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Christmas tips - Part One by Gill Macaulay

'Tis the season to be jolly'

Peace on earth, goodwill to men; but is this what you will be feeling as Christmas draws nearer? Anticipation and contentment would be lovely, but perhaps exhaustion or panic is nearer the mark?
Don't despair! Here at Contentedbaby.com, we have pulled together our best tips and suggestions, including those from a range of features written by some of our regular contributors. In this, the first of two special features, we take a look at planning, budgeting and shopping. So, read on and at least you can claim to have made a start.

Planning

'From now on, our troubles will be out of sight'
  • Take the pressure off - Christmas is not an examination of domestic skills, nor is it a competition. Don't worry about what others are buying their children, or that your mince pies are not homemade. Decide how you want to spend your time and money.
  • Get organised - Make lists to plan presents, shopping and cooking. Planning is the key to enjoying this time of year and lists are the best way to avoid forgetting anything.
  • Write cards early - Book a date in your diary, or lay your cards out and write one whenever you have a moment. Encourage your partner to help and condense your list if possible.
  • Keep a lid on it - If you wish to limit presents, talk to families early. If your children are being given too much, suggest a small gift on Christmas Day and money in a bank account. Alternatively, request something practical, rather than a toy.
  • Plan your day - Work around your family's needs, rather than what others expect. If you are catering for a crowd, consider a buffet, with guests contributing a dish; or entertain on more than one occasion. If you want to set new traditions, now is your chance.
  • If you are torn between families - Decide the best solution in advance. Allocating a separate day to each side of the family often works better than splitting a single day in half.
  • Talk to your partner - Discuss what Christmas should mean to your child. You may have traditions from your childhoods, or you may decide to do things differently. It is tempting to get carried away, but children are easily overwhelmed, so keep things simple.
  • If you need a new outfit - Get organised in November. Choose something versatile, and you will be in a position to accept last-minute invitations, without panicking.

Budgeting

'What can I give him, poor as I am?'

For the last decade, credit has been cheap and shopping like celebrities has been a leisure activity, but recently the bubble has burst. Rather than finding yourself with a financial headache in January, think carefully about your spending.

  • Set a budget and stick to it - Christmas can be a time for unrealistic expectations; make family members aware of what you can afford. Involve children, if they are old enough - they may appreciate their gifts more.
  • Resist the temptation to over-spend - Inexpensive but well-chosen presents are just as meaningful, as are homemade gifts.
  • Christmas is not about the number of packages under the tree - If you have a large family, suggest buying gifts just for children, or draw names so everyone buys only one gift, or set a price limit.
  • Remember 'hidden' expenses - Food and drink bills, postage and travel costs can all add up.
  • Work within your budget - Look out for offers, such as 'three for the price of two' on gifts or cards. Avoid unnecessary goodies in the supermarket and offer your skills as gifts.

Shopping

'Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh'
  • Shop early - Try to have your gift shopping completed by early December. This will free you up as Christmas approaches.
  • Buy presents online - Your gifts can be delivered to your home, office or direct to a recipient, and many companies gift wrap for an extra charge.
  • Shop at an off-peak time - Take a day off work, arrange childcare mid-week, or go late-night shopping.
  • Make a list of gifts you wish to buy - Do this before you go shopping. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you could be wandering for hours.
  • Have bulky shopping held - You can collect it later, or you may prefer to have it have it delivered.
  • Take a break - It is easy to become tired and dehydrated, so stop frequently for a drink and to relax.
  • Buy a few extra gifts - Chocolates or candles may come in handy, just in case you forget somebody.

Gifts

'Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree'
  • Stuck for ideas - How about a magazine subscription? Or make a donation to someone's favourite charity? Or 'adopt' an animal?
  • A Christmas wish list from older children is helpful - Try taking younger children to a toyshop in November. Pay attention to what they show interest in and write down ideas.
  • Be realistic - In years to come, children will remember whether they were loved and happy, rather than what they received. Buying your children what they want is not always good for your child - or your wallet!
  • Don't be seduced by packaging - Stick to quality goods within your budget, and both you and the recipient will be happy. Don't worry about trying to find something special when something simple will do.
  • Wrap presents as you buy them - You will then not be tempted to change your mind or add unnecessary bits and pieces.
  • If all else fails - A voucher is better than an expensive mistake. If buying for the person with everything, check out some original ideas at www.oxfamunwrapped.com.

Christmas food

'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire'
  • Stock up with non-perishables in advance - This eases both the physical and financial burden.
  • Check last order dates - Make sure you don't miss these for food items, such as turkey or ham.
  • If you plan to eat out on Christmas Day, book early - This is particularly important if you are a large group.
  • Plan your festive menus - Order, buy and prepare as much as possible in advance, but try not to over-cater.

