Photo by David A. Land
Christmas Cards Made Easy
Even in our age of extreme social media, snail-mailing Christmas cards is still a thing—think 1.6 billion purchased, per the Greeting Card Association. According to Amber Harrison, Shutterfly’s trend and etiquette expert, designs with foil will be big this year. Also trending: cards featuring multiple photos (especially gatefold and trifold designs) that have almost a storybook vibe. They feel more personal, even if you skip a handwritten note. Shutterfly, Tinyprints and Artifact Uprising all have online tools that make it easy to experiment with photos and text to come up with something unique. Minted and Mixbook will even import mailing addresses and actually address the cards for you. HUGE time-saver! —Caylin Harris
RELATED GIFT GUIDES:
- The Best 2018 Holiday Gift Ideas
- A Charitable Gift Guide: Awesome Gifts That Give Back
- The Perfect Gifts for Your Holiday Hosts
Top Holiday Tunes
These are the holiday songs that get the most play on Pandora. Whether you’re a carol traditionalist or like to mix it up, there’s a tune here for you.
- The Christmas Song by Michael Bublé
- All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey
- Christmas Jazz by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
- The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole
- Christmas Carols by London Church Carol Choir
- Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano
- New Year’s Eve Party by Michael Lynche
- Country Christmas by Loretta Lynn
- Christmas Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
- The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Turn up the merry.
Teen tip: Ask your teen to curate a holiday playlist on Spotify. There are as many genres of holiday music as there are genres, so the pickings are pretty holly-jolly. For a straight-up album, Sufjan Stevens’s Songs for Christmas seems to be inoffensive to many teenagers, which is saying a lot. —Catherine Newman
Pine Needle Maintenance: A Two-Part Process
Photo by David A. Land
Help your tree lose fewer needles
Before you leave the lot, ask for a fresh cut on the bottom of the tree, then immediately place it in water. Over the first few days your tree will drink a lot, so check the water level in the morning and evening and keep the tree stand full.
Placing your tree away from heat sources will help the needles hang on. Make sure you don’t position it over or underneath a heating duct.
Setting up your tree away from the living room hustle and bustle will protect it from kids and pets brushing against it and keep your floors cleaner.
How to deal with the mountain of needles that fall off
Rubber brooms work way better than vacuums—seriously! When sweeping carpet, use short strokes, pulling toward you, to build a static charge that will lift those pesky needles up and out of the nap of your carpet.
If you do vacuum, use the hose or crevice attachment—pine needles contain sap, which can wreck your roller. And sprinkle the needles with baking soda before you begin. The powder coats the needles, making it easier for the vacuum to suck them up.
For needles that seem determined to stay embedded in the rug: duct tape! Wrap some around your hand and you’re good to go. Second choice: lint rollers. They’re better suited for quick pickup on furniture. —C.H.
If you’ve got Amazon Prime, this holiday season you can order a Christmas tree with free Prime shipping direct to your door. Hallmark has partnered with Amazon to offer 3-to-7-foot trees, starting at $60, shipping from November 23rd on. They even come with a bag for mess-free removal when the season’s over.
Go for the Gold
A monochromatic Christmas tree looks gorgeous, but is it really doable when you already have boxes full of gifted and sentimental-favorite ornaments? Yes! Pull it off by outfitting your tree with gold ornaments in lots of shapes and shades—this keeps the overall look cohesive even when you mix in decorations the kids made when they were little or those Mickey ears your neighbor brought back from Disney. The gold ornaments on this tree are from West Elm, Terrain, Jamali Garden and Rare Bird Designs and range from $4 to $18.
3 Ways to Fake the Pine Tree Smell
Just because you ditched the real tree doesn’t mean your house can’t still smell as festive as ever.
Candles: Some are not so good, but we absolutely love Paddywax’s Balsam + Fir candles (paddywax.com).
Scentsicles: These little hanging sticks of scent make your faux tree smell legit (scentsicles.com).
Essential Oils: Diffuse pine-scented oil to fill the room with fragrance more powerful than the real deal (youngliving.com).
Photo by David A. Land
No space for a tree? These options will fill your home with the spirit of the season—minus the hassle of pine needles.
For a fresh and contemporary take, cover a tree-shaped piece of plywood with fabric in a graphic print. Use pushpins to help hang your ornaments.
Washi Tape Tree
Create a silhouette out of washi tape or even old wrapping paper to get a minimalist and space-saving tree. You can stick on washi tape “ornaments” or put up 3-D ornaments with Sticky Tack.
Bare branches in a pretty vessel can offer just the right amount of space for your favorite ornaments. —C.H.
Customize a Store-Bought Wreath
Elaborate, intricate wreaths are expensive, but a plain one from your local nursery or home improvement store isn’t. Dress it up by color-blocking sections with velvet ribbon and gold rope. For more texture and a divine fragrance that will fill your entire house, try adding sprigs of eucalyptus and herbs like rosemary and sage.
6 Tips To Shake Off Holiday Stress
Enjoy some quiet time.
“Carve out time to give your ears a rest and just be silent,” says Samantha Brody, ND, author of the forthcoming Overcoming Overwhelm. “Read, meditate or take a walk in nature.”
