Maximising the joy of Christmas

Jolly up your holidays and head off any stress with these 50 timely tips and tricks.

Although Christmas is typically a time of joy, giving, light and laughter, it may not symbolise fun and games for everyone. As we approach our first ‘normal’ Christmas in two years with Covid on its way out, the pressure may be hitting you. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, and to help we’ve put together some tips to minimise the stress and maximise the joy this Christmas. With all the hustle and bustle of gift shopping, Mariah Carey on repeat, constant seasonal ads and expensive food, it’s easy to get caught up in expectations and lose sight of what is important. But despite all that, the true idea of the season is all about being together with your loved ones, thinking of others and reflecting on all that you have to be grateful for.


Let’s face it, Christmas is expensive. Feeling like you have to buy presents for your boss, book club bestie, mother-in-law, let alone your own family – the costs rack up on the credit card and can cause a lot of financial pressure and stress. Our favourite idea is suggesting to the adults in your family to keep the gifts to children only, and have the adults participate in a Secret Santa or Kris Kringle. This is where you each buy one gift with a maximum spend, put the wrapped presents in the middle, then make it into a fun game of steal and swap. This way, you’re only having to buy one gift, and getting a fun activity out of it too! Here are some other gift tips that won’t break the bank but still show your love.

1 Stuck for inspiration? Make a charity donation as a gift – donating in someone else’s name to a cause they are passionate about is a thoughtful idea. Not only is your money going towards the greater good, but the recipient will feel good too. Somewhere like Trees that Count (treesthatcount.co.nz) takes just a $10 donation to plant a native tree somewhere in Aotearoa.

2 Put your DIY skills to the test with a creative homemade gift for someone. Try putting together a personalised scrapbook, snack hamper, or some simple home baking. These kinds of gifts are always some of the most memorable and appreciated, as they say – it’s the thought that counts.

3 Another (free!) idea is to offer your time as a gift. This could be anything from babysitting or gardening to a particular skill you have such as designing or financial advice.

4 It’s ok to say no if you’re asked to participate in another random gift exchange. If you weren’t already buying for those people, don’t feel the need to give in to the pressure.

5 A thoughtful gift alternative is passing on a book you’ve read and loved, chosen specifically for the receiver based on their interests.

6 A simple card can go a long way. Purchase from somewhere like Oxfam, for every card purchased a donation is made towards a different global cause such as providing goats in Vanuatu and ending period poverty in Papua New Guinea.

7 Consider a ‘back-loaded’ gift for the children on your list. This may not provide instant excitement but will keep on giving, and hopefully lead to lifelong memories. This could be an experience, like a zoo membership, a day at a theme park or dance classes.

8 Use what you have around home or search second-hand stores for creative gift-wrapping alternatives. Some great options are old sheet music, maps or comic books, leftover fabric, wallpaper samples, an old calendar or even your kid’s artwork from throughout the year.

9 When gift shopping, prepare a checklist of who you are buying for and the budget, and do your best to stick to it.

10 Use cash – this will help with not going over budget, as you have the physical amount in your hand.

11 If you prefer to do your shopping online, sign up for different websites’ mailing lists and you’ll likely get a discount code, saving some coin. Easy!

12 Regift. Anything you’ve bought or received that you haven’t used or is in great condition is fair game.

13 Shop second-hand, hit the thrift stores, opshops and antique shops to find some pre-loved but good-as-new goodies to gift.

14 Be cautious of sales – it’s only a bargain if you were always planning on buying it!

15 Request free gift-wrapping at the store you’ve purchased from.

Family Politics

We all know that every family has its quirks, and Christmas Day lunch will always be sure to bring out some of those differences – with that many people around the table, combined with hot sun and cold bubbles, it’s a given. Here are some tips to navigate the family politics and enjoy a drama-free day.

16 Have realistic expectations – although the Christmas movies and ads on TV may show otherwise, everything isn’t perfect and it’s normal for less-than-ideal things to happen!

17 Suggest an after-lunch activity, such as conversation starters, a round of charades or a backyard game of cricket to keep everyone busy and entertained.

18 Enforce a politics-free zone at the table, to avoid any heated debates.

19 Remember everyone has different situations and stresses this time of year, so practise a little extra empathy and patience towards your family members.

20 What better a day than Christmas to enjoy a drink or few in the sunshine? Just try to pace yourself, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink to stop loose lips from causing arguments.


If you are spending the holidays on your own this year, there are some small things you can do to look after yourself and make sure you still have an enjoyable time.

21 Call or FaceTime your loved ones. When separated by distance, you may feel far from them but thanks to technology nowhere is too far.

22 Consider volunteering somewhere like your local City Mission or Everybody Eats (everybodyeats.nz), where you can share the day with others while doing something meaningful.

23 Make an extra effort to say yes to any invitation or opportunity that comes your way. You never know what may come of it!

24 Go along to some community celebrations. It’s almost guaranteed there will be something going on in your area, whether that be a neighbourhood picnic or public carol services.

