25 Holiday Hacks to Make Your Life a Little Easier This Season

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iStock

Chances are you’re already stressed out by the holidays. That’s no good. It feels like you don’t have enough time, enough money, or enough of a break during the break, which is why it’s important to take care of yourself and find shortcuts for making the holidays less tense.

Whether it’s decorating, wearing an ugly sweater to your office party, or finding the perfect gift, here are some holiday hacks to take the stress out of the season.

1. USE SANTA’S BAG TO ORGANIZE YOUR GIFTS.

Santa's Bag app screenshots
Santa's Bag

Santa's Bag, an excellent shopping list manager app, lets you keep tabs on your budget, your gift ideas, and your recipients so that no one leaves empty-handed—and you don’t end up with an empty wallet.

2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE SHIPPING DAY ON DECEMBER 15TH.

Person delivering package to woman at house
iStock

If you’re planning to purchase gifts online, you can shave a bit off the bottom line by doing it on December 15th, a.k.a. Free Shipping Day. As of this writing, more than 400 retailers are participating, including Kohl’s, Target, and Barnes & Noble.

3. FIND STORES THAT HONOR ONLINE PRICES.

woman looking at smartphone in clothing store
iStock

Stores like Macy’s, Home Depot, and Bed Bath & Beyond will price match that perfect gift with the price on their website, and those savings can stack up quickly. Be careful to check for small print like blackout dates and be sure to have your phone with you to show the sales clerk.

4. PICK UP COOPERATIVE BOARD GAMES.

Photo of a family playing a board game
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While you’re price-matching and enjoying free shipping, check out board games like Pandemic, Castle Panic, and Forbidden Island to bring out the cooperative spirit while passing the time with your family. Games like TableTopics can also be a great way to launch some fun conversations.

5. TURN YOUR PUMPKINS INTO SNOWMEN.

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Just as there's always that one neighbor whose holiday lights are still twinkling come Valentine's Day, there's a good chance that there are still some pumpkins hanging around your neighborhood, even though we're more than a month past Halloween. If that's you, turn your laziness into a craft by piling your leftover pumpkins up and turning them into a snowman. It's simple to do, fun for the whole family, and gives you an Earth-friendly excuse for still having a jack o' lantern in December.

6. LET SANTA IN WITHOUT A CHIMNEY.

Santa
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If your child is worried about how Santa will visit the house without a chimney to climb down, pick up a Magic Key and hang it on the door Christmas Eve. You can also build a DIY chimney out of cardboard boxes.

7. LET APPS BE YOUR GUIDE.

Honey app
Honey

Try using an app like Hopper to help you optimize your flight or an app like Honey to automatically apply promo codes to online shopping trips. You can also use apps from stores you like to get special rewards and coupons.

8. INVITE YOUR CROCK POT TO PARTIES.

Crock-Pot
Amazon

Utilizing your slow cooker can be a big help for family dinners and parties. Recipes are usually simple and delicious, there’s enough for everyone, and you don’t have to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun. When dinner’s done, make a big batch of hot cocoa or mulled wine.

9. SET UP A SECONDARY FRIDGE WHEN ENTERTAINING.

food in fridge
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Parties take up a lot of room in your refrigerator, so organize a cooler with condiments and extra ingredients you’ll need access to while cooking, or use it to stow random items you won’t need so you can use that valuable refrigerator real estate for drinks or party food essentials.

10. COOK AND BAKE AHEAD AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.

A photo of gingerbread cookies being iced
iStock

Instead of cramming your cooking into a single day, reduce the stress of getting it all done on time by prepping foods in advance. Items like mashed sweet potatoes, beet soups, and veggie salads can be made up to a few days prior to the party. The same goes for several pies, dough-based deserts, and cookies. All you’ll have to do is bake and chat with your friends.

11. ENHANCE YOUR OVEN SPACE.

Betty Crocker 3-tier Oven Rack
Amazon

Just like with your precious refrigerator space, there’s never enough room in the oven for everything you want to cram in there. You can expand that space with a tiered oven rack; perfect for dishes like pies and casseroles.

12. STOCK UP ON BUTTER.

stack of butter
iStock

Seriously. Almost every recipe uses it. You’re going to run out (and have to run to the crowded grocery store at the worst possible time).

