Kristin Appenbrink, Lori Bergamotto, Elizabeth Jenkins, Maya Kukes, and Elizabeth Schatz Passarella
1 of 9 Dana Gallagher
Let Go of Holiday Stress
Do you love the holidays? Yes, probably. Do you suffer through the stress that likely goes with them? Errrr... There is a better way. Just take a deep breath, and follow the easy tips in this guide.
2 of 9Bob Hiemstra
Skip Traditional Gifts in Favor of Money-Saving Alternatives
Give to the group. “A Blu-ray player or an ice cream maker is a gift that everyone can enjoy together,” says New York City event planner David Tutera. Or surprise the gang with individually wrapped tickets to a shared activity.
Think small. Several creative stocking stuffers in lieu of one big (costly) gift affords you more of a chance to speak to the personality of the recipient while also stretching out the gift-opening process. One idea: chocolate-covered Cheerios ($6 for four ounces, mrchocolate.com). Take the stress out of Christmas shopping with a shopping plan.
Swap IOUs, but make them special. One Christmas, Randy Mast of Anchorage, Kentucky, gave Julia, his wife of 36 years, a handwritten letter thanking her for all the dishes she had washed during their marriage and promised to do them himself for a year. That vow included loading and unloading the dishwasher and, yes, washing by hand as necessary. Mast stuck to his word―even in the face of stuck-on food.
3 of 9Annie Schlechter
Take No-Sweat Holiday Photos
With a lit tree in the background: Disable your on-camera flash, says New York City photographer David Abbott Land. Newer cameras have a higher sensitivity to light (or an extended ISO range), so you’ll get natural glow (during daylight hours) by simply using the ambient light from the tree’s bulbs.
In freshly fallen snow: New York City photographer Ronnie Andren recommends turning your automatic dial to its sports exposure. “It shoots in a faster mode, reducing the glare you might get in the lens,” he says. It also helps to zoom in on your subjects.
On Christmas morning, when you have on no makeup (and got no sleep): “It’s all about the eyes,” says Andren. “Throw on a few dabs of concealer and take your position where the light streams in your direction but isn’t directly over your head. The person taking the picture should have his or her back to the light.”
With Santa: Show your child a (happy) picture of yourself when you posed with the bearded fella, then do a drive-by of the line a few times to show your child how other kids are doing it. Still, says Land, “some of the best shots are the ones of kids crying or eyeing Santa suspiciously.” How suspiciously? See Crying With Santa.
4 of 9Aya Brackett
You can regift something only if it meets the following criteria, says Jodi R.R. Smith, author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman ($10, amazon.com).
It is new and has never been opened.
It’s something you would have bought for the person anyway.
The original giver and the new recipient don’t know each other at all.
You’ve completely rewrapped it.
The only exception to the above? “If you’re giving an heirloom that you know the recipient will love,” says Smith.
And Learn From These Regifting Mistakes
Sadly, not everyone follows the rules above, as these stories from Real Simple readers prove.
“We received a waffle iron for a wedding gift and there was leftover waffle mix still on it. Gross!” ―Tracey Webster, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
“In 2008, when my daughter was born, someone gave us a Christmas ornament that said, ‘Baby’s First Christmas.’ Sweet. But when I turned the ornament around, it also showed the year―2002. Needless to say, it didn’t make it onto our tree.” ―Traci Ruhl Peugh, Rogue River, Oregon
“When my sister got married, she received a fondue set from my cousin―one of five total that she received. Months later, when she went to use it, there was a note inside the pot that was written to my cousin from someone else wishing the cousin a happy wedding day. My sister had actually regifted the other four sets, so thank God she kept the one with the incriminating note!” ―Rogenia Argoe Lembo, Manassas, Virginia
5 of 9Tara Donne
Use These Helpful Phrases If Your Flight Gets Canceled
“Operator, please connect me to customer service.” “The first thing you should do is call the airline, even while you’re waiting in line to be rerouted,” says Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge, an air-traveler assistance firm. “This way, you’re essentially cutting the line in front of you.” To expedite the rebooking process at the major airlines, keep these numbers in your wallet (click here for a downloadable version):
American Airlines: 800-433-7300 Continental Airlines: 800-525-0280 Delta: 800-221-1212 JetBlue Airways: 800-538-2583 United Airlines: 800-241-6522 US Airways: 800-428-4322
“Can I get you a sandwich?” If the phone lines are jammed and you do have to speak to someone in person, “don’t forget that ticket agents have been doing this all day, and many haven’t had a break,” says Snyder, who says that offering a sandwich or coffee can help differentiate you from other demanding customers.
“What about Rule 240?” No longer an actual rule, this term refers to the airlines’ “contract of carriage.” Terms vary among airlines, but “most major airlines have to take your ticket and endorse it toward the next available flight, even if it’s a competitor’s,” says Peter Greenberg, author of Tough Times, Great Travel ($4, amazon.com). One caveat: You can’t take advantage of this if you checked bags.
