4 Top Tips for a Happy, Stress-Free Christmas

4 Top Tips for a Happy, Stress-Free Christmas by Catherine Summers, aka Not Dressed As Lamb

What’s that, I hear you ask? A STRESS-FREE Christmas? What is this sorcery she speaks of?!

It’s true, there IS such a thing as a stress-free Christmas. And when I say Christmas, I mean the festive period, the days leading up to and including Christmas Day (“the holidays” as my North American friends would call it).

If you’re panicking right now, I may not be able to help you with everything (for example, if you haven’t started Christmas shopping by now then you might be a lost cause, LOL!), but I can throw a few ideas into the mix that may help ease the stress which inevitably happens on the 25th.

Whilst Christmases* (Christmasses? can Christmas be plural?) with my family are usually super-happy, fun affairs, there are always things that we’ve looked back on and thought, Oh gawd I wish we’d done x instead of y and not let z happen.

Here are my top four tips to ensure you have a happy, stress-free Christmas – and that no one misses out on the fun…!

*I looked it up, the plural of Christmas is Christmases. I was right first time πŸ˜‰


(Reading time: 5 mins)

This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated.


1. Wrap presents as you buy them

I only started doing this a few years ago, and I don’t know why I didn’t do it before. I’ve always tended to do my Christmas shopping throughout the year (more so in the second half because the majority of my family have birthdays in the spring and early summer), and up until recently I’d always left my wrapping till a few days before Christmas – or even late on Christmas Eve, ughhh.

It’s almost as if my brain is telling me You can’t be THAT organised, woman!! If you’ve bought all your presents early you now have to suffer and wrap them on Christmas Eve! Why should you be relaxing in the days before Christmas when everyone else is last-minute panic-buying…

But a few years ago I had the brilliant idea to wrap each present as I bought it. I’m pretty sure many of you are reading this and thinking, Er yeah – why WOULDN’T you do that? Doesn’t everyone shop and wrap?? and ermahgerd, it’s a game-changer. No Christmas Eve panic or emergency trip to the local Spar because I didn’t have enough wrapping paper.

No, my gifts are all wrapped and under the tree at the time of writing. I’m Smuggy McSmuggins with my feet up and a glass of Baileys this year.


2. Plan in advance who does what on Christmas Day

This, for me, is the most important thing to get sorted in advance. My best tip for ensuring there are no arguments, cross words spoken or stressed-out hosts (or guests!) is to ensure everyone knows their role on the day and who is responsible for what. Treat it like a military operation and avoid the conflict altogether. It especially helps if you have kids coming: it’ll get teens off their phones (for some of the day, at least) and make the younger ones feel like they’re contributing.

There’s nothing worse than arguing over whose job it was to buy cranberry sauce or brandy butter because bugger there isn’t any. Or who’s doing the washing up and who’s loading the dishwasher (or NOT doing the washing up or NOT loading the dishwasher). Or who’s left all the wrapping paper in a big mess in the corner of the living room. To avoid all this chaos, divide jobs up between everyone who is coming on the day and make sure they all know EXACTLY what jobs they, and everyone else, are doing and responsible for. Getting everyone to agree to the jobs in advance makes life so much easier as they then can’t moan about it on the day.

And just as important: make sure they know what they are NOT doing. The hosts [often AKA Mum and Dad] shouldn’t be doing ALL the prepping and ALL the cooking and ALL the clearing up. There should be at least one of those things they’re exempt from – and if you still go to your parents for Christmas (like we used to before my parents were elderly and downsized to a small bungalow), then they need to understand that they shouldn’t be doing absolutely everything.

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(Though if your parents are anything like mine used to be in their younger years, good luck trying to make them understand they won’t be doing one particular aspect of Christmas Day and that it’s obligatory they sit down at some point. And if that’s YOU, then make sure that YOU sit down at some point by allocating all the jobs that need doing..!)

Examples of jobs that can be split up:

  • Everyone coming to dinner can bring pre-prepped or part-cooked veggies in ready-to-serve dishes (unless you’re a sado-masochist and actually like cooking that amount of different foodstuffs by yourself)
  • Decide in advance exactly what time presents will be exchanged so everyone is showered, dressed and ready (unless you do Pyjama Day Christmases of course – but stick to the agreed time)
  • Younger children can collect cardboard, wrapping paper and plastic packaging after presents have been opened (teaches them good habits about recycling too), we find that the little ones love doing this
  • One or two people can be designated to lay the table
  • One person can be in charge of getting drink-drinks, and someone else can be in charge of making teas and coffees
  • Split the family into two groups: one group does all the cooking and prepping, the other does the clearing away and washing up/loading the dishwasher, etc. Everyone gets a rest this way…!