13. USE SQUEEZE BOTTLES FOR KID-FRIENDLY ICING PROJECTS.

Girl and woman decorating cupcakes
iStock

If you’re looking for a fun way to bring the little ones in on the baking without the Jackson Pollock-style messy aftermath, use condiment bottles to make it easier for small (and big) hands to apply that royal icing.

14. PICK UP BROKEN GLASS ... WITH SANDWICH BREAD.

Photo of a broken red wine glass on the floor
iStock

These things happen (especially where there’s hot mulled wine available), but it’s annoying to need to pick up broken glass shards while you’ve got dozens of feet shuffling around the floor. The easiest, safest way to handle the situation is to grab a slice of sandwich bread (yes, really); press it on the ground to grab big and tiny bits of glass, then toss it in the trash.

15. MOVE THE CROWD TO AVOID DIRTY DISHES.

adults drinking wine in the living room
iStock

The curse of hosting a party is that you don’t get to enjoy your own gathering. Clean-up can be a major culprit because you don’t want people chatting around a pile of dirty dishes, but people will start saying their goodbyes as soon as you rinse the last dish. To avoid both, have your guests move into a different area to visit after dinner and leave the dishes for the morning.

16. DE-STALE YOUR LEFTOVER CHIPS.

Bag of potato chips
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When you have five half-emptied bags of chips following a party, and you’re looking at eating nothing but chips for the next week, you can either feed the birds or take the inevitable staleness out of the chips by tossing them into your oven for a few minutes.

17. MAKE BOWS OUT OF TAPE.

holiday pattern Scotch Duct Tape
Amazon

Duck Brand makes duct tape in festive patterns, which you can use to make sturdy, attractive bows for presents and decorating. They have snowmen, penguins, and candy canes, and if you need to do some quick air conditioner repair work, you can always undo the bows.

18. TURN A MASON JAR INTO A SNOW GLOBE.

mason jar snow globe
Mashable Watercooler, YouTube

Looking for a unique, inexpensive keepsake for each holiday season? This mason jar snow globe is ingenious. It’s simple to make, and since it’s customizable, you can make one every year with craft-sized versions of Christmas trees, menorahs, or whatever your imagination invents.

19. USE A LASER PROJECTOR FOR YOUR OUTDOOR LIGHTS.

holiday lights projected onto a house
Amazon

If you don’t have the time, inclination, or a large enough ladder to string up lights all around the outside of your house, consider buying a laser projector to create an incredible design without all the hassle.

20. TAKE THE TANGLE OUT OF YOUR HOLIDAY LIGHTS.

holiday string lights
iStock

If you find yourself wrestling with the tangled, Christmas light Kraken, it’s time to set your future self up with an organized solution by cutting your own cardboard holders for plastic bins, wrapping them on plastic coat hangers, or wrap them around tension rods before stowing them away.

21. GET YOUR WRAPPING PAPER SAFELY SORTED.

gift wrapping materials
iStock

Like lights, you can buy an expensive wrapping paper-specific storage container if you’d like. You can also use a wire wastepaper bin, a wine crate, clip them to plastic rings to hang on hooks on the back of a door, or keep them in a hanging garment bag. (Plus, ribbon rolls stays obedient when you keep them on a paper towel holder.)

22. IMPROVISE IF YOU RUN OUT OF WRAPPING PAPER.

wrapped gift
iStock

Instead of yet another trip to the store, you can use brown bags, map pages from an old atlas, newspaper pages, scrap fabric pieces, or your ugly Christmas sweater to creatively wrap a gift.

23. GET RID OF GIFT CARDS YOU DON’T WANT.

gift card
iStock

Maybe you wanted Home Depot but they got you Starbucks. Or maybe you wanted Target but they got you Jiffy Lube. Either way, Gift Card Granny offers a way to sell unwanted gift cards and buy discounted ones from tons of stores.

24. GET RID OF YOUR TREE WITHOUT DROPPING THE NEEDLES.

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The beauty of a live Christmas tree is only rivaled by the metric ton of pine needles that fall off as you drag it out of your house. To avoid leaving a needle trail, wrap the tree in trash bags (or a special tree removal bag) before carrying it out. Just remember to remove the trash bags once you get it to the curb (or else your tree will end up at the garbage dump instead of being mulched).

