual spot for coffee and dessert and/or after-dinner drinks. Take photos of the most spectacular lights and send a copy to each guest as an after-party favor.
**Gather your guests at the bowling alley, roller rink, mini-golf or driving range for some out-of-the-ordinary entertainment, complete with fun and fast foods from the concession stand.

Just a Few Holiday Hazards & Helpers

**Plug no more than three sets of lights into one extension cord.
**Don't burn wrapping paper in the fireplace as it often contains metallic materials that can be toxic when burned.
**Turn off tree lights at night to prevent them drying it out.
**Mist evergreens with water regularly to keep them fresh.
**For added safety, anchor holiday tree by tying fishing line to the top of the tree and attaching it to a cup hook in the ceiling.

Make It Easy For Next Year

**Keep accurate records of gifts you've given to avoid duplication.
**When you take down your decorations put each string of lights in a plastic bag and label them with their location such as "Mantle", etc.
**Pick up bargains in holiday supplies and gifts (especially right after the holidays) whenever you see them to lighten the next year's holiday shopping chores.
**Wrap gift box tops and bottoms separately, elaborately, in your home decor colors, to be reused for family gifts, again and again.

Brainstorm: One smart lady divided her "keep in touch" list into major holidays: Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. She color coded the names and instead of sending to all at Christmas she sent "annual" greetings, group by group, throughout the year.  Back to Holiday Links.