3. Bite your tongue to avoid conflict

Nothing spoils a Christmas more than squabbles or petty arguments, though they’re hard to avoid in a boiling hot, busy kitchen or when kids have gifts (or each other) to play with and fight over. Christmas isn’t the time for doing that “Well I’m just being honest” thing (I can’t bear that type of thinking at the best of times!), so if someone is really getting on your nerves I always think it’s best to bite your tongue if at all possible, have a private word or at least THINK before you speak.

Granted, depending on the circumstances, it isn’t always possible, but my thinking is: Was their behaviour/what they said REALLY that bad? Can it be put down to the stress of the day? Could that be said another day – and/or in private?

Unless you can sort things out straight away then don’t bring it up at all. Nothing harbours bad feelings in a family more than a grudge that has gone on too long. Unless it’s behaviour that repeats itself it’s best to put it down to the stress of the day and not bring it up again. Family conflicts that are borne out of pretty much nothing are not worth holding onto forever: It can destroy relationships and potentially destroy a family.

As I already mentioned – think, was it really that bad? Is the memory of a bad Christmas (something that can be applied to ANY family gathering to be honest) worth those petty squabbles…?


4. Rethink gift-giving if you or your loved ones are struggling

Oh, the cost of living crisis… what a nightmare it is for so many people – us included. We’ve been struggling income-wise for a few years now, so I’m very, very grateful that our (extended) family came up with a plan several years ago to make the buying gifts part of Christmas completely fair to everyone. Being one of four children and having lots of nieces and nephews who are now grown up with children of their own meant that the number of people we had to buy gifts for got out of hand.

For a while before that, we’d restricted the amount of money everyone’s presents could cost: we’re not talking £50 per person, we’re talking £10 per person. When we hear of families that buy presents costing three figures, we absolutely wince because even when Keith and I were much better off financially, there was NO WAY we could have afforded to spend that much on each person when there were roughly… 16? 17? people to buy for. And our nieces and nephews were teenagers or young adults and we didn’t want them spending lots of money on their aunt and uncle, if anything at all.

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So even when the £10 limit per person got too much, we had to come up with another plan. This is our way of doing presents now, and we’re all happy with this… let’s call it The Method:

  • Firstly – buying presents for your partner is “exempt” from The Method. We tend to open these at our respective homes anyway before the big get-together at lunchtime so we all spend as much or as little as we like between ourselves. The Method is for extended family (siblings, aunts, uncles, parents and for us, adult nieces and nephews)
  • Secondly – children are also exempt so we still buy gifts for them (but again, we restrict the amount to £10-£15 or so per child. For me, the children are my great nieces and nephews – the nieces and nephews are all aged 25-35 ish so they now count as adults)
  • We then allocate a VERY small amount to spend on each person: let’s say it’s £5 to make the maths simpler. Let’s also say you have 10 other adults in your family: that means that each person “receives” £50 each (as they “clubbed together” to give you money)
  • So rather than physically giving each person £5, each of us is also receiving £5 from every adult so we simply buy ourselves something that we really want for £50 on one gift from the whole family
  • We wrap our own gifts and open them on the day in front of everyone and see what we all bought “for each other”. So no, you don’t get 10+ presents from everyone in the family – but who needs that many things anyway?


In our family, we only allocate £3-£4 per person as we’re pretty frugal and there are so many of us. So rather than getting lots of presents from all the adults in the family we receive one “big” present from the whole family, and we like it that way. It means no one is spending more than they should, no one is embarrassed at not having enough money to spend on everyone, and everyone gets something they really want. And no one knows exactly how much your present cost: if you want to put a bit more towards your own present then you can, and no one’s the wiser.

This method means no awkwardness, no having to think of something different for 10 people every year, no worrying about how much it’s all going to cost if things are tight. Our family LOVES this way of doing things. And if you didn’t see the video I linked to in my last Things I’m Loving This Month post where Martin Lewis (the Money Saving Expert) talks about banning unnecessary Christmas presents, you really should watch it – for next year – if your spending is out of control…!


