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The Ultimate Family Holiday Survival Guide

With the holiday season in full swing, it is time to plan everything down to the tiniest detail and ask ourselves “How on Earth are we going to make it through this period without going insane?

Sure, Christmas time is an amazing period, but the tree isn’t going to decorate itself, the food isn’t going to prepare itself and the kids won’t feed themselves. It’s like Amy in A Bad Mom’s Christmas said: “I’ve always loved Christmas, but as a mom it’s a lot of work. In between the wrapping, the shopping, the cooking, the decorating. There’s almost no time to actually enjoy it.”

Add to all this the almost inevitable family feuds, the blown budgets, and organizing parties and optional traveling, and you will understand why there is a need for a family holiday survival guide.

So, let’s get started.

1 - Establish a Budget

Money (or more precisely, the lack of it) is often one of the biggest problems that arise in the holiday period, and it’s also often the cause of other issues that can happen, including the arguments.

So, to avoid all that, you should establish a budget your family can actually handle instead of declaring bankruptcy in January. There are two methods that will help you determine how much money you will need:

  • Remember your last holiday
    Your best indicator for coming up with a spending budget is how much money you have spent last year. Try to look at your bank statements or credit card statements. Estimate your past expenditures and create a baseline for this holiday. Set a total for the presents and divide the sum with the number of people on your gift list. You should also account for travel, decorations, food etc.
  • Look ahead
    Set a spending limit for this year and stick to it. You should check and update your spending records regularly to make sure you didn’t spend above your budget.

2 - Plan the Activities, Parties and Travels

Holidays last only a couple of days, and you have to fit in everything in those couple of days from family visits to organizing dinners and perhaps even traveling. Therefore, this is something you should plan ahead.

If some of your extended family members usually come to see you during Christmas or other holidays, you should call them and ask whether or not they will do the same this year.

If you are planning on seeing your parents or friends, you should also call a couple of days ahead to see if the date works for them or not.

Traveling during the holidays can be very expensive, and perhaps it would be wiser to postpone it for after the season, but if you can’t do that, at least make sure you book your tickets and accommodation well ahead.

If you are planning a dinner party, check who is available to be there, so that you know the final number of guests and establish a menu accordingly.

3 - Give Loving Gifts

Holiday gifts are often a source of anxiety, not only because you need to spend money on them, but also because you need to figure out what to give each person on your list.

It is important to remember that it is not about how much money you spend, but about thoughtfulness and knowing the recipient well.

For example, if you are purchasing something for your kids, you should keep in mind their hobbies and interests, and give them a gift they will appreciate.

As for the adults, if you are not really sure what to buy, you can always get away with a gift card.

4 - Keeping the Kids “under control”

With the parents running around all stressed out trying to organize everything, it is only normal for the kids to have their “wild” moments too.

This doesn’t only apply for toddlers, school kids and teenagers, but also for babies.

You would expect your little one to sleep through most of the day or to enjoy playing on the play mat, but hey, those are just impossible dreams…

Most likely your baby will want to be in your arms all the time, but you need those arms to stuff the turkey and bake those delicious cookies.

Baby carriers are a neat solution for that. But what to do if you are breastfeeding and you need to do it several times a day? Practical nursing wear can help you with that.

As for the older kids, you can deal with them by giving them something to keep them occupied. For example, let them participate in the cooking or decorating.

5 - Surviving a Dinner Party

If you are in charge of hosting a Christmas dinner party, then you probably have a lot on your plate, and we don’t mean literally. Here are some tips for the perfect dinner party:

  • Set the date, because Christmas time is a very busy period.
  • Decorate the space with the jolly spirit.
  • Go with at least one traditional recipe (e.g. roast turkey) and complement it with several easy and quick to prepare dishes (you don’t need any extra chores).
  • Prepare festive drinks, such as punch for the grownups and hot chocolate for the kids.
  • If you are having a lot of guests and some of them are parties in family feuds, make sure they don’t sit next to each other.

6 - Dealing with Family Members

George Burns once cleverly said that “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” Overbearing parents and annoying siblings can amplify the trouble in already stressful circumstances.

Tension can escalate, especially if you are spending more time together than you are used to.

So, having your kids, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and in-laws in one place, the situation is bound to get tricky, even if they all seem to get along.

If your guests wake up the grumpy inner child in you and trigger ugly tantrums, here’s how to deal with them:

  • Don’t take it so personally, everyone is stressed out, so it may not be about you.
  • Strategize even before you open the door. Some conversations are better avoided.
  • Take a deep breath before you say anything you will regret.
  • Prepare your kids and partner for the same situations, and if you are close enough with some of the guests, do the same with them.
  • Find a happy thought and stick to it until the end of the evening.

7 - Prevent Holiday Meltdown

Family members are not the only ones who can stress you out and create a mess in your mind. There are other factors impacting your serenity.

You should learn to recognize and neutralize them, unless you want to end up crying in your eggnog in the middle of your big dinner party. The first enemy to your peace of mind are high expectations.

Holidays usually don’t go flawlessly (yeah, turkeys can get burnt) and they are certainly not a one-person task, so be realistic.

Another huge mistake is stretching yourself too thin. It’s OK not to go to every party you are invited to and not to take a homemade pie wherever you go.

Make sure all these obligations aren’t interfering with your everyday agenda – you need to find time to sleep, exercise and take care of your kids. Eating healthy is another thing you can’t compromise on.

Finally, some of the traditions can be a straight road to meltdown. Although traditions are among the most beautiful parts of holidays, you don’t have to comply with each and every one of them.

You shouldn’t bake everything from scratch or handwrite the cards and gift cards if you really don’t have the time.

Your friends and family will understand, because the most important holiday tradition is, after all, spending time with your family.

Holidays can be nerve-racking, but they are not supposed to be. They should bring joy into the hearts of all family members, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Plan ahead to avoid stress, turn your partner and children into your allies and think only happy thoughts. Remember, this guide will help you survive not only Christmas, but other holidays too.