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  • Susan Hilton

How to beat festive stress!

The festive period can be a stressful time, especially when you feel like someone has pulled the rug from under your feet. With a little planning and some basic organisation, it is possible to enjoy the season while still getting on top of all the other things in life that need doing.

Here are a few tips for surviving Christmas:

What to do when

  1. Take an A4 piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, top to bottom.

  2. Make a list on the left of what needs doing – doesn’t matter about the order, just the list for the moment.

  3. On the right, add a date by which that task needs to be done.

  4. Then, you can:

    • write it out again in date order with room to spare so you can add bits, or

    • type into word/excel and then sort by date order, or

    • add the task to your calendar – digital or paper, whichever is easy for you, or

    • there is also a website called Asana – good for organising and emailing you a list of the things you need to do by when, every day.

Then as you go along, strike through the tasks.

Food list

You can do a similar exercise for say Christmas lunch. Write out your menu, you don’t have to start with starters, start with the main course and work your way outwards. List the meat(s)/vegetarian part, the vegetables, and the garnishes (gravy, stuffing etc.), then accordingly, write out your shopping list. If you know that people don’t like traditional elements such as brussel sprouts, then don’t buy them; no point in buying for buying’s sake. Less wasteful.

You could book a shop to be delivered which will take out the hassle of going to the shops if you have a lot to do, but make sure you book that slot as soon as possible! You only need to add a few items to your basket to keep the slot and then add later on, nearer the time.


Make a list of everyone you need to buy presents for with space in between. If you know what you are buying them write it down. If you don’t know, then write down ideas as you are going along; you might see something advertised or just come across something. Ideas will pop into your head all the time, best to write them down in some form so you don’t have to remember everything! Once you have that gift, strike it off the list.

Don’t forget to buy cards and gift wrap and post/give the cards in time. Check postal rates and last-day posting (and if they are on strike!) to make sure your card arrives on time.

The big day (or close to it)

So, you have done your list, you have done your shopping (or booked it online to be delivered), presents are bought and wrapped, cards were sent out ages ago, and you are feeling very organised. Now for the meal (and no, you don’t have to serve it at lunchtime, have it whenever you want it!).

If you are making a starter or dessert, consider making it the night before or see if there are any parts of the dish you can make the night before. You could (if so inclined) cook the turkey the night before and serve it at room temperature, just so you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. If you do cook the turkey the night before, make sure once it is cooked that you cover it and keep it out of reach of pets/kids/adults – whatever your risks are. You can prepare the vegetables beforehand. Make sure potatoes are covered in water to stop them from going brown and most other vegetables will survive in just the pan you are cooking them in or a plastic container. Make sure all vegetables, once prepared, are covered; you don’t want anything getting in there in the meantime.

To make sure everything is on time, make a list of how long everything takes to cook, or thereabouts. Don’t forget that sometimes oven temperatures vary from the top to the bottom of the oven, so bear that in mind. You can part cook anything and leave it to one side to finish off later or cook till almost done and leave it to one side, but not for too long as the residual heat will continue cooking the food. You have your timings, may as well start!

You can buy cheat items, such as already-made gravy, to ease the burden on the day.

Enlist help. Don’t do it all yourself. Get the kids to help with the food preparation, so long as they are old enough, to make it fun. Get someone else to make sure the table is laid, the wine/drink is ready, the crackers are on the table. Make someone else in charge of entertainment and drinks/snacks for guests whilst you (or whoever) are busy in the kitchen. You may want to limit the number of people in the kitchen to make sure it is as calm as you can get it. Lastly, warm plates – you can cheat and put the plates in a bowl of hot water for about five minutes before you serve (obviously dry them before you put the food on there) that way the heat from the food is not taken away by the cold plate. Entirely your choice if you have dishes on the table for everyone to help themselves or plate, whichever is easier, but if using dishes, again warm them before you put the food in them and make sure everyone knows that the dishes are warm.

Here is a handy planner to get you going.

Festive Planner
Download PDF • 682KB

All else fails, there is takeaway or beans on toast.

Have a happy holiday.

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