So this is my last post till after Christmas… have yourself a VERY Merry Christmas – and make sure you DO do all the things I wouldn’t do on the big day! πŸ˜‰


What tips do you have for a stress-free Christmas that you want to share? Tell us in the comments!


Thanks for reading,

Catherine signature


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  1. 29 December 2023 / 8:52 pm

    A stress free Christmas is always the aim!

    Danielle | thereluctantblogger.co.uk

    • Catherine
      18 January 2024 / 3:49 pm

      Mine too, Danielle! πŸ˜‰

  2. 23 December 2023 / 12:11 pm

    Some great advice here, Catherine! I especially love your ‘Method’ for gift giving! It’s genius!
    Hugs, and Merry Christmas!
    Suzy xx

    • Catherine
      18 January 2024 / 3:50 pm

      It works SO well, Suzy – no one’s budgets are stretched too far and no one is left out or embarrassed… we’re so happy we do it now! x

  3. 20 December 2023 / 6:30 pm

    This is as true today as it was in 2018 – maybe more so! Wise words from a wise woman…
    Merry Christmas, Catherine, and I hope 2024 treats you kindly.

    • Catherine
      18 January 2024 / 3:50 pm

      I agree, MK – I was desperate to reshare it with the new addition of our gift-giving method…!

      Happy 2024 to you my lovely xx

  4. Lynn Jones
    20 December 2023 / 5:16 pm

    Thank you for another year of witty, inspirational, and thoughtful blogging, Catherine. I hope you and yours have a fab festive break.

    If we’re sharing tips πŸ™‚

    The Recycling Bucket: any large cardboard box or washing tub can be used to pop the wrapping paper in, as folk unwrap.

    Wrapping with wrapping: Ordered online and now you’ve got a load of brown paper? Wrap with that, make it look pretty with coloured string/ribbon, or doodle on it.

    Labelled bags: if you’ve got plain paper bags or plastic bags with a name tag stuck on them, that lets you know who’s got what, and they’re easy to hand out. Plus your guest has a bag to put them in if they’re visiting. See also reusing a large cardboard box if you’ve a family coming along. They bagged gifts can all go in together.

    Social: if you’ve got teens, letting them know it’s okay to slope off and recharge away from the event, that can help. Likewise with elderly guests: it’s okay to have 40 winks after lunch. Likewise, and I feel mean but I’m going to say it 😐 if you’ve a ‘comedy edgelord’ in your family, *sometimes,* it can help to ask them to keep it dialled down to two, rather than up to eleven out of ten. “Yes, Uncle Blah votes for NAME and hates MINORITY X, but don’t troll him.”

    Regifting: Bag and label who gave it to you, so if you do regift, they won’t know she you’ll not hurt their feelings.

    Wrapping: if you have left it a bit late; yes, it’s lovely to wrap to Xmas music…. but you’ll do it a lot faster if listening to Metallica πŸ˜‰ Works just as well with high energy dance too.

    Lastly, it’s Just One Day, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Deep breaths, Big Girl Pants on, and go with the flow.

    • Catherine
      18 January 2024 / 3:56 pm

      Aww Lynn thank you so much!! I’m sooooo glad I didn’t abandon the blog in the end, though I came close to having to make that decision 😐

      I love your Recycling Bucket idea – and brown paper is so good for wrapping (I’ve used it in the past and stamped red and white decorations with ink on it) – I’ve told the family they must stop buying shiny paper as it can’t be recycled. It shouldn’t even be allowed to be manufactured IMO!

      Your method for playing Metallica is the same as mine for housework: I can’t do it to anything chilled out, it has to be something stonking. I actually have a Housework playlist that I get Alexa to play for me, lol πŸ˜‰

      Thanks so much for the fabulous comment, and Happy 2024! xx

  5. 24 December 2018 / 2:48 am

    I try not to let people stress me during this time of year. Thanks for hosting and I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:00 pm

      Patrick good for you!! Hope you had a fabulous Xmas x

  6. 23 December 2018 / 5:00 pm

    Avoiding conflict….??
    My top tip is Champagne for breakfast.
    That means my day has a warm fuzz about it and everyone is much less annoying/badly behaved.
    I’m not a big drinker at all so one glass of champers sets me up until lunchtime.
    After that, it’s a bunfight until bedtime!!! :oP