Eat something mindfully.
“Pick up a dessert or a piece of cheese, take one bite and savor it,” says Ali Katz, author of One Minute to Zen. “Try to name the flavors you’re tasting and the sensations in your mouth—spicy, creamy, rich.”
Behold something beautiful.
And, yes, a gorgeous cake on Instagram counts. But so does a vase of flowers or snow falling from the sky. “The trick is to really notice its beauty, because that shifts you into the present moment,” says Katz.
Touch base with your body.
Whether you’re about to walk into a party or cook up a dinner for 15, take a moment and tune in to what’s happening in your body. Are you frowning? Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders tight? “Start at your head and move to your feet, releasing any tension,” suggests Katz.
Draw a breathing square.
Try this soothing 60-second meditation: Inhale for four beats, hold for four, exhale for four and hold for four again. Every four beats, draw one side of a square on a piece of paper.
Let your nose lead.
“Smell goes right to the part of your brain that attaches a memory or a thought to it, so scent can be a really powerful relaxation tool,” says Katz, who recommends having calming scents like lavender, orange and cinnamon on hand as essential oils.
Get hygge with it.
Teen tip: Check out a library book on the Danish coziness concept, hygge (pronounced HOO-gah). Then ask your kids to put it into practice however they like: lots of candles and blankets, mugs of spiced tea, a log burning in the fireplace, thick socks or maybe even a knitting project. —C.N.
Because who has time to fuss with individual cocktails?
Pomegranate French 75
In an ice-filled pitcher, combine 16 oz gin, 8 oz pomegranate juice, 4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice and 2 oz simple syrup. Stir until chilled and pour into 12 champagne flutes. Top each with chilled sparkling wine. Serves 12.
Slow Cooker Triple-Chocolate Cocoa
In a 6-quart slow cooker, whisk 1 quart whole milk, 1 pint half-and-half, 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips and ½ cup each chocolate syrup, confectioners’ sugar, sifted, and unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted. Cook on LOW for 3 hr. For adults, serve with a shot of bourbon, Baileys or mint schnapps. Serves 16.
Make the gift wrap as special as the gift.
Photo by David A. Land
Nothing feels better than when there’s oohing and aahing before they even open the gift. Let graphic wrapping paper do the heavy lifting; these prints are from Chasing Paper, Hartland Brooklyn and Terrain, starting at $6. Skip intricate bows and use thin ribbon to make geometric patterns instead. (But if it’s all about the bow for you, we get it...#itstheholidays)
Wrapping Without Paper
Christmas morning: The floor is littered with crumpled wrapping paper and bows, and the garbage can is stuffed so full of materials-meant-to-be-recycled that guilt sets in. Enter the Japanese gift-wrapping technique called furoshiki. This ingenious (and actually commonsense) method embodies an eco-friendly philosophy that cuts down on waste, beautifully. Furoshiki uses fabric as an alternative to wrapping paper, resulting in gorgeous packages that can be reused in good conscience.
Pack a Gift for Mailing Like a Pro
Choose a box 2 inches larger on all sides than what you’re packing. Sturdy paperboard or corrugated fiberboard boxes are best for up to 10 pounds. If you’re reusing a box (go, you!), totally remove all previous labels or obliterate them and any earlier markings with heavy black marker.
Place newspaper, foam peanuts or shredded paper all around your gift. For boxed items, like an iPod, or otherwise sturdy items, like a book, use small-bubble bubble wrap to protect the edges and keep your gift from jostling around. For fragile items, use at least two layers of large-bubble bubble wrap with the bubble side facing inward. Give your closed box the shake test: Listen to make sure that nothing is moving around inside. If you can shake it, they can break it.
Tape the opening of your box and reinforce all seams with 2-inch-wide tape. Packaging tape, reinforced packing tape and paper tape all work well. Do not use cord, string, twine, masking tape or cellophane tape. To prevent the address from smearing, place a strip of clear packaging tape over your label.
How To Fake Liking A Present
Step One: Front-Load Your Appreciation
“Before you peel away any wrapping, genuinely thank the person for thinking of you and going out of their way to bring you something,” says James O. Pyle (father of five and author of Control the Conversation), who couldn’t hide his disappointment at getting an umbrella from his first wife one Christmas. Beginning with gratitude shifts attention from the gift to the giving, which you are actually happy about.
Step Two: Get All Eyes Off You
Once you’ve opened the present, saying something like “Wow, would you look at that!” or “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!” will get everybody staring at the gift rather than at your stunned expression. This will also give you a moment to scramble for your next line as everyone eyeballs your brand-new micro-cut paper shredder.
Step Three: Be Brilliantly Vague
Let the gift-giver know exactly how you plan to use that hot-pink sweater or candle that smells like beer in the most noncommittal but genuine way possible. “Tell them, ‘I’ve got just the place for this,’ even if it’s the trash,” says Pyle.
Step Four: End on a High Note
Look them in the eye and express your thanks again. “Whatever happens in the middle fades from memory,” says Pyle, who insists that opening and closing with sincere appreciation will be what’s noticed. “People don’t remember what you say, but they do recall how you made them feel.”
