We show you how to be prepared and in control in the lead up to Christmas. With some careful and thoughtful planning, the silly season will be fabulous, not frenetic!

Menu planning

Whether you’re having an immediate family dinner on Christmas Eve or a full-blown traditional Christmas-Day lunch, you’ll need to carefully plan a menu so there’s a sense of abundance and celebration without lots of leftovers. Firstly, decide what type of food you’d like to have on the day; for instance traditional roasted turkey, glazed ham or something lighter such as freshly shucked oysters and barbecued seafood. From there, add what you’d like such as appetiser, entree, side dishes and dessert so you can calculate portion size and how much you will need to buy.

Technique found in magazines and cook books tend to indicate how many people a dish will serve, which is a great help as you can usually fiddle with ingredients to match your numbers. If you’re after a turkey, bear in mind a 3 kilogram turkey will cater for around five people and a 10 kilogram bird will feed about 17. If in doubt, ask you butcher for advice.

Getting as much done in advance is important, so make room in the fridge as early as possible. Chefs don’t start a meal from scratch when someone walks into their restaurant and nor should you, if you want to keep Christmas lunch manageable and enjoyable. It helps enormously if you’ve worked out a plan for how long things will take to prepare and cook so you know what time you need to start doing things. For instance, if you’re serving turkey at a one o’clock lunch and it takes three hours to cook, you will need to have it in the oven by 10 o’clock that morning.

Tip: If roasting a turkey or glazing a ham, make sure your oven is big enough to handle what you have in mind. Consider using a covered barbecue as an alternative.

Related: How to make roast turkey with stuffing

Decorating

For those of us who have boxes of decorations we pull out each December, there’s a lovely sense of tradition as familiar favourites once again see the light of day. However, that doesn’t mean we have to use all of our decorations, all of the time. Changing the theme on occasion is fun and creative and can involve as simply leaving one colour out of your regular combination and adding a new one. Think about wrapping, cards and table settings at the same time to make the theme cohesive.

Once you know the look you’re after, check through all your decorations and decide which ones you’ll need this year and put away the rest. Test any fairy lights for faulty globes and replace where necessary. Introducing a new theme is an opportunity for children to be creative as they can make decorations and cards to match. For instance, if you’re inspired by silver and white, kids can bake biscuits topped with white icing and sprinkled with silver cachous. If country gingham appeals, cut out heart shapes from white cardboard, draw a chequered pattern on both sides and have kids colour in the squares with a red felt-tip pen. Finish with a hole punched at the top and a pretty ribbon and you have a wonderful homemade tree decoration.

Regardless of your theme, there are a few basic techniques to decorating a tree. Start with the fairy lights, beginning at the base of the tree, weaving them along each branch from top to trunk, until you reach the top. Next, drape any garlands or tinsel, starting from the top and work your way down. Finish with ornaments, stepping back from time to time to check placement, and ending with your favourite tree topper.

When it comes to table settings, a plain white dinnerset can be easily dressed with coloured or textured napkins, low candles and floral arrangements. A natural palette might involve silverware tied together with twine and a rustic cardboard name tag sitting on top of each place setting.

Tip: LED lights are more energy-efficient than older-style fairy lights and will continue to glow if one globe goes out.

Related: 5 bright ideas for outdoor entertaining

Gifts

The truly organised will have been shopping throughout the year, finding perfect presents and storing them away until December. They may even have taken advantage of Australia Post’s economical Sea Mail service some time in September to send gifts overseas. However, with a little planning, there’s still plenty of time for the rest of us to prepare for the season with a minimum of fuss.

Your first task is to write two lists: one for cards and one for gifts. After jotting down family, add friends and those to whom you want to send a personal greeting, such as teachers, coaches, tutors, babysitters and neighbours. Check the list against your address book to ensure you haven’t missed anyone. Once that’s done, you can start shopping or making gifts, but be kind to yourself and spread the load over a few weeks. After all, giving gifts should make you feel warm and fuzzy rather than frazzled.