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:00 pm

      I ALWAYS mean to have champers for breakfast but we always forget!! Good way to stay chilled till lunch, Samantha πŸ˜‰

  7. Danish Pastry
    23 December 2018 / 2:14 pm

    Sounds like everything is sorted at your place! I do tend to buy throughout the year, although I’d probably forget what I’d bought if I wrapped straight away – maybe I’d need to keep a list…
    We’re getting there! Presents are wrapped, food prep is underway, even the napkins are folded and ready to go! In Denmark the big celebration is Christmas Eve in the evening, so tomorrow will be a busy day. Last minute cleaning, table laying, turkey cooking. And then after the meal come the presents, it’s traditional to dance and sing carols around the Christmas tree – but my OH is seriously allergic to that (probably because all the neighbourhood cats would join in if he started to sing!), so we put Christmas music and enjoy other people’s on key singing!

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:01 pm

      I have to admit I do keep a list of what I get everyone… more to remind me not to get them the same thing the following year!!

  8. 23 December 2018 / 11:51 am

    Such a great post, Catherine! I have managed to stay nearly stress free this year as we have kept all things to a minimum. And once we decided we would be staying home and celebrating Christmas with our friends across the street, most of the stress was relieved! Holiday travel as a military family living far from loved ones usually causes tons of stress and arguments. Granted arguments were caused when we told our family we would not be coming home for Christmas, but we just ignore them all and go about on our merry way! Hahaha. I only just finished shopping yesterday (the 22nd) and now I have no idea when I am going to wrap them…wrap as you buy is a wonderful suggestion that I must keep in mind for next year! Wishing you a very merry Christmas, may it be filled with joy and blessings!


    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:02 pm

      I think keeping things to a minimum is a BIG factor in staying stress-free Shelbee, so good for you! The wrapping as you go thing is a great idea, I promise you it’ll make a huge difference! Happy xmas to you too x

  9. Kareema Hamdy
    23 December 2018 / 8:40 am

    Hi Catherine…..I need to follow your lead next year and wrap as I buy…..it makes total sense!! I am often found frant8cally wrapping gifts just before people arrive Wishing you and your family a magical Christmas xx

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:03 pm

      It does, doesn’t it Kareema?!! You’ll be so glad you did it, I promise x

  10. 22 December 2018 / 7:54 am

    Hi Catherine.

    In Switzerland, people tend to over organise and are very much focussed on getting it “right”. It brings lots of positive things into the country, but for my Swiss friends a lot of stress for the Xmas period too, so I’ve noticed over the years. Maybe I should send them a link to your blogpost…
    In my family we always organise the “who brings what” and the rest kind of unfolds itself (the ones having spent most time on shopping and cooking will not do the washing up for example) and with kids having become teens, more and more gets done by them too. I absolutely love that. For me, sharing is part of Xmas and that involves more than sharing presents: sharing fun and tasks is equally important! Wishing you a merry Xmas with your loved ones!

    Love, Lieske

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:04 pm

      Ahhh there’s being organised and then there’s trying to make everything perfect, Lieske – I don’t think you can do both!! And I agree that sharing tasks is important (more so to keep the hosts sane!) xx

  11. 21 December 2018 / 11:06 pm

    You better watch out Catherine, your readers will want you to adjudicate their Christmas day! With so many sensible suggestions you’re a real life Nancy McPhee

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:05 pm

      Haha doesn’t mean they all get put into practice though MT – things still go wrong πŸ˜‰

  12. 21 December 2018 / 9:37 pm

    Hi Catherine,
    I have to say I never get stressed at Christmas, its just one day and when we can, we all have Christmas dinner booked in advance, usually at a nice hotel. As for gifts we keep them small and spend the money on days out together and weekends away, my son loves this and so we will continue our tradition, it all adds up to a stress free Christmas because life is too short to worry about stuff like this….
    Wishing you a very merry one and hope to see you in the new year!
    Love to Riley and Keith xxxx
    Ashley xx

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:10 pm

      So glad yours is usually stress-free Ashley! Ours is usually an 18 people-strong affair so it’s no wonder tensions run high…!! Glad to report it WAS stress-free this year though πŸ˜€

      Looking forward to seeing you too my lovely xx

  13. 21 December 2018 / 8:43 pm

    Love the tips! My family is quite organized in terms of the dinner/party itself (#2 – check!) but I will have to think about #1 for next year since everything is currently unwrapped and I’m not 100% sure we have enough tape or wrapping paper!! #3 is something great to keep in mind. Have a Merry Christmas!

