15 Tips and Tricks for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

Preparing a house for the holidays has the potential to be both time consuming and annoying. But with some Yuletide cheer and these tricks, setting up your home can be a stress-free affair.

1. MEASURE YOUR SPACE BEFORE YOU BUY A TREE.

Whether you're going real or fake, picking the right tree is one of the most important parts of the holiday season—and there's nothing worse than selecting a tree and bringing it home to find it doesn't fit in your space. So before you go out to the tree farm or Christmas tree store, measure your space (don't forget to factor in the height of your tree stand!). It's also not a bad idea to measure the door you want to squeeze the tree through.

Need tips for picking the right tree for you? Real trees should have a symmetrical shape that tapers up. Before you get it inside, prune any areas that are unruly or extend outwardly from the shape of the tree. Keep in mind that pine trees tend to have longer needles, and fir trees tend to have softer needles. If you have allergies, consider a spruce tree—its scent is less pungent and fragrant than pine or fir. You can also go artificial, in which case you'll want to make sure you bend the branches and fluff the tree to hide the spaces between each layer. Then light a pine-scented candle to make it smell like the real thing. 

2. BEFORE PUTTING YOUR TREE IN ITS STAND, CUT IT AROUND THE BASE.

Cut a 1/2-inch thick disk off the base of the tree trunk to make it easier for the tree to absorb water. Your tree stand should have a deep reservoir; once your tree is set up, fill it to the top. After that, add water daily so it doesn't dry out—you'll need about 1 quart of water per inch of the trunk in diameter.

3. MAKE ROOM FOR BIG PRESENTS BY ELEVATING YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE.

Trying to shove large presents under a low tree can be pretty frustrating, not to mention messy—so give your tree a boost. Place a few paint cans in a wide cardboard box to keep it sturdy, then place your tree on top. (You can also use a block of wood.) As an added bonus, your elevated tree appears larger than it really is and has a bigger presence in the room.

4. USE A PVC PIPE AND A FUNNEL TO GET WATER TO THE TREE.

An easy way to water your tree without getting gook or needles all over you is to place a 3- to 5-foot 3/4-inch PVC pipe into the reservoir with a 45-degree elbow connector and a funnel attached to its top. Then all you have to do to water the tree is pour water into the funnel, so it travels through the pipe into the reservoir.

5. TREE RESIN ON YOUR HANDS? USE HAND SANITIZER TO GET RID OF IT.

Let’s face it: Getting a real tree for Christmas is really messy. When you inevitably get tree sap on your hands and clothes, using soap and water to remove the sticky resin isn't the solution. Instead, trying using hand sanitizer. It contains alcohol, which will break up the resin on your skin in only a matter of seconds. If you don’t have hand sanitizer on hand, try cooking oil, peanut butter, or even toothpaste should also do the trick

6. USE A LINT ROLLER TO GET RID OF ERRANT PINE NEEDLES.

Regular watering of your tree will greatly reduce the number of pine needles that fall off it—but your tree will still shed, and those needles will end up everywhere. And even vacuums can't get every little needle.

One of the best ways to clean up loose pine needles from your furniture is using an over-sized lint roller. It might seem awkward, but it does the trick. If you’d rather stand while getting rid of the needles, consider buying a rubber broom, which works even on carpets: Use shorter strokes, which will build a static charge and help you pick up needles quickly. 

If there are still small pine needles hanging around, use a piece of duct tape (sticky side out) wrapped around your hand to dab needles off the floor.

7. KEEP FAKE TREES FROM TIPPING OVER WITH A BAG OF RICE.

If you’ve got an artificial Christmas tree this year, make sure you use a hefty weight around the base so it doesn’t tip over when you’re decorating (or after you're done). A 10 pound bag of rice on the back of the base of the tree should keep it sturdy; you can also use a few bricks to balance out the weight. 

