We asked parents for their best holiday-season shortcuts and received a Santa's sack full of time- and work-saving suggestions. Read on for the best of the best!
Many parents reported that they try to spread their purchasing out over the year to eliminate that December crunch.
- I am on the lookout for gifts all year. When I see something — even if it is in March — that would be perfect, I buy it! It makes shopping in December easier, and I often receive compliments from friends and family who say that my gifts are always right on the mark. —Cheryl K., New York
- Mid-summer, I make a list in the back of my datebook. Then, as I wander around doing errands or visiting craft and warehouse sales, I think about Christmas and have my list of names to refer to. Once I buy a gift I write it down. —Deb J., Ontario
- I buy gifts in bulk. For example, my son, godson, and nephew are the same age, so I buy three of the same books, one for each of them. —Deb J, Ontario
When it comes to preparing gifts for presentation, moms and dads fall into two camps: the slow-and-steadies and the one-big-jobbers.
- Do it in spurts as you buy the gifts that way you aren't stuck wrapping all at one time. —Emily L., Maryland
- I wrap everything in one horrible and long night, and then it is done! —Cheryl K., New York
- I let my kids help me with adults' gifts, and then after they have gone to bed I wrap theirs. —Monica N., Texas
Although decking the halls sets the holiday mood, placing everything just so can be time-consuming, not to mention futile when you have little ones around. Simpler is often better, many parents told us.
- Decorating the tree and the house is a family event. It gets us all in the holiday spirit, and when the job is shared it doesn't overwhelm one person. —Emily L., Texas
- I have toned down my decorating over the years. I limit holiday decorations to the downstairs areas of our home, where we enjoy them most. —Cheryl K., New York
- The kids help — within reason. I want help in the final stages, but at the beginning I do not want my children unwrapping ornaments and breakables in boxes I haven't even gotten to yet. So I do the first round by myself while they're in bed, and then the next day we work together to finish the job. —Deb J., Ontario
The key here, panelists agree, is to ask for help — and don't sweat the small stuff.
- I try to get all the serving out of the way in the first hour of the party and then allow myself to relax and enjoy. I love to entertain, but if I don't use this strategy then I don't enjoy the gathering as much. —Cheryl K., New York
- I hire help. I usually have several holiday parties with over 50 guests at each one. I have them catered by a local woman and hire two of my babysitters to serve and clean up. —Deb J., Ontario
- I get guests their first drink and after that, they help themselves from a self-serve bar area. —Deb J., Ontario
Far-flung family and friends love to see you at holiday time, but traveling with kids can be tough. Packing lots of fun activities and setting ground rules in advance help smooth the road, say our moms and dads.
- Over the years we have realized that being a few minutes late is not worth fighting about, and a little advanced planning goes a long way to making the trip go smoothly. —Cheryl K., New York
- Some of our kids' favorite travel activities are books on tape (we borrow them from the library), magnetic games, mini chalkboards, paper, stickers, and word games. —Lucia M., Arizona
As much as we enjoy them, the holidays can be trying times for kids — which means the same goes for mom and dad. Our panelists stressed the need for etiquette and everyday routines.
- Fighting greediness is hard in our commercialized society. Giving some new presents to a homeless shelter has worked for us to teach our children to be grateful for what they have and be willing to share it with others. —Cheryl K., New York
- To encourage good manners, we talk about what is expected before we attend an event. We reinforce the desired behavior with positive rewards, such as taking the kids somewhere special or even just a few words of praise. —Monica N., Texas
- We emphasize the behaviors and habits our kids already know consistently throughout the holiday season . . . eventually it sinks in! —Emily L., Maryland
Parents shared some of their most cherished holiday rituals. Here are some of our favorites:
- Our kids exchange presents (costing $5 or less) with each other on Christmas Eve. This allows them to appreciate the gifts a bit more and helps them curb that mounting excitement! —Deb J., Ontario
- An old family tradition at our Hanukkah party is to have the kids entertain. Each child gets up in front of the family and performs. It can be anything from telling jokes or singing songs to acting out an original skit. After performing, each child gets a goody bag of toys and candy. —Traci D., New Jersey
- On Christmas Eve, my husband gathers up our girls and reads The Night Before Christmas to them. Every year, I sneak a picture of them. It has been cute to watch the picture "grow" from one girl several years ago to the four that are there now. Any book your family loves would do . . . it acts to settle them down on the most restless of nights. —Jill B., Texas