There's no doubt that preparing for Christmas (especially if you're hosting), can be a lot of work. The key, however, is organisation. If you get a few things booked in September and October, and then a few jobs checked off the list each week in November and December, the whole thing will feel like a breeze. Follow our advice below and with any luck, a relaxed Christmas is on the horizon.
Things to do in September
September might seem too early to think about Christmas, but if you want to be as organised as possible, now is the time to get booking some essential and fun items. First on the list? Christmas shows, from seasonal pantomimes to beloved ballets that signal the start of the festivities. It’s something to look forward to as the nights draw in.
Festive light trails have become a big deal in recent years and there are plenty on offer across the country. Once tickets are released, they sell out fast so book early to avoid disappointment.
You do not want to miss out on getting that all-important groceries slot for the big Christmas shop so book it in in September and feel smug for two months.
Things to do in October
A good Christmas cake needs time to marinate in booze, so it’s key to make the cake towards the end of October and spend the intervening time before Christmas giving it little top ups of your brandy, armagnac or cognac of choice. A boozy cake is a better cake, so get organised and you will be thrilled with the results.
If you’re going with a turkey for your Christmas dinner, order it in October. It’s around this time that the media like to push out scaremongering stories about shortages across the nation (almost never true if the shelves post-Christmas are anything to go by) but you can avoid it all by ordering in advance. Good farms always require an early order – and they do have more limited supply.
It may seem hyper-organised but you need to get a date for your Christmas party set in October, before everyone else piles in and people get booked up.
We love a craft element to the season and it pays to give yourself ample time to complete any Christmas craft projects, so October seems a reasonable time to embark on making your own stocking, creating a DIY advent calendar or making a galaxy of botanical stars as decorations.
Six weeks before
Up to six weeks before Christmas is the ideal time to make a Christmas pudding. It seems an old-fashioned and time-consuming process, but it is in fact very simple and quick to make. What’s more, you can double the quantities and make one for a friend or to keep for next year, as they keep for quite some time.
If you know your Christmas plans, book your train tickets six weeks in advance to avoid any disappointment or panic down the line.
Get your Christmas cards and wrapping paper in order – our favourite sources are Cambridge Imprint and Choosing Keeping, but there’s a plethora of choice. If wrapping paper gives you the sustainability ick – and quite right – find some surplus fabrics and brush up on the Japanese art of furoshiki (wrapping objects in cloth).
If you’re a fan of the faff-free artificial Christmas tree, buy one now. Leave it too late and you risk not getting one in time, so six weeks before Christmas is the ideal time. They’ve come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and look hyper-realistic and many even come pre-lit with strings of lights to make life as easy as can be.
Christmas parties are surely starting to go into the diary at this point, so make sure you're well supplied with what are usually quaintly called ‘hostess gifts’ - things you can present to your host upon arrival and will always be gratefully received. Not that there's anything wrong with a box of Ferrero Rocher, but we prefer to avoid the impression we've been hastily raiding the corner shop just before arrival. Pretty soaps, elegant dinner candles or beautifully packaged matches are our favourite things to offer up, and it's always handy to have a stock of them ready to go.
You may have been browsing the best advent calendars for some time and November is the time to snap them up as they’re ready to ship. There are foodie advent calendars filled with tasty treats, options for the luxury-loving beauty addicts and sweet reusable fabric options too.
Five weeks before
It might seem like a consumerist hellscape, but Black Friday can still be genuinely useful when done right. Instead of letting the deals lead you astray, bookmark the items you are looking to buy in advance and pull the trigger if and when the price drops. Tech, homeware, and gifts are always going to be included in the sales, so don’t make the mistake of buying a new TV just a week before the price is slashed in half.
Buy your baubles and Christmas lights now so that they’re ready and waiting when your Christmas tree goes up. Get your ratios right - Wired published a study that says 6.2 baubles per foot of Christmas tree is ideal - so for a six foot tree you’d want roughly 38 baubles. We’ve compiled a guide to the very best baubles here.
Four weeks before
December is here, which means you can wholeheartedly lean into the festive season. What better way to signal the start of the season than with a marathon viewing of the best Christmas movies? Pour a wine, grab some snacks and swoon over the cottage from The Holiday, marvel at Miracle on 34th Street and of course, crack out a double bill of Home Alone and Home Alone 2.
Those Christmas cards that you made sure to secure a couple of weeks back – now you need to write them all, address them and pop them in the post. A Christmas card before December is simply too soon, but equally you don’t want it arriving on Christmas Eve either.
