Christmas By The Hour

Emily Leary is an award-winning writer, presenter and blogger. A married working mum of two children aged 4 and 8, in 2013 Emily gave up a 12 year career in marketing (a job she’d done all her adult life) to follow her true passion. Now Emily does what she loves every day: writing, parenting, food, photographer and generally documenting all the beautiful things that life has to offer and sharing them with the world. Here, she gives you a helpful guide to dealing with your family Christmas, one step at a time!

Christmas can often be a stressful time of year but with a little planning ahead you can make sure the day runs as smoothly as possible so that you, your family and friends can relax and enjoy the festivities.

The Week Before Christmas

Last minute present shopping might usually be at the top of your list of Christmas jobs, but it’s also a great idea to get some of the cooking done early too.

If you do everything on the day, then getting everything cooked and on the table in time can be a mammoth exercise, taking a huge chunk out of your Christmas day. However, with careful planning in the days and weeks before, it can be a breeze! You can get great deals on big plastic food storage sets, and then prep a wide range of food – from your perfect pigs in blankets and your signature stuffing, to scoring your sprouts and mashing your potatoes and popping them all in the freezer.


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The Night Before Christmas

The anticipation of Christmas reaches its height on Christmas Eve – it’s almost more exciting than Christmas Day itself, especially for the kids. However, this sometimes means that many children can find it difficult to wind down.

To take the edge off the over-excitement and fill the evening with relaxed, fun festivities, we like to prepare a little basket of pre-Christmas gifts, such as a set of lovely Christmassy pyjamas each, and a new book to help smooth the way to bedtime.

When it comes to food, if you’re planning to serve turkey at Christmas lunch, it’s a great idea to set an alarm to remind you to take it out of the freezer and place it in the fridge to defrost overnight.

If you’re feeling especially organised, you could also peel your fresh veg and leave it to chill, ready for morning.

Christmas Day

7am – Stocking Fillers

If you’ve got kids, chances are they’ll want to get up in their snazzy new nightwear at the crack of dawn, then it’s all systems go!

Some people wait until after lunch or even until the evening to open presents, but in our house, it’s straight into present unwrapping as soon as we wake up.

If you want to prolong the fun, it’s a great idea to have a Christmas stocking for each of the kids, which can be opened before breakfast. This means that if they have to wait until a little later in the morning to open their main gifts, they can be happy and engaged rather than crotchety and impatient!

8am – Breakfast

With the excitement of the first few presents over, it’s time to relax and eat a little breakfast. Today is going to all about food, so don’t go overboard too soon. A little toast and fruit is all you need – save room for the main event later.

9am – More Presents And Time To Get Dressed

I always put a nice, smart outfit for each child in their Christmas pile. This way, once they’ve opened their presents, they can trot upstairs and get dressed in some lovely fresh clothes.

I tend to lean towards affordable clothes, they’re great if you’re on a budget and they tend to be washing machine friendly, so if they get covered in cranberry sauce and turkey grease, it doesn’t really matter!


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10am – Time To Start Cooking!

There’s nothing more frustrating than executing an otherwise perfectly timed Christmas dinner, only to discover your turkey centrepiece is raw in the middle.

If you’re serving turkey for around four to six people and planning to eat around 2pm, your turkey will need 2-2.5 hours to cook and a half hour to rest, so now is the time to start seasoning and stuffing.

Note: the bigger the turkey, the longer it’ll need in the oven – don’t get caught out! British Turkey has a brilliant calculator for working out exactly how long your bird is going to need.

Depending on the time you want to eat and not forgetting that all meat and poultry especially must be thoroughly defrosted, pre heat and prepare the meat or vegetarian options, get the vegetables on standby, and once everything is cooking merrily, go and join family and friends for some board games and family fun.

11am – Snack Time

When the aromas of Christmas lunch start wafting through the house, children are likely to want a small pre-lunch snack, so have some healthy options available such as fruit and nuts, crackers and yoghurts ready – if you let them dive straight into the chocolates or cake, don’t be surprised if they don’t want any lunch!

You could also make some non-alcoholic punch ahead of time to fill the house with gorgeous spicy Christmas aromas, then just warm gently and decant into tumblers.


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If you’ve cooked most of your food in advance, just make sure everything that needs to be defrosting is out of the freezer, and then you should have some more time to relax.

12pm – Family Arrive

If more family and friends are due to arrive, you may rapidly find you’ve run out of space.

It’s well worth investing in some festive cushions and a couple of bean bags to place on the floor so that children can sit comfortably while they open and play with their presents.


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You’ll probably start setting your dining table about now. I like to cover the dining table with a vinyl tablecloth so that it’s easy to wipe up any spills. George at ASDA has a lovely range of Christmas table wear, from serviettes and paper plates to Christmas crackers and table decorations.