8. TRIM YOUR TREE IN THE RIGHT ORDER.

Hanging and wrapping garland and tinsel should be the first thing you do after you set up your tree. Use a simple burlap garland or tinsel to fill out any shallow spots or holes. It’s also an easy way to spruce up your tree if you’re using an artificial one or you don’t have a lot of ornaments and other holiday decorations. For every foot of your tree, you should wrap about 9 feet of garland or tinsel around it.

Next, add lights. The best way to string lights on your Christmas tree is from the inside out; start at the base of the trunk and work your way up, wrapping the lights around every big branch and back until you get to the tip of the Christmas tree. For every foot-and-a-half of your tree, you should use about 100 lights (or more if they're particularly small). You can also use large and small sized lights around your Christmas tree to make it look fuller.

Then it's time to hang your ornaments. Make sure ahead of time that you have enough hooks for each ornament you use (or pick up some green florist’s wire, which blends in better than traditional hooks). If you have pets, use ribbons instead of hooks, so your cat or dog doesn’t get hurt if they play with the ornaments. (Also consider placing ornaments on higher branches so there’s less a risk of your pet knocking one over—or chewing on one.)

When placing ornaments around the tree, put heavier and larger ones on the sturdier inside branches, and the smaller ones on the outer tips. Lastly, place the topper at the very top once you are satisfied with your Christmas tree.

9. USE BREAD TO CLEAN UP BROKEN ORNAMENTS OR GLASS.

Whether you drop an ornament or your party guest drops a glass, don't reach for the vacuum—the glass can damage it. Instead, reach for the bread bag: After sweeping up the big pieces with a broom, you can easily clean up tiny shards with a slice of bread; just press the slice onto the floor where the glass was shattered, then toss it out.

10. REMOVE PACKAGING BEFORE WRAPPING GIFTS.

Ripping through wrapping paper is fun for kids. What's not fun for kids—or adults—is trying to get through the tape, zip ties, screws, and heavy plastic that surround their new toys. Valuable playtime is at stake, so give your kids a break by removing the toy from its packaging before you gift wrap it. Use a package opener tool to make quick work of the maddening manufacturer's packaging before placing the toy back into the outer box and then wrapping it. If a toy needs some assembly, take the toy out of its package and put it together before you wrap it with wrapping paper. Now when your kids open their gifts on Christmas Day, they can spend more time playing with their toys, and you can spend more time relaxing.

11. USE A TOILET PAPER ROLL TO HOLD WRAPPING PAPER.

The best way to secure and hold your wrapping paper in place for storage is to use an old toilet paper roll. Cut the tube longways down the middle to open it up. When you’re done wrapping, take the opened toilet paper roll and wrap it around your wrapping paper like a napkin ring. The wrapping paper will stay secure and not unroll when you store it.

If you have multiple rolls of wrapping paper leftover after the holidays, store it in an old waste paper basket or hang them in a garment bag until next year. It will keep them neat and tidy, instead of loose on the top shelf of your closet.

12. USE A PAPER TOWEL HOLDER FOR EASY ACCESS TO RIBBONS.

A paper towel holder can be used for more than just paper towels. Place a few spools of gift wrapping ribbon in a paper towel holder from largest to smallest from the bottom up. This is the quickest way to organize and dispense ribbons to finish off the perfect holiday gift.

13. STORE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS ON A HANGER.

Christmas lights are a pain to untangle every year. Instead of messing around with a rat’s nest, wrap your lights around a plastic coat hanger or cardboard paper towel roll. It will be easier to untangle and unwrap as you string them on a Christmas tree or window. Be sure to plug the ends into each other to keep your lights secure and tangle free.

14. USE COFFEE TINS OR EGG CARTONS TO STORE ORNAMENTS.

Instead of throwing ornaments in an old shoebox, place medium to large ornaments in an old coffee tin or cheap plastic drinking cups. Clean out an old coffee tin and gently place larger Christmas decorations wrapped in newspaper inside. For medium sized ornaments, store them in plastic drinking cups inside of a larger plastic storage bin. Use an empty egg carton to store smaller Christmas ornaments. This is a good way to keep ornaments tidy, compact, and easy to access next year.