Avoid a last minute panic and do a wine order now to ensure the cellar is fully stocked for all the festivities to come. Take a look at the best Christmas wines for inspiration, or simply stock up on reliable favourites but make sure you cover all your bases with a decent red wine, some crisp white wine and of course, something sparkling. Sherry and port are also excellent seasonal additions. Our advice? Over order – you’d rather have surplus wine to see you through January than be doing a last minute Waitrose dash when you realise you’ve fallen short.
A good Christmas table needs flowers and if you’re hosting the big day, you’ll want bunches in your hallway and living spaces too so that the house feels its most resplendent and welcoming. Four weeks before Christmas is a reasonable time to talk to your florist and put in an order to pick up a day or two before Christmas, so they’ve had time to open up fully and still be at their best until after Boxing Day.
While we recommend leaving the Christmas tree until next week, a Christmas wreath is certainly a lovely thing to pop on your door from December 1. There’s ample time to make your own, and our guide from florist Philippa Craddock on how to make a Christmas wreath makes it as simple – and beautiful – as can be. If DIY is not your forte, there are plenty of lovely wreaths to buy too.
Three weeks before
Amanda Brooks got her Cotswold farmhouse ready for Christmas with a garland framing the mirror, tall candles along the mantelpiece and stockings hanging in front of the fire.
It’s the big day – well, not the big day but the big day for those of us for whom the decorating is the best part – time to get the Christmas tree up, take out all those twinkling Christmas tree decorations and go to town. A Christmas mantelpiece alongside the tree? Brilliant, and a very smart idea if you don’t have space for a tree. Whether you opt for a maximalist Christmas and want to add tinsel to everything, or you’re more of a minimalist Christmas lover, there are plenty of ways to decorate and it is oh so fun. We’ve got oodles of ideas for outdoor Christmas decorations too, including how to decorate your house with Christmas lights. How lovely to be sat in the house, cosy by the fire, looking out at a garden festooned with strings of lights.
Of course, decorating is messy work so we advise a pre-decorating clean to make sure all those corners and skirting boards are dust-free. Think of it as a thorough, pre-Christmas clean so you need only do some light hoovering and the like once the tree is up. No one wants to step on a forlorn Christmas tree needle.
The process of wrapping your Christmas presents really needs to start now - it always takes longer than you think, and stress-wrapping at the last minute is no one's idea of fun. Plus the Christmas tree can look a bit sad with no gifts beneath it. Follow our advice on how to wrap a present beautifully, and everyone will be excited to receive them.
Two weeks before
The traditional red and green Christmas scheme goes Scandi in the heavenly holiday home of designer Marie-Louise Sjögren on the Stockholm archipelago.
If you've been organised up to this point, this is when it starts to pay off. Mid-December is the time when you'll be taking advantage of anything you've booked earlier in the autumn, such as festive light trails and Christmas shows.
Nothing gets us in the Christmas spirit like a good carol concert, and the best ones tend to take place one or two Sundays before Christmas itself. There are plenty of concerts that raise money for charity: this year we're heading for the TP Caring Spaces concert at St Luke's in Chelsea, raising money for interior design duo Turner Pocock's charity, which creates beautiful spaces for healthcare professionals.
Guests may be starting to loom on the horizon now, so this is the time to get your spare room guest ready. Get your laptop/kids' toys/box of stuff to go to charity out of there, stock up on nice plump hangers for their clothes, and invest in a pretty carafe for nighttime water.
If you plan to set a beautiful table on Christmas Day this year, make sure you've bought your Christmas crackers, candles, napkins and other decorative bits and bobs. A good festive place setting has a considerable decorative element to it: perhaps you'll need a centrepiece of pomegranates to finish off the table, or a scattering of candy canes, or a few more flowers and sprigs of greenery for your bud vases.
One week before
The fun bits of the cooking now come into play. If there are children involved in your Christmas celebrations, consider making a gingerbread house with them. It's a fantastic activity for everyone to enjoy - just remember, it doesn't have to be perfect.
If you didn't get the festive grocery slot under control in September, you'll have to tackle the supermarket now for your other fresh ingredients. Don't be shy with your trolley pushing, it's the survival of the fittest at this stage. There is a certain joy to the festive grocery shop, as pigs in blankets, parsnips, smoked salmon and brandy butter all make their way into the cart. Just don't, whatever you do, forget the stuffing.
Traditionally we find this is the time when we start to feel that we haven't quite bought equal presents for everyone in the family, and someone needs a little top-up, or someone is coming over you weren't expecting, and you don't have a gift at all. It happens every year, so you might want to build in a contingency plan for last-minute presents. A thoughtful subscription or gift card is never unwelcome, after all.
And if you've been ignoring our advice this entire time, don't worry. It is possible to pull Christmas out of the bag at the eleventh hour - just follow our columnist Fiona McKenzie Johnston's sage advice and all will be well.
This story was originally published by House & Garden UK.