For many kids, Christmas morning is the most magical time of year. There’s nothing like coming downstairs to see a tree with presents underneath, and watching our kids’ faces full of wonder is enough to bring us back to when we, too, felt that wonder and excitement one morning a year.
But as a busy mama trying to create that blissful scene for her family, the “perfect” Christmas morning can be hard to achieve.
Before Kimmie was born, we used to travel to both families for Christmas. This meant 6 hours’ drive to my mama’s house, 5 hours’ drive from there to my in-laws on Christmas Day, then 5 hours’ drive home.
Since this is not a very kid-friendly plan, we’ve hosted Christmas for most of the eight years since becoming parents. This means having my widowed mama, my mother- and father-in-law, AND my brother-in-law, all under one roof, for at least 72 hours.
This has required more than a little finesse to pull off.
After the first few times we hosted Christmas for everyone, I realized I had to make a few changes so that I, too, could enjoy the day!
So whether you’re spending a quiet Christmas at home with just your nuclear family, or hosting a crowd of far-flung travelers, these Christmas morning hacks will save your day – and your sanity.
Christmas Morning Hacks for the Best Christmas Ever
1. Clear the Decks
Imagine you’re planning a big family trip, or a huge event where you work or volunteer. Do you deliberately try to cram every possible thing into the month before the trip or event? Or do you try to carve out some extra time, so you’ll be able to complete the necessary preparations?
December is full of tempting options to pack our calendars with extra celebrations, activities, and commitments. But as I’ve learned the hard way, cramming in piles of extra commitments does NOT mesh well with prepping for the Big Day.
So try not to overcommit yourself. Be picky about what you add to your December calendar. And try to edit things OUT of your schedule, to leave extra time for holiday preparations and memory-making. If all your weekends get eaten up with outings, excursions, and extra kid activities, when will you have the time to get ready for Christmas morning?
2. Shop Year-Round When Possible
One year in my 20s, I needed to schedule major surgery for Dec. 2. I knew that recovering from the surgery would leave me housebound, in pain, and unable to do much of anything for at least a month.
Because of this, I had to have all my Christmas presents bought AND WRAPPED before Thanksgiving that year. What seemed like Mission: Impossible became the greatest gift-to-myself ever. It felt SO liberating to have my shopping done well ahead of time!
Ever since then, I’ve shopped for Christmas gifts year-round. I love doing this for several reasons:
- It’s more budget-friendly than racking up huge year-end credit card bills.
- I can get special gifts for special people in my travels throughout the year – e.g., a locally-handcrafted necklace or handmade book.
- Some things, like season-specific items, I can buy when they’re on sale – like new summer gear or fancy clothes for the girls, one size up, during end-of-season clearance sales.
- Other times, I buy things when the opportunity presents itself. For example, I bought my niece $50 worth of board books for her first Christmas, at my favorite children’s resale event this past fall. Even though they were brand-new, I got them for under $10 total.
3. Plan, Plan, Plan
For Christmas morning to flow like clockwork, you should plan three things:
It may sound silly, but figuring out your Christmas timetable beforehand is critical, especially with a houseful of guests.
Writing down a timetable will help you stay on track, and get the turkey or ham in the oven on time. If Christmas Day or Christmas Eve church services are part of your tradition, it will also ensure you allow enough time for getting dressed, piling in the car, and other basics that always take longer with extra people involved.
Even if you don’t do this year-round, menu-planning is essential when you have a houseful of company. Or a holiday that you don’t want to spend stuck in the kitchen. Or both.
Besides saving you time and money, menu-planning will help you avoid last-minute trips to the store – the last place you’ll want to be on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning!
Big events like Christmas take advance work to run smoothly. Clearing the decks (see #1 above) will leave room in your schedule to prep beforehand, so Christmas morning doesn’t sneak up on you.
I absorbed this lesson in childhood from Great-Aunt Nancy. I love that woman to death, but I learned early that other grownups could predict her like clockwork:
- If she was hosting Christmas, she would disappear upstairs as soon as we arrived, to finish wrapping her gifts.
- If someone else was hosting, she would arrive at least two hours later than everyone else, for the exact same reason.
Present-buying and present-wrapping take time. So do decorating, cooking, and cleaning. And planning time to do them (the earlier, the better) means less chaos for you in the days closer to Christmas, and especially on Christmas morning itself.
4. Keep It Simple
While we’re on the subject of planning: Don’t go overboard the first time you have Christmas at home, or host your extended family for the holidays.
New house you’ve never decorated for the holidays before? There’s no need to purchase every decoration you’ll ever need in that first year!
Never hosted Christmas dinner before? Rather than planning an entire meal’s worth of fancy new recipes, start with basic favorites, then add maybe ONE new dish at most.
No, you may not accomplish everything on your Ideal Christmas Checklist the first time around. But will your infants and toddlers really care that you didn’t get the outside lights strung up for their first Christmas in their new home? Keep things simple (especially if you’re a new parent!), and cut yourself some slack.No, you may not accomplish everything on your Ideal Christmas Checklist the first time around. But will your kids really care (or even notice)? Keep things simple, and cut yourself some slack!Click To Tweet
5. Sharing is Best
Likewise, there’s no shame or weakness in asking guests to help with the preparations, Especially if they’re driving in from out-of-town.