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1pm – Veggies And Trimmings On

With an hour to go until lunch, it’s time to start cooking your pre-prepared veggies, sauces and trimmings. Stock up on lots of foil so that you can cover pots, pans and dishes as they finish cooking – it’s the easiest way you can make the most of limited oven and hob sauce.

If you need to reheat in the microwave, remove the foil and cover with clingfilm to safely prevent everything drying out and going tough.

2pm – Lunch Time!

Warm the plates and if you have the table space then make the most of it! It’s so much easier to bring the serving dishes to the table so that everyone can help themselves and choose what they like.

I’ve invested in these pretty, affordable enamel dishes which should look lovely and bright on the Christmas dinner table.


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Don’t forget to make sure you have enough glasses (wine glasses, cocktail glasses and tumblers and plastic beakers for younger children). A plentiful supply of pretty plates, shiny cutlery and attractive serving dishes will complete the look.

Once the table is set – everyone can dig in!

3pm – Dessert!  

If you’ve planned ahead then dessert could be sitting in the fridge or already warming in the oven, depending on your choice of pudding. But if you are heating up dessert remember to check that everyone is ready. If you’ve all overdone it on the potatoes and Yorkshires, you may find that the mince pies and Yule log need to wait a few hours! 

4pm – Family Games

To make the evening fun, it’s a good idea to put family board games amongst the pile of gifts, giving you something to do together once the dishes are cleared away.

If you have older children then classics like Monopoly and Scrabble can be great fun, if you have younger children then it’s a good idea to look out for games that are fun for all the family, such as Jenga.


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Or you can split up into teams and make your own fun! Charades with grown-ups and children can make for a hilarious way to spend an hour or so.

5pm – A Pit Stop

With everyone having eaten lots and a whole lot of games and fun, you may find that everyone, especially the kids (but possibly also the grown-ups) gets a little sleepy around now.

You’ll most likely find that the kids are reluctant to have a proper rest, so if make sure you’ve included some quieter toys among their gifts, such as colouring books, stickers and low-mess craft toys, now is a good time to enjoy them. The kids will still feel they’re getting the most out of the day, but you’ll all be able to use the hour to rest a little. 

6pm – Movie Time!

As you get those mince-pies ready for those who were too full for them after lunch, make sure people know that there will be a light Christmas supper on the way so no need to fill up on them to the point of feeling sick!

This is the perfect time to sit down with a film that the whole family can enjoy. Many of the animated films that come out these days are just as much fun for grownups to enjoy as kids so they really can be an excellent family experience. Purchase a couple of DVDs as backup, just in case the TV schedule isn’t up to scratch.

7pm – Light Christmas Supper

It’s often the case that kids (and adults!) can get a little fidgety with the excitement of the day, so we like to plan our movies with an interval around supper.

Even when everyone swore a few hours ago that they wouldn’t be able to eat another thing for the rest of the day, it’s amazing how many people feel they could maybe manage “a little something” by the time the evening rolls around.

Plan ahead with a mixture of lunch leftovers and maybe some canapés – pre-prepared by you or shop bought if you’re short on time.

8pm – Movie Time Part Two!

The kids will be getting tired now so an easy way to begin to wind them down after their supper is to watch the second half of the family film. This can provide a nice segue into bedtime for the younger kids and be great wind-down time for older children and adults.

Then it’s for the children to go to bed! They are probably going to be very tired and ready for sleep. Hopefully, due to careful planning, the adults will not feel so exhausted and can sit down and relax with a glass of wine.

9pm – The Grown Ups To Swap Presents

After the little ones have headed up to bed and everything has quietened down, it’s time to make time for your grown-up nearest and dearest.

My husband and I are terrible for focussing so much on keeping the kids happy that we forget to include each other during our Christmas shopping.

If you book a little time in the evening to swap gifts, you’re less likely to forget, and it adds another special moment to the festive celebrations.

10pm – One More Game 

While it can be tempting just to stick on another movie and veg out in front of the TV, it’s worth remembering that for many families, Christmas is one of the few times of the year where everyone is together, so it’s a lovely idea to break out the board games (Scrabble or Cluedo are our favourites) and make the most of family bonding time

11pm – The End Of The Day

 As everyone winds down and those members of the family who aren’t staying over prepare to say their goodbyes, it’s a good idea to pack some of the mess into bags, the leftovers into storage pots and the toys into neat piles, so that you avoid waking up to a Boxing Day nightmare mess!

After that then it’s time for a glass of wine and a hug with family and friends to see out the end of Christmas Day.

There. That wasn’t too exhausting, was it?!

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