6 of 9Mark Lund
Deck the Halls Without Using a Single Nail
Try these no-fuss, hammer-free options to show off your holiday best.
Item: Lights Try: Command Cord Clips from 3M (available in three diameters), from $4, amazon.com.
If you’re on the interstate and desperate for a restroom... Try: Rest Area (free), which displays the closest ones in the area on a map.
If your niece is getting cranky and needs a quick distraction... Try: OldBooth (99 cents). This fun photo-booth application puts your face inside old-timey pics.
If you have trouble sleeping in strange places (hotel rooms, your uncle’s pull-out couch)...
Try: Ambiance ($2.99). Choose from dozens of ambient sounds, including waves on a beach, rain, and waterfall. Set the included sleep timer to fade out the sound after an hour.
If you’d like to take a family photo with the whole gang... Try: FotoTimer ($1.99). FotoTimer gives your iPhone the ability to set a timer to delay a photo from being taken until you’re ready (2, 5, 10, or 20 seconds).
If you can’t recall what goes in an old-fashioned... Try: Pocket Cocktails (99 cents). This retro-style mixology guide has gorgeous full-color photos and detailed recipes for more than 300 drinks. Don’t miss the shake/random-selection feature: When you jiggle the phone, it sounds like a cocktail shaker with ice in it.
If you don’t remember how to light a menorah... Try: iPhone Menorah (free). This app will show you how many candles to light for each day of Hanukkah in accordance with Ashkenazic customs.
If you’re stuck in the corner listening to your brother-in-law talk about his back surgery...
Try: Fake Caller (free). Program your phone to ring with a fake caller, then excuse yourself to take the call outside.
8 of 9Lucas Allen
Slash Your Odds of Experiencing a Holiday Snafu
What are the chances that you’ll get an unpleasant surprise of some sort or another during the hectic holiday season? Well, there’s always a possibility, but you can lessen the likelihood if you take a few simple precautions against some common holiday calamities. How likely is it that...
Your live Christmas tree will catch fire if you leave the lights on: Approximately 200 Christmas-tree fires are reported annually. Keep your natural tree watered and well tended to prevent igniting a flame; a dry tree is more likely to catch fire.
You’ll get sick from Thanksgiving stuffing: No one can police how many helpings of Aunt Tillie’s stuffing you scoop onto your plate, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 24-hour food-safety response system, dubbed “Ask Karen,” can help you avoid food-borne illnesses―though only of the nongluttonous variety.
Your Thanksgiving flight will be delayed or canceled due to inclement weather: Flight cancellations are game-time decisions, so check in with your airline the day of your flight. Airport conditions, as well as links to all airlines complying with the Federal Aviation Administration, can be found at fly.faa.gov.
Your child will cry on Santa’s lap in the mall: Visitors between the ages of 2 and 4 are more likely to turn on the waterworks at the sight of jolly old Saint Nick. Our best advice: Embrace it; it’s a rite of passage.
Your family will get into a fight over a seemingly innocent board game: Let “You sunk my battleship!” be just that―a loser’s concession in a friendly activity; don’t let it start a family war.
9 of 9 Francesco Lagnese
Play Some Mood-Lightening CDs
Each year, Bill Adler, the founding director of publicity for Def Jam Recordings, creates “Christmas Jollies,” a unique holiday mix that he sends out to more than 300 friends and family. Real Simple asked him to pick the must-have CDs for various holiday occasions.
For a Mellow Christmas Morning
My Holiday, by Mindy Smith “Mindy’s somewhat of a newcomer, and her voice evokes a Norah Jones vibe. She’s charming, intimate, and soulful, but her music is really fresh. You could listen to it all morning for her magnificent takes on old classics like ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ or for her original holiday songs.” Standout track: “Santa Will Find You.”
“This mix of suave West Coast blues is truly in the Santa spirit; it demands that the energy stays very high. It’s the kind of music at least one of your guests will ask you to turn up,” says Adler. Standout track: “Christmas Celebration,” by B.B. King.
During a Car Drive With the Whole Family
Christmas Through the Years, by Louis Armstrong “This a fantastic way to introduce the whole family to ‘Pops.’ It includes a lot of his hits, but you’ll want it for his reading of ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ There’s just no one who reads it and engages you like Louis.” Standout track: “The Night Before Christmas.”
After a Stressful Trip to the Mall
Christmas Songs by Sinatra, by Frank Sinatra “It’s hard to go wrong with Sinatra, and this is him in his early-years, choir-boy best―until he hardened into the lounge lizard of his older years. This provides the ultimate holiday relaxation,” says Adler. Standout track: They’re all standouts; we’re talking Sinatra here.