15. SAVE TIME FOR NEXT YEAR BY WRAPPING YOUR FAKE TREE IN PLASTIC WRAP, ORNAMENTS AND ALL.

Taking down a Christmas tree is never as fun as putting it up, so if you’re using an artificial tree, simply wrap the entire Christmas tree with lights and decorations on it with plastic wrap. Once you’ve wrapped it around the tree a few times, store it in your basement or garage. When Christmas comes again the following year, it will be easier to set up and display for another holiday season.

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10 Things You Didn't Know About the Fourth of July
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With 242 years of tradition behind it, the Fourth of July is one of America’s most cherished holidays. It's when we celebrate our nation's mythology with a day off, a backyard barbecue, and plenty of fireworks. But with all that history, you'd be forgiven if you didn't know quite everything about July 4. So from the true story behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to some staggering hot dog statistics, here are 10 things you might not know about the Fourth of July.

1. THE DECLARATION WASN'T SIGNED ON JULY 4 (OR IN JULY AT ALL).

John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumbull [Public domain] // Wikimedia Commons

It might make for an iconic painting, but that famous image of all the Founding Fathers and Continental Congress huddled together, presenting the first draft of the Declaration of Independence for July 4, 1776 signing, isn't quite how things really went down. As famed historian David McCullough wrote, "No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."

It's now generally accepted that the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed on the Fourth of July—that's just the day the document was formally dated, finalized, and adopted by the Continental Congress, which had officially voted for independence on July 2 (the day John Adams thought we should celebrate). Early printed copies of the Declaration were signed by John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson to be given to military officers and various political committees, but the bulk of the other 54 men signed an official engrossed (finalized and in larger print) copy on August 2, with others to follow at a later date. Hancock (boldly) signed his name again on the updated version.

So if you want to sound like a history buff at your family's barbecue this year, point out that we're celebrating the adoption of the Declaration, not the signing of it.

2. THE FIRST CELEBRATIONS WEREN'T MUCH DIFFERENT THAN TODAY'S.

After years of pent-up frustration, the colonies let loose upon hearing the words of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Military personnel and civilians in the Bowling Green section of Manhattan tore down a statue of King George III and later melted it into bullets; the King’s coat of arms was used as kindling for a bonfire in Philadelphia; and in Savannah, Georgia, the citizens burnt the King in effigy and held a mock funeral for their royal foe.

Independence Day celebrations began to look a bit more familiar the following year, as the July 18, 1777 issue of the Virginia Gazette describes the July 4 celebration in Philadelphia:

"The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal."

There were even ships decked out in patriotic colors lining harbors and streamers littering city streets. Once you get past the mock funerals and rioting of 1776, modern Independence Day celebrations have stuck pretty close to the traditions started in 1777.

3. EATING SALMON ON THE FOURTH IS A TRADITION IN NEW ENGLAND.

The tradition of eating salmon on the Fourth of July began in New England as kind of a coincidence. It just so happened that during the middle of the summer, salmon was in abundance in rivers throughout the region, so it was a common sight on tables at the time. It eventually got lumped in to the Fourth and has stayed that way ever since, even with the decline of Atlantic salmon.

To serve salmon the traditional New England way, you'll have to pair it with some green peas. And if you're really striving for 18th-century authenticity, enjoy the whole meal with some turtle soup, like John and Abigail Adams supposedly did on the first Fourth of July. (You can still be a patriot without the soup, though.)

4. MASSACHUSETTS WAS THE FIRST STATE TO RECOGNIZE THE HOLIDAY.

Massachusetts recognized the Fourth of July as an official holiday on July 3, 1781, making it the first state to do so. It wasn't until June 28, 1870 that Congress decided to start designating federal holidays [PDF], with the first four being New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. This decreed that those days were holidays for federal employees.

However, there was a distinction. The Fourth was a holiday "within the District of Columbia" only. It would take years of new legislation to expand the holiday to all federal employees.

