6 1/2 Tips on How to Enjoy the Holidays

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Yes we can, Rosie. Yes we can.

We want to have fun this holiday, not waste time bugging out over something that's supposed to evoke joy and encourage time with loved ones. Whatever holiday you and your family celebrate, you're taking time out of work or school to enjoy one another. I know, easier said than done. To help you relieve some of that holiday stress, I've come up with some tips to make this year not only bearable, but enjoyable too.

Step 1:

Space out the shopping.

Rather than clump everyone on your list into one trip, take multiple trips with fewer things to get. Even if you plan to get everyone over and DONE with early, shopping for everyone at once is exhausting. And who's to say your friends and family might change their minds as present time draws near? It's satisfying to finish a long list of to-dos, but having to return something is worth avoiding. Make an easy (and maybe even, perhaps, fun?) day out of getting gifts for the kids one weekend, your siblings the next, then friends, and then your parents. The more time you give to each person's gift, the more thought will go into it. Spend the late morning looking, get it by early evening and bam. You're done, and with enough time to reward yourself with a latte.

Step 2:

Limit the number of "surprises" under the tree

When you buy something without knowing whether the recipient will love it or run away screaming from it, you run the risk of an awkward situation. Saying to yourself, "Oh Jimmy would just adore these knee high socks signed by Mickey Mouse," does not count as knowing its a sure thing. Do yourself (and for the love of God, Jimmy) a favor and ask for long wish-lists (10 to 12 items) of things each person wants. Sure, the surprise factor will be lessened, but there's about a 2-in-10 chance they'll know what's coming. By only getting three out of the ten items on each list, the family will be surprised rather than shocked.

Step 2 1/2:

Try your best to buy experiences rather than objects.

A sweater is a wonderful gift, but for someone who likes to shop, a gift card is an excuse to go shopping. For an outdoors-y type, a camping tent is terrific, but reservations at a campsite will get that camper camping. Experiences last longer in our hearts than the things we collect. Don't get me wrong, things are great--I love things, but it's the "doing" that will put those things to use.

Step 3:

Cook something you know how to cook.

This is no time to experiment. Unless you've been cooking a chicken inside of a goose, inside of a turkey wrapped in bacon for the past few months, don't do it. The presents will be torn through and people will expect food, and you will want to have it ready, lest someone choke on the mistletoe.

Step 4:

Speaking of food, keep dinner conversation light-hearted.

Talk about the things that make you laugh. If a story made you double over and guffaw like a surprised goose, chances are that other people will find it funny too. Be careful though, what makes you laugh might offend someone else. And when someone offends you, keep your duel glove away from the offender's cheek. Reply with something smart and witty. For example, when Uncle Henry asks why you're not married yet, say, "Because I haven't done anything wrong yet," (gauge your audience). As usual, avoid politics, religion, the economy, and that odd smell coming from Uncle Henry.

Step 5:

Take candid photos.

Last year, my family of 30+ was arranged in 13 different poses, an ordeal that ended in confusion and tears. If your family needs pictures, take them when they don't know they're being observed. We all know that when we see the camera our instinct is to slap on the artificial, teeth bearing (or teeth hiding) smile, or run away screaming. With a candid shot, the smiles will glow genuinely; the punchline in Uncle Henry's joke will freeze in time if you get it in time. You just have to make sure you snap it before they notice you. Consider that a challenge to have fun with.

Step 6:

Offer help and relax.

As we get older, giving makes us feel just as good as receiving (or it's supposed to anyway). Give more than presents; help the host with the food, or the dishes; help keep the kids settled down at the table; offer to drive someone home. The host will likely be frantic with a dozen people at the table needing food and drink. Do something he or she won't forget and make the night easier. And don't fret if you can't be made "useful." If you're kindly pushed out of the kitchen, don't worry. Poor yourself some wine and let the host know you're in the living room if you're needed.

Now get out there and enjoy yourself. You deserve it. Oh, and happy holidays.

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