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:10 pm

      Thanks Suchot – seems the wrapping thing hasn’t occurred to many other people either so I’m glad it’s helped! Hope you had a wonderful day x

  14. Tracy Patil
    21 December 2018 / 8:27 pm

    Great post Catherine!! Love your tips. It’s a great idea to get children to sort the wrappings, and everyone to have a role so that the hosts get a rest. Hope you all have a fabulous Christmas xxx

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:11 pm

      They often end up playing with the wrapping though Tracy, so be warned!! πŸ˜‰ Thank you sweetie, hope you had a fabulous time x

  15. jodie filogomo
    21 December 2018 / 7:03 pm

    Hah…we were just talking about agreeing to get along during the holidays!! It’s funny because on my birthday, we came up with the motto “no grumpiness”…and that would be perfect for Christmas too!!

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:20 pm

      It WOULD be a perfect thing to stick to, Jodie!!

  16. 21 December 2018 / 7:02 pm

    Great post Catherine…I just ran to the fridge to check the presence of cranberry sauce Happy Christmas to you and yours babe ❀️ Sarah aka badassbabyboomer

    • catherine
      27 December 2018 / 7:20 pm

      Haha I hope it was there, Sarah!! Happy xmas, hope you had a good one x

  17. 21 December 2018 / 6:40 pm

    Have a wonderful Christmas Catherine. Stress-free! xx

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:53 pm

      Hehe I hope so Laurie! Thank you, and you too x

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:54 pm

      Seems so logical to wrap on the go, doesn’t it Maria πŸ˜‰

      I like your receipts idea!! Merry Xmas to you too my lovely x

  18. 21 December 2018 / 5:56 pm

    These are all great tips. Mine is to surrender control and go with the flow, which is easier said than done! Merry Christmas to youβ€”hope it’s a stress-free one!
    Cheryl Shops | http://www.cherylshops.net

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:54 pm

      I tend to do that when all else fails, Cheryl…! πŸ˜‰ Happy Christmas to you xx

  19. 21 December 2018 / 5:27 pm

    For the first year I’ve wrapped as I’ve bought and it’s made a huge difference!! Great advice Catherine, I hope your Christmas runs smoothly. I’m so excited now that I’ve done my big shop, and with a baby due on 3rd Jan it might be a very eventful Christmas or new year! Have a lovely Christmas and happy new year. Jacqui Mummabstylish

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:55 pm

      Ughhh it’s a game changer, isn’t Jacqui?!!! Hope you have a WONDERFUL Christmas… baby is expected on my wedding anniversary so that’s a good date πŸ˜€

      Merry Xmas to you and yours xo

  20. 21 December 2018 / 5:26 pm

    Glad to hear you too enjoy a glass of sherry while being Smuggy McSmuggins! Wrap as you go sounds a good idea. Too late for this year, aargh (seriously, it is done, a few days ago). Happy Christmas!

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:56 pm

      Well at least it’s done, Gail!! Happy Xmas to you too x

  21. 21 December 2018 / 5:20 pm

    Quite genius Catherine. I’ve never thought of wrapping as I buy. I’m a do it in a rush in a binge. I’ve screenshot your on the day task allocation. Thank you . Wishing you a happy Christmas season in your new home.


    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:56 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who always binge wraps, Anna! πŸ˜‰ Glad you liked the task allocation, I think it makes a big difference…! Happy Xmas to you too x

  22. 21 December 2018 / 5:13 pm

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Catherine. Thanks for all the great link-ups, the fashion inspiration, and the wonderful blogger advice over the year.

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:57 pm

      Oh Sue thank you coming along for the ride and for your support!! Merry Christmas to you too x

  23. 21 December 2018 / 5:07 pm

    I have all my presents wrapped up!
    I am not spending Christmas at home so I do not have to organize!
    And I already bite my tongue!

    Have a fabulous Christmas Catherine!

    • catherine
      21 December 2018 / 6:57 pm

      Nancy it’s YOU that’s organised one with all your presents wrapped then, hehe πŸ˜‰
      Wishing you a fabulous Christmas too x

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