From wrapping presents to pet-proofing your Christmas tree, these hacks make cutting corners the sensible choice
Christmas is a stressful time of year, when the striving for perfection can sometimes rub up against family drama. So in an effort to better manage your time it’s vital to know where, when and how to cut certain corners in order to render the entire ordeal that little bit easier.
While there’s no life hack for learning how to put up with tension-creating family members - beyond years spent on a therapist’s couch - these few tips and tricks can help turn the organisational minefield of wrapping, decorating, and getting on with something you won’t need to worry about so much.
How to keep your tree alive
If you buy a real tree, remember to cut roughly 5cm from the bottom of the trunk when you get it home, because sap will have gathered preventing it from absorbing water within three hours of it being felled.
As soon as possible, get the base into some water - and remember that the tree will soak it up, so you need to top up its supply every day. Should the tree dry out, consider drilling some small holes into the base of the trunk and lowering these into water as well.
Finally, be mindful of where you place your Christmas tree. While standing it beside a roaring fire might make for the perfect Instagram moment, the heat will almost certainly result in a desiccated tree that looks a bit miserable. Which is also why LED fairy lights, not only better for your electricity bill, are best for maintaining a regulated temperature.
How to pet-proof your decorations
While curiosity might well kill the cat, it’s almost certainly going to result in some smashed baubles if you’re not prepared for your cat or dog’s mesmerised fascination with the giant tinselly monument glowing rhythmically in the corner.
The first thing to remember is that thirsty pets love lapping from the tree’s supply, but that this can be poisonous to them, so make sure you select a water source that is covered. Also try and anchor the base of the tree with a heavy base, and consider investing in a tree skirt that will keep everything covered.
For the most determined cats, consider wrapping the base of the tree in tinfoil, which is not a surface cats like sticking their claws into and should dissuade them from any attempts to scale the branches. Also be mindful of where you place the tree in a room, looking out for shelves or sills that could act as a launch pad for leaping felines.
One school of thought recommends not decorating your tree straight away, letting your cat or dog acclimatise to the new presence in the room before adding all that distracting finery. Aside from that, consider a small amount of chemical warfare to keep your pets away; spray pine cones with citronella, which has a fresh citrus odour for us but which most animals dislike, or even consider decorating the bottom of the tree with dried orange slices, which are very unpleasant to cats.
Finally, consider using cable ties to firmly secure decorations to the tree so that they can’t be batted off by indiscriminate paws, and cover any electrical cables with duct tape.
How to keep the peace at the dinner table
2016 has been a doozy of a year, with a number of political and ideological philosophies of questionable merit rising to the forefront to the delight and revulsion of many. Therefore, the topics of discussion over the dinner table could easily become fraught with loaded subtexts and veiled threats, to the point that asking someone to pass the butter could well lead to a full-blown screaming match.
This is the season of goodwill and peace to all people, so consider starting off pleasantly and frame your argument with facts 0 we’ve all had enough fake news for one year. Try to respect the opinions of others and don’t think that admitting your own mistakes somehow invalidates your personal beliefs - it really doesn’t.
Allow anyone adversarial the opportunity to say their piece, but don’t just roll over and let him or her away with falsehoods or mistruths. Keeping an open mind only applies to the facts.
And whatever you do, don’t say anything about the turkey being dry.
How to wrap in style
There is no shortage of YouTube videos explains every which way to wrap your presents perfectly, from the Japanese 15-second method to repackaging used crisp bags as ‘stylish wrapping paper’, for which our only advice is to see the above life hack. It’s up to you which Christmas wrapping vision you choose for this year, so try the two videos below for some solid tips that could pique anyone’s interest… or Pinterest.
How to get over that Christmas hangover
The only surefire way to avoid a hangover is to the drink in moderation, but for many people, festivities go hand in hand with cheers-yelling drinking. It’s also a time of year when good intentions go out the window, and mixing drinks is so common that the morning after can have you swearing off for good.
Perhaps the best preparation is knowing your limitations and remembering to eat; while it’s an old wives’ tale to provide your body with some ‘soakage’, the US National Headache Foundation sides with the knowing aged spouses, advising everyone to eat a greasy meal to slow down alcohol consumption. Those adverse to a few sausage rolls can replace them with two tablespoons of honey, with the fructose and Vitamin B6 believed to reduce hangover symptoms.
Like your Christmas tree, hydration is the be all and end all, so match every glass of alcohol with one of water, and have a banana as soon as you wake up - the potassium will help things seem a little clearer.
How to snack sensibly at Christmas and New Year’s parties
While nobody wants to count calories when reaching into a bowl at a party, making the right choice at the buffet table can really help you with any aspirational goals come January 1st.
When it comes to salty snacks, bear in mind you can have 17 pistachios in place of seven crisps when netting 75 calories, but if you go for a dip, you’ll be able to consume as many as six tablespoons of salsa for every one of a sour-cream dip.
The king of holiday snacks in crudités, which are just raw vegetables with better PR, but bear in mind that for every three tortillas you shovel into your mouth, you will get the same calorific intake as 20 pieces of veg. Popcorn should replace pretzels, gingerbread men can form a mouth-friendly phalanx in place of ginger cake, and you’ll be able to eat as many as nine miniature candy canes for every one chocolate truffle.
But it’s the alcohol that you really need to watch out for; should your family or friends decide to go full-blown American and serve up mugs of creamy eggnog, remember that that’s the same as four flutes of champagne - and see above.
How to get off the couch and get some exercise over the break
Remember that lots of people will have good intentions and that the sign-up rate for gyms spikes at the turn of the new year. If you’re a regular gym user, you might find this inconvenient as your sacred space is busier than usual: grin and bear it, impatience doesn’t look good on anyone, even someone with a six pack.
For everyone else, making an achievable plan is the key to success. Consider the value of getting up early and going for a walk/run when the streets are clear and empty rather than lying in for days on end and developing an abysmal sleep routine you’d rather not. But also take advantage of having loved ones around to go with you - a 5k hike with someone you love on St Stephen’s Day can be a very nice way to work off the excesses of the previous day.