Let it glow.
If you’ve got budding engineers, give them full control of the lighting—twinkle lights, tree lights, house lights, lawn decorations, illumination of all kinds. You can even allot a small budget for whatever gadgetry they might need to execute their vision. (And do try to refrain from punning on the word “lit.” They don’t really use it anymore, and they won’t want to hear you say it. You’re welcome.) —C.N.
Crack yourselves up.
Teen tip: In the event that a Christmas-themed (but still wildly inappropriate) Cards Against Humanity is not your cup of tea, there are loads of holiday Mad Libs—including Hanukkah ones—that might trigger giggles from even the biggest kids. (“I have a little bra strap, I made it out of clay. And when it’s dry and stinking, oh dreidel I shall vape!”) —C.N.
Kids & Thank-You Notes
If you keep nagging your teen to put pen to paper to show gratitude for a gift, these three words can liberate you: Know. Your. Audience. “There’s no onesize-fits-all approach to thank-you notes,” says Mariah Bruehl, author of Real Life Rules! A Young Person’s Guide to Self-Discovery, Big Ideas, and Healthy Habits. “The form of communication should fit the relationship and how the teen communicates with the gift-giver.”
That means if your kid and her uncle are constantly on Instagram, a Boomerang of her putting on her new Beats headphones with a caption about how much she loves them is totally appropriate. If your son is frequently texting grandma and grandpa, why not have him send a selfie with his new video game in hand and a note about how he can’t wait to invite a bunch of friends over to play? “Some of my parents’ favorite thank-yous from my daughters are videos they made of themselves showing how much they love a gift,” says Bruehl, a mom of two teenage girls.
Whether the text is typed, handwritten or dictated, make sure it’s genuine—which can be tough if your teen didn’t actually like the present. “In that case, you need to ask them to take on the other person’s perspective,” suggests Bruehl. “Whether it’s the perfect present or not, the gift-giver went through a lot of effort to get it. Make sure your teen realizes that and reflects it in the message.”
Make it weird.
Teen tip: If you DIY holiday ornaments, entice the older kids with offbeat craft materials. Try ordering old doll parts or a set of resin teeth from Etsy (à la those appealingly weird Fuggler dolls), or go a little more mainstream with googly eyes and stick-on mustaches that will still make them crack a smile. —C.N.
Photo by David A. Land
A Trio of Twists
Crudités to the Rescue
Having people over does not mean you need to start cooking precious hors d’oeuvres. Head straight to the supermarket and buy a bunch of ready-made ingredients for a great-looking crudité plate. Making it monochromatic is the secret—prosciutto, salami, purple grapes, shaved watermelon radishes,
purple endive and carrots. Or go for all green!
Puff pastry always feels fancy, even though all you have to do is sandwich in some fillings and twist. These are particularly impressive because they’re almost a foot long!
Brush 1 side of 2 sheets thawed frozen puff pastry with 1 beaten egg. Press 2 cups finely grated Gruyère evenly over 1 sheet; sprinkle with 1/2 tsp cayenne and 1/4 tsp salt. Place second sheet egg side down on first sheet. Cut stack into 12 strips and pinch all sides of each to seal; twist. Divide twists between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets.
Brown Sugar–Cardamom Twists
Brush 1 side of 2 sheets thawed frozen puff pastry with 1 beaten egg. Stir 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1 tbsp ground cardamom or cinnamon and 1 tsp salt and sprinkle evenly over 1 sheet. Place second sheet egg side down on first sheet. Cut stack into 12 strips and twist each, pinching ends to seal. Divide twists between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets.
Stir 1 tbsp miso paste with 2 tbsp boiling water. Brush 1 side of 2 sheets thawed frozen puff pastry with miso mixture and sprinkle 1 sheet with 3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds. Place second sheet miso side down on first sheet. Cut stack into 12 strips and twist each, pinching ends to seal. Divide twists between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets.
All twists bake 17 min at 400˚. Swap position of sheets halfway through baking.
Have a Ball
Cheese balls: easy, delicious, make-ahead-friendly and inexpensive.
Pour 1 cup boiling water over ½ cup chopped dried figs. Let steep for 5 min and drain. Beat 8 oz cream cheese, softened, with 4 oz goat cheese and 1/8 tsp salt. Fold in figs. Shape into a ball and chill 30 min. Roll in ½ cup chopped salted pistachios.
Beat 8 oz cream cheese, softened, and 1½ cups crumbled feta. Stir in 2 tsp lemon zest, 1 tsp cracked black pepper and 1/8 tsp salt. Shape into a ball and chill 30 min. Roll in ½ cup chopped fresh dill.
Beat 8 oz cream cheese, softened, and 1½ cups shredded cheddar (from an 8 oz bag). Beat in ¼ cup chopped pimentos, 2 tbsp finely chopped pickled jalapeños, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper and hot sauce to taste. Chop remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheddar from bag. Shape cream cheese mixture into a ball and chill 30 min. Roll in chopped cheese.
Wrap all balls in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. All cheese balls serve 12.
Photo by David A. Land
We've got a ton of ideas for cute, practical, and unique gifts for friends and family. Check out the entire list here.