Hosting Christmas

The holiday season ushers in a time of cheer, joy and utter frustration as you attempt to finish your shopping list before the big day. Stores are busier, people are a little more high strung. Add having to host your family for Christmas and it is enough to push some people over the edge. For me, preparation is the key to enjoying the holidays and reducing unneeded stress so the holiday season can be enjoyed, not loathed.

This year we hosted Christmas in our new city of London. It was exciting to have Julie’s whole family visit, which included parents, four younger sisters and an additional spouse. Seven guests total. Preparing for it was a little stressful. Only one family member has been to London before and it was the first trip to Europe for another. We also have only lived in the city for three months, so we are still getting settled in and learning our way around as well.

We began preparing a few weeks prior to arrival. We booked a car service for pick up at Heathrow since it is cheaper per person than taking the Heathrow Express and easier for people who have just spent seven hours in an uncomfortable, cramped seat in a metal flying tube. Of course the car service did not show up for the last arriving group, so they traveled by Heathrow Express after all. Sometimes you have to freestyle when the original plan goes awry. For first time visitors, always try to find the quickest mode of transportation. It will be worth it every time.

To ease transportation during the visit, we bought Oyster cards in advance, putting £10 on each so that everyone could ride the tube or bus. Removing some of the the stress of figuring out transportation in a foreign city is always easy. We also handed out our phones on occasion, which have the best London apps loaded so that people could find their way around the city or be able to call each other easily. We were considering buying a few “burner” phones, but with our two phones it was not necessary.

We also spent a good amount of time meal planning. I feel like more than anything, people tend to figure out eating on the fly. Trying to find a place to eat while everyone is starving is frustrating though. Ultimately, eating out with, in our case nine people, is logistically, not to mention economically, difficult. Even a burger and fries at Five Guys cost almost £10. So the easiest option is cooking dinner each night. We planned out each meal and did a few days worth of shopping at a time to stay ahead. We were able to feed everyone for about £5 per person, not too mention that buying bottles of wine at the store instead if at a restaurant saves a lot of money. Especially with that crew. One was still in college, so consumption levels could safely be described as “above average.”

In terms of sightseeing, planning ahead is not advisable. Too often people have an itinerary in their minds and what to do as many things as possible. Especially during the holidays, I feel less is more. We talked each night over dinner about what each person wanted to do the next day and arranged meet up times. The key to success is not staying in one group. Once you go over five people, sightseeing in one large group is too difficult. Each day we broke up into two or three groups. Some people were more interested in art, some history, and even birding for one. Arranging one schedule for everyone every day would be impossible. Lunch was never planned and was up to each group traveling together for the day. We knew what time to meet up for dinner and people were free to spend as little or as much time running around London. And do not over do it. We meet up each day at 10am and most days everyone was back by 4pm. Plenty of time to get dinner cooking and pop a few bottles of wine. Especially for a Christmas holiday, it is good to maximise hang out time and not always prioritise the tourist attractions.

Accommodation wise, Julie’s family rented a flat just down the street from our place. Having nine people sleep in our two bedroom flat would have been awful. No one wants to sleep on a couch for a week. We have done vacation rentals on almost all of our holidays and it is the way to go. It is cheaper, roomier and truly more fun than staying in a hotel. The flat we rented was bigger than our place with a fully equipped kitchen, so we cooked dinner and even did Christmas morning there as it had a larger sitting room.

Remember, holidays are all about being together as a family. Taking care of things in advance that you can, like transportation and meal planning, removes the stress during the vacation and allows you to relax. With the big things taken care of, you can hang out, eat too much food and drink yet another bottle of wine to reward yourself for a job well done.