25 Pamper yourself with a self-care activity. This could be a massage, or a bubble bath and movie night at home.

26 Practice gratitude for what you have. It’s easy to focus on what is missing but try and have appreciation for the wonderful things in your life.

27 Host a ‘Friendsmas’ – gather up others you know who may not have people to spend the holidays with and do something fun together.

28 Reach out if you need help, whether it is a friend or a helpline, there is always someone willing to listen.

29 The most important gift you can give yourself is kindness and empathy. Don’t be hard on yourself, talk to yourself how you would talk to a friend.

Hosting & Dietary Requirements

Hosting the whole whānau on Christmas Day can be a daunting task, but it’s important that you still enjoy the day yourself. A great way to take off some of the pressure is to ask each member of the family to bring a dish, making it a potluck lunch – that way you won’t be slaving away in the kitchen all day! You could even assign courses to avoid triple portions of roast potatoes (although, that’s not so bad).

30 Plan, plan, plan – the more organised you are in advance, the better.

31 Give everyone in your house a task, whether that’s putting out wine glasses, doing the dishes or peeling veges.

32 Set the table the night before so you have all the time in the world to perfect the small details.

33 If you have guests coming with dietary requirements, communication and understanding is key. Ask them for ideas or recipes and they will be happy to help.

34 Some easy vegan ideas include hummus and vege sticks, tortilla chips, even a cauliflower roast. Check out Jamie Oliver’s Vegan Christmas for some great recipes.

35 If you have a coeliac guest, try to prepare everything gluten-free. This helps avoid any cross-contamination, stress and no one will notice the difference! Swap out breadcrumbs for rice in your stuffing, use cornflour in the gravy, serve nuts and chips as snacks and check any sausages bound for the barbecue are GF too.

36 Check your alcohol labels too – not all beers and bubbles are vegan or gluten-free, believe it or not!

37 Utilise a portion planner to figure out how many people you’re cooking for and make sure you have the right amounts.

38 Christmas cooking always yields plenty of leftovers, so make sure you have cleared enough space in your fridge/freezer so you’re not wasting any food.

39 Have an emergency supply of wine and chocolates in case of any unexpected extra guests.

40 Make sure to give yourself a break, too – it’s okay to step out of the kitchen and take five, to clear your mind and regroup!

Give Back

Christmas is a time to appreciate what you do have and give to those who do not have. If you have the means to, donating or lending a hand is an invaluable way to show support towards those struggling.

41 Donate non-perishable food items to your local City Mission.

42 Leave an unwrapped new gift under the Wishing Tree at Kmart for a child within a specific age bracket.

43 Give to The Foodbank Project (foodbank.org.nz) or Christmas Box (christmasbox.co.nz), who deliver a meal box for families to share with their loved ones at Christmas.

44 Volunteer at a local rest home for a carols nights or Christmas lunch to bring joy to the elderly.

45 Participate in the Salvation Army’s ‘Adopt a Family’ initiative – you get assigned a family with children to buy personalised Christmas gifts for, so they have something to wake up to on Christmas morning.

45 Check out Saving The Wild (savingthewild.com), The Orangutan Project (orangutan.org.nz), Tearfund, (tearfund.org.nz) and Construcasa (construcasa.org) for other great worldwide causes to donate to.


Make this Christmas a happy one for the planet too.

46 Shop locally. Support small businesses this Christmas.

47 Remember to take your reusable bags when you’re out gift shopping or food shopping.

48 For the kids in your life, think twice about buying plastic toys. They come wrapped in plastic, are notoriously hard to recycle, are typically played with for maybe 10 minutes before the kid moves on to something more stimulating but the toy will live on in the landfill for 500-plus years.

49 If you can, get a real Christmas tree – you’re not just supporting New Zealand farms, but it contributes to air quality, is a renewable resource and is almost 100 per cent recyclable into mulch.

50 We all love twinkling Christmas lights at night, but did you know these use a lot of electricity, draining natural resources? Leave the grand glow to Auckland’s Franklin Road and opt for a smaller display, with LED lights that use up to 95 per cent less energy than traditional bulbs. Also remember to turn these off when you go to bed.

Extra tips:

Drop the expensive, high-stress rituals in favour of simplicity and what you really enjoy doing.

Mindful eating. Be conscious that foods high in sugar, stimulants and alcohol will stress the body.

Plan some ‘me’ time to recharge from the hustle and bustle. This could be a nature walk, reading a book in bed, or going to the movies.

Reach out to people who may be lonely or suffering.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone to share how you feel.

Exercise! Endorphins will always lift your mood.

• List the things you are proud of this year, and everything you have to be grateful for.

• Compromise is key – be gracious and hopefully it will be reciprocated.

Christmas Day can often contain more stress than bliss but we hope with these tips some of the pressure can be eased. The most important thing is your individual wellbeing – you can’t pour from an empty cup so look after yourself first and then you’ll be able spread joy to others!

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