9. Establish a theme – Make gift giving a simpler affair by choosing a theme for all your presents. Declare it, “The Year of the Books” and buy a romance novel for mom, a travel book for a jet-setting friend and picture books for the kids. Themes are great for parties, too. Sites like www.orientaltrading.com and www.birthdayinabox.com offer themed invitations and decorations that’ll make it look like you spent months planning the perfect party.

10. Get delivery service – Go online to eliminate some of your errand-running this season. Depending on where you live, you may be able to have your groceries – everything from meat and dairy to fresh veggies – delivered right to your door for a small fee by Peapod or Netgrocer. The U.S. Postal Service online makes life similarly convenient. Go to www.usps.com to order stamps, which will be delivered to your mailbox, or to schedule a package pickup right from your door.

11. Hire help – Sometimes it’s worth splurging to make your life easier. Hiring professionals to install Christmas lights, for example, will allow you to spend the afternoon enjoying family time instead of checking and replacing burned-out bulbs. And a professional cleaning service, if only before or after a holiday event, can take a potentially unpleasant (and exhausting) task off your to-do list.


12. Host a cookie swap – Instead of buying ingredients for several different types of cookies, and then spending days in the kitchen baking each type, keep your ingredient list simple and host a cookie swap. Make 10 batches of your famous chocolate chip cookies, invite 10 friends to bring over 10 batches of their favorite cookies, and trade. You’ll have plenty of cookies to serve throughout the holidays as well as a great afternoon with friends.

13. Make an appointment with Santa – Photos with Santa are an important tradition for many, but who wants to wait in line for hours? Avoid the long lines at the mall – and the excruciating search for a parking spot in the midst of the shopping rush – and make an appointment to have the kids’ photos taken with the big guy. Photo studios all over the country offer Santa photos by appointment. Schedule a time first thing in the morning, so the kids have less time to get their holiday clothes wrinkled and dirty!

14. Rethink holiday dinner – Imagine sitting down to a holiday table brimming with all of your favorites – turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Now, imagine only having to cook one of those dishes. It can happen if you host a potluck. Ask Mom to make her famous stuffing and have Aunt Georgia make her blue-ribbon pumpkin pie.

15. Pick your priorities – Instead of trying to follow too many time-honored traditions, hold a family meeting and ask each member what tradition is most important to him or her. By skipping the less-meaningful events, like caroling in the cold, you can spend more time on the ones your family really does enjoy – like driving around the neighborhood to see the holiday lights.

16. Plan a huge party – Believe it or not, it’s easier to plan one large party than to host individual festivities for the family, neighbors and the bridge club. You’ll have only one RSVP list to manage, one whole-house cleaning session, one major shopping trip and one afternoon prepping hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen. (And your party will be the talk of the town for the rest of the year!)