25. REMEMBER TO TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF.

woman meditating on bed
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The holidays are demanding, and hacks can only trim your time and budget down so much. With so much extra duties on our plates, it’s important to actively plan some low-key relaxation time for yourself. Prepping a big family dinner or party? Maybe plan to get a quiet coffee with a friend the day before. Struggling to come up with activities for all your visiting relatives? Even five minutes of solo meditation can make a big difference.

15 Long-Lost Words To Revive This Christmas

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iStock.com/duncan1890

Nog. Tidings. Wassail. Every time Christmas rolls around it brings with it its own vocabulary of words you barely hear the rest of the year. But while words derived from ancient English ales (like the nog in eggnog) and Middle English greetings (wassail is thought to derive from a Germanic phrase meaning “good health!”) are one thing, some choice festive words haven’t stood the test of time, and are basically unknown outside of the dustiest corners of the dictionary.

Here are 15 long-lost and long-forgotten words to get you through the holiday season.

1. Ninguid

Derived from Latin, a landscape that is ninguid is snow-covered. And if that’s what your walk to work looks like over the festive period, you might also need to know that to meggle is to trudge laboriously through snow. (A peck-of-apples, meanwhile, is a fall on ice.)

2. Crump

That crunching sound you make walking on partially frozen snow is called crumping.

3. Hiemate

Hibernate is sleeping throughout the entire winter; hiemate is to spend winter somewhere.

4. Yuleshard

As another word for the festive period, Yule comes via Old English from jol, an ancient Scandinavian word for a series of end-of-year festivities. A yuleshard—also called a yule-jade (jade being an insult once upon a time)—is someone who leaves a lot of work still to be done on Christmas Eve night.

5. Yule-Hole

And the yule-hole is the (usually makeshift) hole you need to move your belt to after you’ve eaten a massive meal.

6. Belly-Cheer

Dating from the 1500s, belly-cheer or belly-timber is a brilliantly evocative word for fine food or gluttonous eating.

7. Doniferous

If you’re doniferous then you’re carrying a present. The act of offering a present is called oblation, which originally was (and, in some contexts, still is) a religious term referring specifically to the presentation of money or donation of goods to the church. But since the 15th century it’s been used more loosely to refer to the action of offering or presenting any gift or donation, or, in particular, a gratuity.

8. Pourboire

Speaking of gratuities, a tip or donation of cash intended to be spent on drink is a pourboire—French, literally, for “for drink.” Money given in lieu of a gift, meanwhile, has been known as present-silver since the 1500s.

9. Toe-Cover

A cheap and totally useless present? In 1940s slang, that was a toe-cover.

10. Xenium

A gift given to a houseguest, or a gift given by a guest to their host, is called a xenium.

11. Scurryfunge

Probably distantly related to words like scour or scourge, scurryfunge first appeared in the late 18th century, with meanings of “to lash” or, depending on region, “to scour.” By the mid-1900s, however, things had changed: perhaps in allusion to scrubbing or working hard enough to abrade a surface, scurryfunge came to mean “to hastily tidy a house” before unexpected company arrive.

12. Quaaltagh

Quaaltagh was actually borrowed into English in the 1800s from Manx, the Celtic-origin language spoken on the Isle of Man—a tiny island located halfway between Britain and Ireland in the Irish Sea. It was on the Isle of Man that festive tradition dictates that the identity of the first person you see (or the first to enter your house) on Christmas or New Year morning will have some bearing on the events of the year to come. And in Manx culture, the person you meet on that early-morning encounter is called the quaaltagh.

13. Lucky-Bird

We’re more likely to call them a first-footer these days, but according to old Yorkshire folklore the first person across the threshold of your home on New Year’s morning is the lucky-bird. And just like the quaaltagh, tradition dictates that the identity of the lucky-bird has an important bearing on the success of the year to come: Men are the most fortuitous lucky-birds; depending on region, either dark-haired or light-haired men might be favored (but dark-haired is more common). Other regional variations claimed the man had to be a bachelor, had to bring a gift of coal (though by the 1880s whisky was increasingly popular), and/or had to have a high arch on the foot. People with a suitable combination for their region could “become almost professional,” according to the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement.

14. Apolausticism

Derived from the Greek word for “to enjoy,” apolausticism is a long-lost 19th-century word for a total devotion to enjoying yourself.