Whenever we host Christmas, my mother-in-law brings her famous apple pie for Christmas dessert, and my own mama brings a loaf of her family’s special Christmas bread with candied fruits.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s your great-grandma’s Christmas bread recipe, the favorite pie from your hubby’s childhood, or the adult beverages for the holiday meal. Having guests bring something that is appropriate and meaningful for them will make your life easier, ensure they have something they enjoy on the table, and enrich everyone’s Christmas experience.
6. Get Cooking
Planning your menu in advance also lets you prep food ahead of time.
My dear husband loves to cook, and he’s definitely the gourmand/chef extraordinaire in our marriage. So the first time we hosted everyone for Christmas dinner, he insisted on cooking the entire meal, all by himself.
The meal WAS delicious. But he was stuck in the kitchen from noon until 9pm, three hours after our planned dinnertime.
That experience taught him to set aside time in the days before Christmas for food prep, so he could enjoy the day with us. Since then, he’s also been happy to let me make some side dishes in advance.
Likewise, before our holiday guests arrive, I take my meal plan for the whole week we’ll have houseguests (see #3 above) and cook as many things ahead as I can. Warming already-made soups, quiches, and lasagnas in the days around Christmas leaves room for last-minute things, as well as for enjoying our extended family.
7. Get everyone on the same page
Remember those plans you laid out in step #3? Plans won’t work if you’re the only one who knows them. Communicating your plans to others lets everyone know what to expect.
In my family of origin, Christmas morning starts with opening stockings over a special breakfast. Because this is not how my husband grew up, my in-laws won’t get to see their granddaughters open their stockings if I don’t tell them what time breakfast is served.
Likewise, Christmas itself can be tense when extended families include people of faith as well as those for whom Christmas is a secular holiday. If you expect family members who don’t usually attend church to go on Christmas (or, in my family, Christmas Eve), you need to tell them this well in advance so they can plan accordingly. (In our case, I also sweeten the pot by mentioning to my husband’s family how they’ll get to see our girls sing during the service, so they know they have something to look forward to!)
8. Include Flex Time
Whether you call it “wiggle room” or (as Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom calls it) “margin,” including flex time in your holiday schedule is essential, especially if not everyone remembers to follow step #7.
One year during my childhood, my father used scraps of wood to build me a “dollhouse” – a small shed in which I could play house and have sleepovers.
He assembled the dollhouse in the barn. Then, around noon on December 24th, he asked my mama to take his elderly mother (our houseguest), my brother, and me on an afternoon-long outing. And not to return until after dark, so he could get the dollhouse into the front yard.
Having been without power for much of December the year before, thanks to a massive storm, my mama had already learned NOT to leave all the baking, shopping, and wrapping until the last minute. So although it wasn’t her first choice of how to spend the afternoon, her schedule had enough wiggle room to accommodate this request with grace.
9. Pack Some Protein into Breakfast
When I was brainstorming ideas for this post, I asked my own mama for suggestions. Without batting an eyelash, she said, “Make sure that Christmas breakfast includes protein.” When I thought about it, I realized how spot-on this advice is.
My late father was an old-fashioned country doctor. The kind who made house calls, and who often had hospital rounds to complete or emergencies to attend on Christmas morning. So on Christmas, my brother and I opened our stockings early, but saved the presents under the tree until Daddy was there.
Opening our stockings went hand-in-hand with a hearty breakfast that included eggs and sausage – rarities in our everyday diet, since my father was also a heart-attack survivor.
These special Christmas morning “treats” kept us full until Christmas dinner in the early afternoon. And kept our moods and blood sugar stable. Especially important when you have little kids who desperately want to open their presents, but have to wait until Daddy gets back from the hospital.
So even if a large, protein-laden breakfast isn’t your daily preference, adding this into your Christmas morning will keep everyone going strong. Your tummies (and your kids’ spirits) will thank you.
10. Keep it Real
Finally, gather all those lovely Pinterest-perfect Christmas morning ideas that are dancing in your head like so many sugarplums. Then do one of two things with them:
- Make sure your plan to accomplish them is realistic and starts weeks ahead of time.
- Otherwise, toss them out.
Your Christmas morning does NOT have to look like the “perfection” you see on a greeting card, in a magazine, or online. And your family will NOT enjoy themselves if you spend the whole month stressing and moping about your own inability to achieve unrealistically high ideals!
Trust me on this one. Been there, done that, SO not worth it.
There’s no point beating yourself up (and making your family miserable) if your house, your plans, or your Christmas morning don’t achieve someone else’s unrealistically high standards.Your Christmas morning does NOT have to look like the “perfection” you see on a greeting card, in a magazine, or online!Click To Tweet
Build your own traditions, based on what makes sense for you and your kids. Focus on YOUR family, YOUR schedule/budget, and what is realistic for YOU to accomplish, and you’ll all be much happier.
What is YOUR top tip for ensuring that Christmas morning runs smoothly? Let us know in the comments!
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