20 ways to have the best Christmas ever
'Tis the season to be jolly, and with these stress-busting tips, you'll be laughing all the way to the Quality Street tin.
1 Establish likes and dislikes
"The last thing you want is to serve something your guests don't eat or drink," says Sallyanne Clarke of Michelin-starred restaurant, L'Ecrivain. "Ask about preferences, allergies and intolerances in advance, and establish whether they're vegetarian, pescetarian or vegan. They'll appreciate your efforts even before they arrive."
2 Prepare in advance
"The secret to being a good host is spending your time at the table entertaining and not in the kitchen," says Sallyanne. "Have a cold starter and dessert pre-prepared in the fridge, so all you have to do is serve it. Leave the washing up, join your guests and enjoy their company."
3 Don't overload the oven
"I roast the potatoes on Christmas morning to take some of the pressure off," says Sophie White, author of 'Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown'. "Then when the turkey comes out to rest before carving, lash the roasties back in to crisp up before serving. "Mind you, with the rise of flexitarianism and clean eating this year, I predict that there'll be a fair few vegetarian Christmas dinners served around the country."
4 Embrace alternative diets
Avoid rows with your returned gym bunny offspring over the menu by careful advance communication. Try not to take it personally if they eschew your wonderful homemade pudding in favour of their own weird kale, chia and quinoa cupcakes. More pud for you, so their loss!
5 Pitch in to help
Adult children can revert to their childhood ways at home, and expect mammy to hand everything to them. "Don't just expect to be fed, watered and entertained for the week," says Brenda O'Grady of A & B Mediation in Laois. "Remember that while you've been away doing your own thing, your parents have also been leading their lives. So check you're not interrupting their routine, and communicate with them about your own plans."
6 Banish boredom
"Find out what activities are going on in your area, as nothing promotes disharmony more than boredom," says Brenda. "Visit relations, neighbours and friends, because communities love to see their diaspora coming home, especially in rural Ireland."
7 Go somewhere new
Travelling at Christmas can be wonderful, and travel consultant Aileen Eglington advises picking a destination that gives that cosy, homely feeling. "Middle Europe has wonderful old traditions," she says. "My pick would be to head to Salzburg, take in the Christmas markets, go to the carol service in the Cathedral and enjoy a 'Mozart Dinner' at St Peter Stiftskeller - the oldest restaurant in Europe."
8 Remember small essentials
Avoid stress by purchasing batteries for toys, antihistamines, analgesic and OTC flu medication, top-up vouchers for utility meters, and spare wrapped pressies in case of unexpected visitors.
9 Keep decorations simple
"Avoid overkill," says freelance Christmas design consultant, Orlagh Winters. "Focus on a few focal points like a fireplace, window or table. Take inspiration from things that uplift you, so if cinnamon reminds you of a happy memory, wrap a few sticks and place them around your house."
10 Pare back your festive style
"A statement accessory can give your long-time favourite piece a seasonal lift," says stylist Cathy O'Connor. "A little wardrobe planning will really pay off, so when you get that unexpected, but coveted, last-minute invitation, you'll be classy and fabulous."
11 Don't lose your head in the sales
"A bargain is only a bargain if you actually wear it," Cathy advises. "Have a look at your wardrobe, identify the gaps, and go on a mission to find those pieces. Before you know it, there'll be an array of spring/summer collections that you'll be drooling over, so leave a little cash aside for those."
12 Remember departed friends
While the ache for loved ones who have passed can become acute at Christmas, taking time to share fond memories can be soothing. Orlagh Winters suggests a bauble on the tree with their name on and a little feather inside as a lovely, simple way to ensure that they are still part of your Christmas.
13 Don't feel guilty over food
Look, 'tis the season to be jolly, and if you eat aaaall of the mince pies, that's okay. "Move forward with a fresh perspective and try to make sure the next decision is a positive one," says Weight Watchers' Leader of The Year Siobhan McGuire, from Wexford. "Take some exercise, even if it's just a short walk, because it puts you in a mindset to be more careful about what you eat. Also, avoid going to a party hungry and have a nutritious snack beforehand."
14 Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink
"This will help you to avoid over-consumption and a hangover the next day," says Siobhan. "And as we know, hangovers rarely allow for good eating habits."
15 Head outdoors
"Load the entire family and the dog into the car and head out for a long hike," says fitness expert Kelly Donegan, author of 'Build Your Own Body'. "You can burn anything from 420+ calories per hour during an uphill mountain hike, and it's so much fun and a lovely activity to do with loved ones. Christmas is a time to switch off and have fun, but realise that it spans three days and that's it. Don't let it turn into a lazy, unhealthy month of December."
16 Ask for or give 'healthy' presents
"This could be new trainers or gym gear, the latest health and fitness book, or a George Foreman grill or smoothie maker," says Kelly. "Be a positive source and inspire health in yourself or somebody else."
17 Safeguard pets from accidental poisoning
You may be tempted to give in to your dog's pleading eyes, but chocolate can have fatal consequences for pets. "Many ingredients that are toxic to dogs, such as onions, garlic and chocolate, are fat soluble and remain in their system for some time," says Cork-based certified animal behaviourist, Nanci Creedon. "Also, many dogs will guzzle down alcohol if given half a chance, so make sure all drinks are out of reach."
18 Take care of your skin
Rich food and drink can play havoc with your face, and beauty expert Dr Katherine Mulrooney of Seavite skincare advises keeping skin hydrated using good natural skincare and sipping water throughout the day. "Taking milk thistle tincture aids liver function, which in turn helps detox your skin," she says.
19 Banish puffy party eyes
"Place two ice cubes in an unperfumed make-up wipe, and hold up to the eyes for 10 minutes," says Katherine. She also recommends massaging face and body exfoliator into the skin in brisk, upward movements after a long, lukewarm shower to bring skin back to life and have you looking party ready.
20 Make the most of your time together
"Bring out the childhood boardgames, watch a video by candlelight, and play card games that all ages can join in," says Brenda O'Grady. "Turn off the phones, TV and computers, and chat and entertain each other. Most of all enjoy the time together, because families are precious."