15. Crapulence

Once all the festive dust and New Year confetti has settled, here’s a word for the morning after the night before: crapulence, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, is an 18th-century word for “sickness or indisposition resulting from excess in drinking or eating.”

The Reindeer Rule: Why You'll See Rudolph in Any Public Christmas Display

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iStock.com/ekash

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But in practice, not everyone agrees on what abiding by that clause means in real-life situations. For instance, can a courthouse or a public park feature a nativity scene?

According to the Supreme Court, maybe not—or at least not unless it includes a menorah and a plastic reindeer, too. In the 1984 case of Lynch v. Donnelly, the court established a precedent that became known as the “reindeer rule," a legal standard that has governed public displays of holiday cheer ever since.

The case hinged on a Rhode Island display that was owned by the city of Pawtucket but was located in a park owned by a nonprofit organization. The annual display, which dated back 40 years, included a nativity scene (also known as a creche or crèche) in addition to other Christmastime symbols like reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, a Christmas tree, and a “seasons greetings” banner. The justices ruled in favor of the nativity scene, arguing that there was a secular argument to be made about including the religious reference:

The display is sponsored by the city to celebrate the Holiday recognized by Congress and national tradition and to depict the origins of that Holiday; these are legitimate secular purposes. Whatever benefit to one faith or religion or to all religions inclusion of the creche in the display effects, is indirect, remote, and incidental, and is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the congressional and executive recognition of the origins of Christmas, or the exhibition of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums.

In the case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor put forth a legal rule of thumb called the “endorsement test,” writing that governments can run afoul of the Establishment Clause by appearing to endorse a specific religion or a belief, rather than being inclusive of a variety of beliefs. “Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community,” O'Connor explained.

According to the National Constitution Center, “Court observers at the time saw the presence of the reindeer as broadening the purpose of the display.” And so the reindeer rule was born.

Then, a 1989 Supreme Court ruling in reference to two holiday displays inside and outside the Allegheny County courthouse in Pittsburgh made this standard even more clear. A nativity scene inside the courthouse that prominently displayed a banner that read, in Latin, “Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ,” with no secular objects on display, was ruled unconstitutional. Meanwhile, a display outside the courthouse with a menorah, a Christmas tree, and a sign that declared the city’s “salute to liberty,” as the case ruling puts it, was allowed to stay. With the overtly Christian indoor display, nothing counteracted the government endorsement of “a patently Christian message.”

As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in his opinion, “Although the government may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, it may not observe it as a Christian holy day by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus,” while the menorah display combined “with a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty does not impermissibly endorse both the Christian and Jewish faiths, but simply recognizes that both Christmas and Chanukah are part of the same winter-holiday season, which has attained a secular status in our society. The widely accepted view of the Christmas tree as the preeminent secular symbol of the Christmas season emphasizes this point.” This ruling only applies to government property and government sponsored displays, though, which is why it's completely fine for private entities like churches to erect public displays of nativity scenes on their property.

Though the reindeer rule seems pretty clear, it hasn’t stopped towns from testing the boundaries of the court’s ruling over the decades since it was established.

In 2014, Cherokee County, Texas, for instance, got into a spat with the American Humanist Association over the constitutionality of a nativity scene in front of the county courthouse. The state attorney general publicly supported the county, and there was no forced removal of the display. That same year, similar controversies took place in towns in Virginia and Arkansas. Some cities have groups like the Thomas More Society and the American Nativity Scene Committee, which work to get Christian displays erected in public places across the country, to thank for their nativity scenes. The former calls nativity scenes “classic free speech.”

But some towns have proven to be a little more inclusive of other holiday decor—or at least wary of litigation. The Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, for instance, has approved holiday displays that include not just nativity scenes, but privately funded decorative contributions from the Satanic Temple, Seinfeld fans (a Festivus pole), and Pastafarian followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But the U.S. remains a very Christian country, despite its longstanding religious freedom laws, and according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 44 percent of American adults think Christian symbols are OK to display on government property, even in the absence of symbols from other faiths. It should be noted that a Pew survey that year on religion found that 71 percent of Americans identified as Christians, though the percentages of residents practicing other faiths or identifying as atheists has been rising. Still, that doesn’t mean that nativity scenes get total respect in America. Plenty of baby Jesuses get swiped out of their mangers every year.

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