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Family Holiday Parties Made Simple

Deck those home halls without all the stress. Conquer chaos and enjoy a simpler season when it comes to decor, shopping, food and loads more.

The traditional English carol declares, "Deck the halls with boughs of holly." Simple translation: "Decorate your house!" But many a December, it feels like moms are the one being decked – in the modern sense. In our quest for the picture-perfect Christmas, we exhaust ourselves baking cookies, searching every craft store in town for red ribbon, haunting the malls for the ideal gift, and generally driving our families crazy.

But did you really enjoy the season? Or did it sweep past you while you were rummaging in a box looking for that special something? If you're haunted by some of these ghosts of Craziness Past, here are ways to cut the complications, slow down, smell the apple cider and enjoy your kids – from LifeAsMom blogger Jessica Fisher.

Decor

Keep it straightforward. A pretty wreath on the front door and a few strings of lights will do wonders for your home's curb appeal. While it might not win your neighborhood's light display awards, it will be festive without wearing you out. Plus, it will be easier to include the kids in the project if it's not a major production.

Inside, choose one color scheme, such as white, red or gold. Thread it throughout your home in the form of candles, bows, fancy pillows and sparkling lights. Give the kids a voice in the placement of different items. Resist the urge to redecorate! Incorporate into your decor any holiday projects or crafts they've made. They'll love it and will feel part of the celebration.

Greetings

Rather than purchasing elaborate and expensive greeting cards and photos, combine them into one easy mailing: a postcard. Not only will this save time in writing shorter notes and not stuffing envelopes, your postage costs also will also be significantly lower! Companies like WinkFlash.com and MPix.com can take your custom design and produce dozens of great cards for a low price. Let the kids help by sticking on stamps and signing their names.

Matching gifts

Buy the same item for everyone on your list – at least those outside your immediate family. Buying one thing in bulk will give you fewer details to keep track of. A cool new board game (let the kids help choose!) and a few fancy snacks make a fun present for anyone: families, college students, singles and grandparents alike. Gift cards to restaurants are also a simple and fun treat. The amount doesn't have to be huge, especially if you choose a casual place like Panera or Starbucks.

Wrappings

Don't feel like you need to have an assortment of boxes, bags and bows. Choose one style, like red bags with white paper – or even brown paper packages tied with white string. Both are easy for children to help in the wrapping. Plan ahead and have white index cards and colored markers handy for the kids to craft cute yet simple tags. Authentic kid-print will bring a smile to almost any recipient's face.

Shop online

Remember last year when you hauled tired children around the mall? Avoid the crowds, canned music and endless marketing. You know you'll see something that "you just have to get," and find out weeks later that it really wasn't necessary. Instead, shop in your pajamas from the comfort of home.

Food

Plan a month of meals ahead of time. Include menus that can be made in the Crock-Pot, premade and stored in the freezer, or made with convenience items such as rotisserie chicken and bagged salad mixes. If the budget allows (or Santa brings an early gift), try a visit to a meal-prep kitchen, such as Dream Dinners or Super Suppers. There, you can assemble several weeks of meals at one time, without the hassle of shopping or chopping.

Effortless entertaining

Rather than planning elaborate dinner parties, assemble an appetizer party. You know kids love snack foods! Purchase an abundance of olives, cheeses, chips, crackers, dips and frozen hors d'oevres, as well as a few bottles of bubbly juices and waters. Stock a supply of festive napkins and cups. You'll be ready for a fun cocktail party or drop-in visits from neighbors and friends.

Just desserts

Purchase several varieties of cake mixes (white, vanilla, spice, chocolate) and a bundt pan. Stock up on basic ingredients (eggs and oil) and powdered sugar for dusting the finished product. In less than an hour, you can prepare a yummy yet elegant dessert. Bundt cakes are easy, quick and so accessible for the kid-size bakers in your home to help. For variety, serve cake slices with flavored whipped creams, warmed pie filling or hot fudge sauce.

Watch a festive flick

Prepare a stash of holiday movies to watch with friends and family. Don't depend on the local TV station to provide seasonal entertainment or try to work your schedule around theirs. You get to set the tone for the season! Purchase a few DVDs, order them from Netflix or reserve them from your local library ahead of time for the best selection.

Some favorites include How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It's a Charlie Brown Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, White Christmas and of course, Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol. Remember to watch them with your kids. They will enjoy making memories as you take the time to sit and cuddle for a while!

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