Relationships

'Sing we joyous, all together'
  • Aim for 'relative' peace - Think through potential difficulties and work out a coping strategy.
  • Don't expect miracles - If certain family members bicker, they are likely to do so at Christmas.
  • If you want to escape, don't feel guilty - Not spending Christmas Day with family can be interpreted negatively, but reassure relatives that you'll see them before you go or when you return.
  • If there are points of contention - Find time before Christmas to discuss these. If it's hard to keep your children's routine in place because others interfere, explain your feelings, and ask family to respect your methods. Try to listen too and you should find a compromise.
  • It's not your job to make everyone happy - Relish being at the heart of an extended family, but don't feel responsible for everyone's enjoyment.

General tips

'Have yourself a merry little Christmas'
  • Ask for help - Don't forget to delegate.
  • Don't miss the post - Make sure parcels for abroad are dealt with first. Your local post office will have the deadline dates, or you can find out online at www.royalmail.com.
  • If you need advice - Let Contentedbaby.com help. We have hundreds of members willing to share their experiences on our forums - and if you have a tip, this is the place to share it.
  • Lower your expectations - Don't try to make Christmas perfect.
  • Christmas CDs and books - These can add atmosphere and are a means of sharing the magic of the season with children. Invest in treasured items and help build family traditions.
  • The Christmas story - There are some beautiful books about the birth of Jesus, but whether this forms part of your celebrations is a personal decision.
  • If you plan to entertain before Christmas - Do it early December, before friends are jaded or over-committed.
  • Keep quiet until December - Christmas appears early in the shops, but limit discussions at home until December. Help small children to count down with the aid of an Advent calendar.
  • Small is beautiful - Young children remember the small things; try to see Christmas through your child's eyes.

Stress/Taking care of yourself

'You better watch out, you better not cry'
  • When life is hectic - Eating healthily and exercising can be challenging, but the busier you are, the more important it is to take care. You won't be any good to anyone if you get sick.
  • Be choosy with invitations - Don't exhaust yourself financially or physically by saying 'yes' to everything.
  • Try not to over-extend yourself - The family is more likely to have a happy time if you are relaxed, so if something proves too much, dump it.
  • Remember to pamper yourself - You are special and deserve a treat too.
  • Seek support - If you are experiencing depression, loneliness, or are feeling down, seek help and support by sharing your worries with a friend, family member or GP.
  • Take time out - Don't let Christmas take over your life. Set aside a day for relaxing and don't do anything Christmassy.

..and finally

'All is calm, all is bright'

Good luck with your planning, and don't forget to join us next month for 'Christmas tips - part two'.

Christmas tips - Part Two
By Gill Macaulay

'I'm dreaming of a white Christmas'
Having skated through your early Christmas planning, here's our second feature with tips and suggestions to help you glide effortlessly to the Big Day, and beyond..

Take time to enjoy

'Joy to the world'
  • Over-estimate time - If you allow plenty of time for tasks, you are more likely to feel in control and enjoy the preparations.
  • Savour the little moments - Enjoy decorating the tree and your child's reaction to the twinkling lights.
  • Twelve Days of Christmas - Don't try to squeeze everything into one day. Friends, outings or exchanging gifts can all be enjoyed after 25th December.
  • Give yourself the gift of time - Focus on what's important and let everything else go.

Shopping

'Jingle all the way'
  • Try shopping at a traditional Christmas market - You may find wooden toys, candles and specialist foods.
  • Do your food shopping online - Have groceries delivered to your door

Gifts

'Gold and myrrh and frankincense'
  • Less is more - If you have already bought presents for your child, resist adding more. If you have too much, hold things back for a wet afternoon or store extra items for birthday presents.
  • Have a few neutral presents in stock - These are always handy for emergencies.
  • Home-made gifts from your child - Babies can make finger-painting pictures that can be mounted on cardboard. Older children can make bookmarks or fridge magnets. Look for inspiration in craft books.
  • Shop-bought gifts from your child - Keep to small things, letting your toddler decide between two or three items. Encourage involvement in wrapping.
  • Presents under the tree - Arrange these on Christmas Eve, as temptation can be too much for some. Hang stockings and leave Santa something to eat, but remember that the idea of a man coming down the chimney may be frightening for younger children.

Decorations

'Deck the halls with boughs of holly'
  • Get decorated early - It will give you time to sit back and enjoy.
  • Make decorating fun - Play Christmas music and let your children choose a few decorations for their bedroom.
  • Choosing the tree - Put on some Christmas songs in the car and make an outing of it.
  • Play safe with your tree - Keep it away from fireplaces and heating appliances, and take care with extension cords.
  • Let children help decorate the tree - It might look lop-sided, but you can always rearrange things when they're asleep.
  • Keep decorations away from pets - The same rule applies to packaging.
  • Collect fir cones - These can be sprayed with metallic paint and used to make the house look festive.
  • Buy your children a new ornament every year - Date them and keep them in a special box.