5. THE OLDEST ANNUAL FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION IS HELD IN BRISTOL, RHODE ISLAND.

Eighty-five years before the Fourth of July was even recognized as a federal holiday, one tradition began that continues to this day. Billed as "America's Oldest Fourth of July Celebration," the town of Bristol, Rhode Island, has been doing Independence Day right since 1785.

The festivities began just two years after the Revolutionary War ended, and 2017 will be its 232nd entry. Over the years the whole thing has expanded well beyond July 4; the town of 23,000 residents now begins to celebrate the United States on Flag Day, June 14, all the way through to the 2.5-mile July 4 parade. What began as a "patriotic exercise"—meaning church services—has morphed into a cavalcade of parades, live music, food, and other activities.

6. AND THE SHORTEST PARADE IS IN APTOS, CALIFORNIA.

From the oldest to the shortest, the Fourth of July parade in Aptos, California, is just a hair over half a mile long. Taking up two city blocks, and measuring just .6 miles, this brief bit of patriotism features antique cars, decorated trucks, and plenty of walkers. Afterward, there's a Party in the Park, where folks can enjoy live music, food, and games.

7. THERE ARE AROUND 15,000 INDEPENDENCE DAY FIREWORKS CELEBRATIONS EVERY YEAR.

Fireworks burst over New York City.
JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, around 15,000 fireworks displays will take place for the Fourth of July holiday (even if some aren't exactly on July 4). Though pricing varies, most small towns spend anywhere from $8000-$15,000 for a fireworks display, with larger cities going into the millions, like the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at around $2.5 million.

8. WE'LL EAT AN OBSCENE AMOUNT OF HOT DOGS.

Around 150 million, to be more specific—that's how many hot dogs will be consumed by Americans on the Fourth of July. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, that amount of dogs can stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles more than five times.

In 2016, 70 of those dogs were scarfed down by Joey Chestnut, who won the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition for the ninth time.

9. AND WE'LL SPEND BILLIONS ON FOOD.

Americans will spend big on food and drinks this Fourth. Big to the tune of around $7.1 billion when all is said and done, according to the National Retail Federation. This includes food and other cookout expenses, averaging out to about $73 per person participating in a barbecue, outdoor cookout or picnic.

Then comes the booze. The Beer Institute estimates that Americans will spend around $1 billion on beer for their Fourth celebrations, and more than $450 million on wine.

10. THREE PRESIDENTS HAVE DIED, AND ONE WAS BORN, ON THE FOURTH.

You probably know that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826—50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. They're not the only presidents to have died on the Fourth, though; James Monroe—the nation’s fifth president—died just a few years later on July 4, 1831.

Though the holiday might seem like it has it out for former presidents, there was one future leader born on Independence Day. The country's 30th Commander-in-Chief, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4, 1872.

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These Digital Fireworks Displays Can Help You Celebrate July 4 Wherever You Live
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Every Fourth of July needs to be capped off with a dazzling fireworks display, but depending on where you live, getting to one isn’t always easy. Many states have strict laws around which fireworks you can and can’t use on your own, and if there’s no public show in your town, you may be totally out of luck.

If you’re still craving a show, though, AtmosFX’s digital fireworks displays may be your best bet. These digital, animated fireworks shows can be downloaded from the company’s site where you can then either display them on your TV or project them onto surfaces around your home or backyard. The video options available allow for some customization, so you can either stick with a generic fireworks display or choose some patriotic colors along with a "Happy Fourth of July" message.

The company’s various digital fireworks videos come in at a 1080p HD resolution with sound effects that can be adjusted and customized—which is the perfect alternative to those decibel-busting fireworks displays designed to frighten your beloved pets. Some videos are meant to be displayed on TVs and monitors, while others are for wall projections and window displays. You can buy these à la carte for $6.99 each, or together in a package for $20.

Whether you live in an apartment, a state that prohibits fireworks, or are expecting some wet weather for your Independence Day party, look into a digital alternative by heading to the AtmosFX website.

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