My Top Stress-Free Holiday Ideas
Every other year my husband’s side of the family gathers together to celebrate and have great quality time together. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the 3 adult children, their spouses and the 8 grandchildren to all be with each other. We always have so much fun together, but pulling it off can be anything but stress-free!
It’s a logistical nightmare to figure out how to house, feed and entertain 15 people, some of whom still take naps (and many of whom sure wish they could sneak in some naps!) under one roof. The logistics get even more complicated when you add in the fact that we live in entirely different parts of the world, with one family in California, one in Arkansas, one in eastern Tennessee and one in Switzerland.
Your family may not be quite that spread out, but it’s becoming more and more normal for families to live far apart and for gatherings to be a bit of an act of Congress. So today I wanted to share a few solutions we have found that really helped gather us all together with less hassle.
Get a Vacation Rental for Large Families
My first stress-free holiday idea if you are bringing in family from many different parts of the country or world is to re-think the meeting location. It may be the default option for everyone to travel to grandma’s house, but is there another option that might actually be better? The best family holiday locations might not be in the city where anyone actually lives! For example, one year my family met up in Tunica, Mississippi, where NOBODY lives. We did this because we knew that the California and Switzerland crews were going to have to fly, regardless, but by finding a place that was within driving distance for the Arkansas and Tennessee families, we helped those two families save quite a bit because plane tickets were no longer needed for those 9 people.
As for the lodging, we found a large home on VRBO that was available to rent in the area (AirBnB is another great place to find homes to rent, FYI). It cost less than what those 9 plane tickets would have cost and it also had an additional benefit: nobody had the arduous task of serving as the host! Nobody had to do a deep clean of their home right before the holidays, and nobody had to contend with inflated home maintenance bills (water, electricity, gas) that a large party would cause. And no family had to feel like they weren’t really on vacation because they were just at their house. It was honestly GREAT! Vacation rentals for large families can be surprisingly affordable, especially if each family can tackle a portion of the overall bill, and we have found them to be a big component of cutting out stress while we are gathered together.
Stagger Visits a Bit
My second stress-free holiday idea applies in the event that you cannot find a unique location and must all gather at one family member’s home: stagger your visits a bit. This past Christmas the family was able to make the trip out to California (we were saying goodbye to the family home which is going to be sold later this year), and the home is very smartly designed with tons of open space. Still, it only has 3 bedrooms (and a den that becomes a fourth bedroom) and 15 people under one roof is just a lot! My family had the most flexibility with our travel plans, and we wanted to spend a lot of time in California since it would be our last visit for who knows how long, so we went for 20 days (I know!!!). It was just us for 5 or 6 of those days, and that transition was really nice. We got adjusted to the time zone and found our rhythm in the home before the next family joined us, and then a few days later the third family joined us and that’s when the fun factor reached its peak, as well as the chaos factor. But because we had our grounding, we were totally ready for it and it made things surprisingly smooth.
Plan Out the Meals
My third stress-free holiday tip is to take the time to plan out your meals BEFORE you gather together. For our California trip, I created a Google doc for the family so that everyone could have input on what their families liked to eat, or if there were any restaurants they wanted to visit (hello, In-N-Out!). The document, of course, is flexible, and we found ourselves rearranging, adding to, and taking away things that had been pre-planned, but having this guide on hand made our grocery trips much more efficient and effective, not to mention the fact that it helped keep the Christmas budget for a large family from spiraling out of control. It also kept the chaos to a minimum, especially as the numbers of folks in the house grew.
Split the Cooking Between the Families
My fourth stress-free holiday idea is to assign cooking days to families. Having the meals planned out is extremely helpful, but it can all fall apart if there’s no plan in place or who is actually going to turn the ingredients that were purchased into meals. We plotted out which families would be responsible for preparing which meals, and of course, we also helped each other out, serving as sous chefs when someone else was in charge, or helping by blocking the kids from the kitchen and taking them out to play. If there is a clear picture of who is doing what, it will prevent so much confusion and frustration and it will ensure that dinner makes it to the table before kids start melting down.
Figure Out Your “Must Haves” Right at the Start
My fifth stress-free holiday tip is to think about what is flexible and what isn’t for your family. If you have a little one for example, you may need to be very firm about sticking to the nap schedule (for the sake of everyone’s sanity!) but if you have older kids, you may have some wiggle room about exactly when bedtime is. It’s important to be open and honest about anything that really needs to happen for your family to stay happy (such as a daily iced coffee for me!). Your extended family doesn’t live with you day to day, so they don’t know if you don’t tell them!
Blend the Cultures
On a related note, my sixth stress-free holiday idea is for the adults to get together after the kids go to bed to hash out holiday traditions and to figure out how to blend them together. For example, in my family, Santa’s presents are open and on display, and in my husband’s family, they are wrapped in special tissue paper. Getting everyone on the same page about what traditions are really important and which ones can be a little different this year matters, and it also adds to the fun to get to incorporate someone else’s traditions into your celebration.
Take Turns Watching the Children
My seventh stress-free holiday tip is to leverage the babysitting power you have with all the adults on hand so that other adults can have quality conversations with each other. My brother-in-law, Brian, was highly skilled in this area, and he would take all of the kids out, along with one other adult who was available, and that would leave the other adults to have some much-needed quality time with each other, having good conversations without being interrupted 8,000 times, or to go do a fun activity together (small groups of adults took turns going to see the new Star Wars movie, for example). This strategy also works well to give the adult couples a chance to go out on a date, which is such a nice treat. By sharing the child-watching responsibilities, the adults actually got a chance to relax and have a bit of fun!
What all do you think? What are the stress free holiday ideas you use for your family? Leave a comment below and we can all help each other be happier and less stressful this holiday season!