If you’re sending parcels overseas be sure to check out ’s great guide for an easy-to-follow rundown on services and a list of restricted items. If you’re really in a rush, their Express Courier International service provides a door-to-door courier delivery to most major metropolitan cities around the world within two to four business days.

Tip: Pack a basket or box with wrapping paper, tags, scissors, tape, ribbons and pens so you have everything to hand when you begin to wrap presents.

Related: How to make gingerbread snowflakes and stars


Simple, homemade presents are always well received. Beautifully wrapped seasonal treats might be apt, or perhaps a well-chosen CD compilation of music you know will inspire memories, much like an old-fashioned mix tape. An elderly relative might enjoy an afternoon out, so consider making an invitation to enjoy Devonshire tea at a cafe that they can redeem in the New Year. When purchasing gifts, take advantage of the extended trading hours many shop offer in the lead-up to Christmas and their in-store gift-wrapping services. Many shopping centres offer a gift-wrapping service in exchange for a gold-coin donation to charity. Or avoid the crowds completely and sit back with a cup of tea once the kids have gone to bed and shop online.

Personal planning

Looking for the perfect dress that will flatter all your best bits and disguise those you’d like to make less of? So is everybody else and if they get to the shops before you, that will be one less perfect dress for you to find! Start shopping early so you have the best selection of sizes and styles, and if possible, go first thing on a weekday morning when shops are less busy and salespeople less harried. This will also leave time for any alterations because, as you can imagine, this is also a busy period for tailoring services. Maybe you already have a great party dress and it just needs updating with some fresh accessories. Better still, experiment with some combinations of clothes, shoes and jewellery from your wardrobe you’ve never tried before. Babysitters, hairdressers and beauticians are also in hight demand during December, so make appointments well in advance. Many hairdressers are also solidly booked for the month of January, too, so schedule any maintenance cuts and colours as early as possible. As school holidays are around the corner, you might want to book the kids in for haircuts towards the end of January to avoid the back-to-school rush.

If you’re off for a post-Christmas holiday, making arrangements for pets is vital. Kennels fill up quickly, however there are pet-sitting services that involve someone coming to your house to feed the animals while you’re away. A more expensive option is to hire a pet sitter who also lives in the house, keeping the pets company. Before handing over your keys, though, check references thoroughly: all good companies, large or small, will supply them.

By attending to any little repair jobs around the house as early as possible, you’ll give yourself more time for the fun part of decorating. If it’s something a little trickier than DIY, call your local handyman or specialist as soon as you can as. Predictably, this is a busy time of year for them as well because everyone’s wanting renovations or building work finished before the Christmas break. Most of the time, a thorough clean will make your home sparkle. If time’s a factor, cleaning companies and agencies are prepared for the December rush and hire extra staff to cope with demand. They’re accustomed to doing one-off jobs as it’s a popular service when preparing a house for sale, and they can cater for your individual needs. Most will provide you with a rough quote over the phone, but they will want to see your house and what’s involved before settling on a price. If your budget allows, having the back yard spruced up and the oven cleaned are nice additions.

If guests are coming to stay, check bed linen and blankets are in order and pillows are plump and fresh: an afternoon in the sun should do the trick. Declutter spare rooms and fill some vases with fresh foliage. It’s also a good idea to stock the pantry with lots of delicious staples you can whip out for impromptu entertaining. Things such as good quality crackers, jars of antipasto, olives, olive oil and sea salt are great to have on hand and can be livened up with ripe summer tomatoes and fresh basil in moments. Add a bottle of champagne or a lightly iced rose to the mix and there’s an instant easy afternoon organised. Music helps to set a mood so now is the time to sort through CDs or download music. Create compilations for lazy summer afternoons, family gatherings and parties so you have instant atmosphere at your fingertips and one less thing to worry about. If you have older children, this might be a nice project for them to take on.

 Related: How to create an inviting guest room