Getting a jump on Christmas prep

One thing about having a big family is that Christmas preparation tends to take a chunk of time, even when you give and celebrate in a moderate way. My parents, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews get together at my mom’s house on Christmas Eve for dinner, singing, and gifts.  I think we numbered more than 50 people last year, which fills my parents’ home to the gills. We always do a gift exchange, and the last couple years I’ve been the one to draw the names a few months before Christmas, then tell everyone who they have.   Last year I used this website. The first screen lets you plug in names, and then the second lets you specify who can’t give to each other.  (For example, my kids can’t get their own siblings, and my sister’s kids can’t get THEIR own siblings, because they are probably already buying gifts for ones in their own smaller family unit, and we want them to end up with a cousin or an aunt or something along those lines.)

This year when I typed in the names and plugged in the names of who each person couldn’t get, I got an error message saying that our group had too many exceptions and parameters.  Basically we baffled the internetz.  Hm.  I knew that if I just tossed all the names in a hat and did it the old-fashioned way, I’d also be constantly getting names that wouldn’t work.

So finally I lined up bowls on the table, each one representing a smaller subfamily of the big group:  ie, John and me and my kids in one bowl, my sister’s family in the next bowl, etc.  Then I could draw for each family member out of any bowl OTHER THAN their own immediate family’s bowl.

I also tried to make sure each sub-family ended up with one adult guy and at least one little kid, since it seems like the adult men are the hardest, and the teeny kids are the easiest to buy for.  I figured that would make the shopping more fun for everyone.  Not quite random— far from it, actually.  But it worked pretty well, and it could be our family is just too big to be truly random.  However, I’d love to hear if anyone knows of a website that actually works to draw names for a family like ours!

It’s nice to know who we have a couple months in advance– that gives us time to think about shopping or crafting ideas.  I’m hoping to do a bit of crafting as one component of some of our gifts.  One of the things I’ve been working on is these kitchen towels.  In our kitchen, I’m constantly finding hand towels that have fallen off the bar onto the floor.   Apparently I’m not a big enough nag, because few people besides mom actually think of picking UP what hits the ground.  (Either that, or the pick-it-up gene doesn’t mature til kids hit their 20’s.)

In any case, I decided that some of these towels would be a good addition to my own kitchen, and I figured they might make a fun gift as well.  I’m making some from terrycloth towels with patterned cotton as the loop fabric at the top.  Others are made from microfiber towels with terrycloth at the top.

I’m pleased with the way my first towels turned out and have already claimed one for my own kitchen.  I am looking forward to making more in the next few days as well!  (Update: here’s how I did it!)

How about you?  What early preparations are you doing so that your December won’t feel too frantic?

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  1. LOVE the towels!! We have the exact same issue in our house with people not picking them up either. If you have spare time (bahahahahahaha), I’d love a friendly how-to tutorial on your blog.. 🙂

  2. It is definitely time to start baking (my Mom would start in October) and fill the freezer with baked cookies, unbaked pastry shells, and all kinds of yummy treats to give and share. I am also mentally running through gifts – I hate leaving that until the last minute. I spend way more than I intend!

    • I hear ya– that’s one reason I try to begin at least some of it early. It spreads out the expense and makes it less likely I’ll overspend in the last week or two just trying to get done quickly!
      Love the idea of doing some pastry shells ahead!


  3. I really love these towels. And all the holiday talk makes me miss my family. 🙂 Can’t wait for the Holidays.

  4. I made 3 sets of eco-friendly ‘paper’ towels last week to give to our daughters. Basically I sewed (a serger would be great for this) a terrycloth dishcloth and a piece of flannel together and they work great in the kitchen. I did sets of 6 and next up are some holiday pillowcases. I love combining prints on this project! Thanks for your suggestions.

  5. I find that food prices go up around Christmas (it really bugs me each year to witness that because I think of the people who can’t afford these sudden higher prices…)so I keep a Rubbermaid tote in the basement and start buying “special” items each week to fill the bucket. Chips, crackers, chocolate…are examples of items that make their way into the bucket, away from curious hungry kids (and possibly adults !O). I also like to keep a list from previous years of items that were popular. By Christmas week, the bucket if full.

  6. Our immediate family has decided to scale back our Christmas gift giving this year. Everyone is making gifts for each other. Can’t wait to see what everyone is making!

  7. Ah!!, this post is encouraging to me! We have a Christmastime wedding this year, so I am feeling the need to start earlier than usual. I’ve been making my gift-idea lists for the kids and other family members. I’ve also been trying to prepare for an Advent project this year. Every year I think we’ll do it and then I don’t get started early enough. I’m looking forward to a daily time with my children sharing and learning more about who Christ is and what He means to us.

    We’re setting up the tree early this year. I want to savor and enjoy this season and not be stressed out! We spend all fall focusing on harvest and Thanksgiving, so I guess putting up the tree a little early for the Christmas season will be ok. (at least that’s what I’m trying to convince my teens of!!) 🙂

    Mary, we totally draw from a bowl and throw back in the ones that don’t work. I love your idea for separate bowls. That would help a lot!

  8. Get as many Christmas gifts as I can early on, so I am done with most by July 4. The kids tease me continually about my Christmas bucket being full all the time. With so many adult children and grandchildren would give me a heart attack if I had to buy in one month’s time. The sales after Christmas help me immensely financially (never spend more than $6 or $7 a person) and I can cross off about half the people before February even rolls around. Because I make some gifts I then have a lot of time to do those. Every neighbor gets a handmade pot holder or two and mini loaf of bread (which I bake the first week in November). We don’t put up a tree any more just the manger on a couch table with presents underneath it and use the pretty red tablecloth on the table the month of December. And other than that do very little decorating in the house. We try to keep it simple so that we can enjoy the whole season.

  9. This will be our first year in our own home after several living with my mom. We are so excited for Christmas we can hardly stand it! I already undecorated our house, so we have plenty of room for our Christmas decorations and are starting to plan crafts we can make together to decorate with and to give as gifts. So far the ideas are mostly in my head. This post reminded me to get a bit more organized and start creating!

  10. Oh, Mary…PLEEEAAASE do a small tutorial. My mom is living with us right now and she’s driving me crazy with her towel usage! We have enough dish towels and bathroom hand towels to last 2 weeks, but she goes thru them in about 4-5 days! I’d love to cut my towels in half and double the quantity!