Things to make

'Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow'
  • Tree decorations - Paint/glitter fir cones and tie on a fine ribbon. Cut out hearts or stars from stiff card, decorate, make a hole and add a ribbon.
  • Snowflakes - Cut out snowflake shapes from white paper. Add glitter or cotton wool, then stick to windows or hang from the ceiling to look like snow falling. Children should be supervised when using scissors.
  • Wrapping paper - Cut out a star in a half-potato, and then dip in poster paint. The shape can then be printed onto a roll of brown paper.
  • Christmas cards - Use stamps, stickers, pens, cut-outs or glitter glue.
  • Paper chains - Buy pre-cut gummed strips and hang the garlands in your child's bedroom.
  • 'Stained-glass' - Cut out shapes in pieces of dark card, and then stick tissue paper over the shapes. Stick onto windows to catch the light.

Baking and Cooking

'We want some figgy pudding'
  • Bake with a friend - Enjoy special time together and split all the goodies, or have a cookie exchange, where everyone brings a treat to share.
  • Bake Christmas biscuits - Use fun-shaped cutters, and ice with 'writing icing'.
  • Cook with your child - Look for easy recipes and don't worry about the outcome; your child will be pleased and proud to have helped.

Food

'There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting'
  • Mince pies and shortbread can be prepared in advance and frozen - Remember, it is only worth baking if it gives you pleasure. Supermarkets offer wonderful Christmas ranges, and some magazines have helpful food-tasting features.
  • Cheating is fine - Make life easier by using pre-prepared foods. Maintain the personal touch with garnishes and presentation.
  • Prepare beforehand - Cooking on the day is time-consuming. Do a little each day in the week beforehand and lay the table on Christmas Eve.
  • Leftovers - Have an informal buffet on Boxing Day to use up all the leftovers.
  • Be alternative - Consider changing your menu. A rich casserole or lasagne can make a simple but great Christmas meal.

Routines

'The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes'
  • Rely on your routine - Christmas is exciting and too much will exhaust everyone. Try to maintain the usual routines, but don't panic if things slip.
  • Snacks - Children will be surrounded by snacks and sweets. Don't be too harsh, but make sure they don't overdo it.
  • Try to stick to meal and nap times, even if away from home - Give your child lunch before everyone else, especially if you plan to eat late. He can then join you with a small plateful, but without the pressure of having to eat.
  • Don't peak too soon - In the lead-up to Christmas, try to maintain your usual routines. Give children plenty of exercise and occupy them with seasonal but low-key activities, so that you will all arrive at Christmas well-rested.

The Big Day

'I heard the bells on Christmas Day'
  • Ask for help - Guests enjoy getting involved and it keeps everyone circulating.
  • Open presents over the whole of Christmas Day - That way the children won't get over-excited by too many toys at once.
  • Fidgets - Don't introduce new rules at Christmas. When children are excited, expecting them to sit through a lengthy meal is unrealistic.
  • Dinner on Christmas Eve - This can be a good idea. Adults enjoy a special meal, and on Christmas Day you can focus on the children. But juggle mealtimes to suit you rather than tradition or the expectations of others.
  • Take photos - They will give you a lasting memory of those smiling faces.

Relationships

'He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice'
  • If tension mounts - You may want to ask a grandparent to baby-sit and go out with your partner. If you see relatives flagging, suggest they have a rest while you take the children out. Don't try to do everything together.
  • Avoid known triggers - If politics is a touchy subject, don't talk about it. If someone brings up the topic, use distraction and move on.
  • Don't argue over the TV - Try to find something the whole family will enjoy.
  • Pamper your partner - If possible, set aside a little time for you as a couple.

Health and Wellbeing

'It's Christmastime, there's no need to be afraid'
  • Be kind to yourself - If you have negative feelings, talk to someone. Don't feel you have to put a brave face on everything. Christmas is about sharing.
  • Moderation - Be jolly, but try to eat and drink sensibly. Intersperse alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and don't drink on an empty stomach.
  • Get enough sleep - Plan for as many early nights as you can.
  • Keep up your exercise routine - This will give you stamina to make it through the festive season.
  • A daily burst of fresh air - It maintains energy levels and burns off over-excitement. Use every opportunity to take your children out.

General Tips

'Ding Dong! merrily on high'
  • Don't fret over imperfection - Aim for an easy, happy day. Warmth and atmosphere are more important than detail.
  • Keep a list of who gave what - This makes 'thank you' notes easier. If you write them quickly, a short note will do.
  • Remember those who are alone - Think about extending an invitation, or make a phone call.
  • Share the Christmas spirit - If you have spare time, hostels and homeless shelters will be grateful for any help you can provide.
  • Crime - Presents are a tempting target so make sure they can't be seen through the windows of your home or car.
  • A Christmas journal - This will help you to recall precious or funny moments. By adding to it each year, you will create a precious keepsake.
  • Carol services - A service will introduce children to traditional songs and give you time to reflect, regardless of beliefs. Most churches extend a warm welcome to visitors.
  • Visiting Santa - It is exciting, but some children can be overwhelmed. If your toddler just wants to watch, don't push him into it.

And finally:

'We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year'

Keep Christmas simple. If you try to see the magic and sparkle through your child's eyes, you won't go far wrong. May I wish you all a happy Christmas and, however you choose to spend this holiday season, do raise a glass to your wonderful children - and to yourself.

 

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