Our inspiring ideas will help you balance the pace and the peace of the Christmas season.

By Paula Jhung

With all the festive flitting and fussing that's about to take place over the next few weeks, even the mellowest of sugar-plum fairies can feel a little fretful. If you're experiencing the crunch, slow down and find ways to make this season the tranquil time it was meant to be. Our inspiring ideas will help you balance the pace and the peace of the season.

Make Spirits Bright

  • Recall what you loved most about Christmas when you were a child and recreate it. "Chances are, those treasured memories are more about simple pleasures like the scent of a fresh tree being set up or singing carols with the family," says Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Christmas (Andrews McMeel Publishing).
  • The night the tree is decorated, camp out around it with sleeping bags and story books. Gazing up at the twinkling branches and ornaments while listening to "The Night Before Christmas" will create a memory that is sure to last a lifetime.
  • Turn little "gimmes" into big givers with a "good deeds" Advent calendar. Stuff each pocket with a notation of a kind act: making fudge for a shut-in, shoveling the walkway of an elderly neighbor, stamping holiday cards for Mom.

Seek Serenity

  • "Oxygen enhances the regeneration of the body," says Mara Carrico, author of Yoga Journal's Yoga Basics (Henry Holt). "If you consciously deepen your breathing for just a few minutes every day, you can calm the nervous system, which is especially important this time of year."
  • Take the stress out of gift giving. List activities rather than things that recipients might most appreciate: a cooking lesson for a budding chef, a massage for a new mom, an evening of ice skating for the whole family.
  • Make Christmas card writing a pleasant ritual: Set up a folding table in front of the fireplace or window, slip in a soothing CD, and brew a pot of cinnamon-scented tea.

Wrap It Light

  • Sending presents through the mail? Cushion the gifts by filling the carton gaps with slightly underinflated balloons in seasonal colors.
  • Create gift certificates from sheets of standard 8 1/2-x-11-inch paper and roll them into scrolls. Forget the box and wrappings; simply seal with a tiny sticker, a wax seal, or a smidgen of tape. Tie with a pretty ribbon.
  • Decorate an assortment of paper bags with golden stars and/or notary seals. Tie the handles together with sheer gold ribbon.

Deck the Halls Simply

  • Mismatched strings of white and colored tree lights? String the white ones close to the trunk from the base of the tree to its crown, then weave the multicolored ones through the outside branches. The white lights will create a glow from within while the colored ones dance on the branches.
  • For a sense of depth and balance, hang larger ornaments close to the trunk of the tree and smaller ones on the outside branches.
  • Save any sawed-off or broken branches from the tree for a natural arrangement for the kitchen table.
  • Who needs a wreath? Simply tie a wide red ribbon on the front door knocker or doorknob for an instant festive welcome.

Staying in the Holiday Mood

How do you keep a positive mood when the holidays get stressful?

More Shortcuts

Forget Figgy Pudding

  • Keep the pantry and fridge stocked with hearty and healthy convenience foods this month.
  • Have someone else cook your goose or turkey. Many markets do just that this time of year, allowing you to concentrate on the easier side dishes.
  • Instead of laboring over gravy at the last minute, scrape up the savory brown bits at the bottom of the roasting pan when the bird or beast is done and add them to gravy from a jar.
  • Serve up snowballs for dessert. Roll large scoops of vanilla ice cream in shredded coconut. Place them into metallic cupcake liners, poke white or red cake candles in the center of each, and freeze for at least an hour. Place each one on a doily-lined dessert plate and serve with a demitasse spoon.

Keep Company

  • Rather than knocking yourself out scrubbing and dusting for company, straighten the clutter, dim the lights, and create a little mystery with tree lights, candles, and firelight.
  • Stock a basket for the pantry with a bottle of sparkling juice or wine, a tin of fancy nuts, and pretty cocktail napkins so there's always something festive to serve when visitors call.
  • Host a pie potluck. Ask each guest to bring his or her favorite homemade or bakery-bought flavor while you provide the ice cream, the coffee, and the setting.

8 Fun and Festive Ways to Display Christmas Cards

They're colorful, they're pretty, and they're plentiful. Make the most of these treasured tidings by displaying them imaginatively.

  1. Punch holes in their upper corners, string a narrow strand of red, green, or metallic ribbon through each, and hang them as ornaments from the branches of the tree.
  2. Make Christmas place mats by mounting cards on cut pieces of 12-x-15-inch poster or mat board. Sandwich them between sheets of clear, self-sticking plastic or have them laminated at a print shop.
  3. Create place cards for Christmas dinner by writing each guest's name on the prettiest cards received. Set them above each dinner plate.
  4. Fresh out of gift tags? Cut the backs off cards, and write the recipient's and giver's names on the front. Then tape, tuck, or tie to the package.
  5. Create a "greetings wreath" by clipping cards with tiny wooden clothespins to the biggest wooden embroidery hoop you can find in the crafts store. Leave space to slip ribbon or yarn through the top and suspend it from an inside door or above the fireplace mantel.
  6. Encircle a window, door, or archway with cards by attaching loops of blue painter's tape to their backs. Painter's tape not only sticks well, it leaves no gummy residue on windows or walls.
  7. Swag a garland of greens over a mantel or through the top of a banister and clip cards to it with red and green clamp-style paper clips.
  8. Make a holiday screen by taping together three pieces of foam-core board and covering them with a collage of cards. Display the screen in a prominent corner of the living room and prop it in front of a mess when company arrives.

Staying in the Holiday Mood

How do you keep a positive mood when the holidays get stressful?