Christmas trees are starting to fill stores and nurseries, and was that “Jingle Bells” you just heard on the radio? The holiday season has begun and that means it’s time to write cards, put up the lights and tackle that shopping list. 

Feel overwhelmed already? Take a breath and a sip of eggnog, because we’ve got your back. Whether you like to plan way ahead, pounce on a good deal or throw it all together at the last second, we’ve got some jolly advice from gifting experts for getting it all done on time and with some sanity intact.     

No time like the present

NOW INTO EARLY DECEMBER

Early planning almost always pays off — and that goes double for the holidays! Dig into your Christmas to-do list now in order to set yourself up for success later down the wintery line. 

Before the weather gets colder and rainier, decorate outdoors and hang your lights. Be sure electronics are outdoor-grade and use smart plugs to control lights from indoors. (Getty Images)
Before the weather gets colder and rainier, decorate outdoors and hang your lights. Be sure electronics are outdoor-grade and use smart plugs to control lights from indoors. (Getty Images)

Decorate outdoors

Don’t put off getting your yard and home exterior Christmas-ready. Before the rain (and dare we say snow?) rolls in, it’s time to set up lights, inflatable snowmen, glowing reindeer and whatever holly jolly decor gets you in the holiday spirit.

Safety is important when working with lights and other electric decorations, so keep in mind that the box should be labeled “outdoor,” and take a hard pass if you notice any fraying or damage to the cords. Likewise, make sure your extension cords are made for outdoor use. 

Add outdoor-approved smart plugs to your outlets so you can program the lights or control them from indoors via your smartphone.

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Order your cards

Getting a jump on your Christmas cards will ensure they actually get sent. The work can feel daunting, but sending cards is a thoughtful gesture that your recipients will appreciate. 

Laura Jennings, founder and CEO of Seattle-based gift shop Knack, says that holiday cards are worth the effort. “It’s a wonderful antidote to the negativity that crops up in the news,” she says.
Laura Jennings, founder and CEO of Seattle-based gift shop Knack, says that holiday cards are worth the effort. “It’s a wonderful antidote to the negativity that crops up in the news,” she says.

Laura Jennings, founder and CEO of Seattle-based gift shop Knack, says that seeing the messages sent along with a gift is always a highlight. “It’s a wonderful antidote to the negativity that crops up in the news,” she says. 

You have an adorable photo of the kids ready to go — but addressing 50 envelopes by hand is holding you back from placing that card order. Online card sites, including Minted and tinyprints, will print your addresses for you, often for free with a qualifying purchase. 

And if you’re looking for cards that are sassy or artisanal, check out local card lines Pilgrim Paper Co., Pike St. Press, Farewell Paperie and Paper Delights.

It’s time to pick out (and start writing) your Christmas cards, such as these local options from Pilgrim Paper Co. (left) and Pike St. Press.
It’s time to pick out (and start writing) your Christmas cards, such as these local options from Pilgrim Paper Co. (left) and Pike St. Press.

Start handmade gifts

For those who prefer to give elaborate or handmade gifts, it’s time to start nutcrackin’! And if your gift involves a surprise puppy with a big red bow on Christmas morning, you need to start organizing the paperwork, supplies and logistics now. 

Likewise, a heartfelt DIY gift, such as knitting a sweater or putting together a book or photo project, takes time and planning — and you don’t want to have to rush your craftsmanship at the last minute. 

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For these types of enterprises it’s always great to shop local for supplies at shops such as Pacific Supply Home (Capitol Hill), Seattle Yarn (West Seattle) and Northwest Art and Frame (West Seattle). 

Ted Kennedy Watson, owner and creative director of the Watson Kennedy shops, suggests pairing something homemade with something store-bought.
Ted Kennedy Watson, owner and creative director of the Watson Kennedy shops, suggests pairing something homemade with something store-bought.

Another DIY idea? “Pair up something you made with something you bought. Like giving a beautiful vintage knife along with a cake or bread you made,” suggests Ted Kennedy Watson, owner and creative director of the Watson Kennedy shops (downtown). “One thing is consumable and the other gift will be long remembered, as will you. I love that combo!”

Heavy holiday season

BLACK FRIDAY TO MID-DECEMBER

Black Friday (which really begins all of Thanksgiving week — or earlier) to mid-December is prime holiday shopping time. If you love a good deal, and aren’t afraid of crowds, there can be advantages to getting your holiday shopping over with on the days surrounding Thanksgiving. 

Shoppers wait for a Macy’s store in New York City to open on Black Friday 2018. Be prepared to wait in line if you want to try for the biggest Black Friday door busters. (Jeenah Moon / Bloomberg)
Shoppers wait for a Macy’s store in New York City to open on Black Friday 2018. Be prepared to wait in line if you want to try for the biggest Black Friday door busters. (Jeenah Moon / Bloomberg)

Check Black Friday deals

Before you head out to stores, do your research. Follow social media channels and subscribe to the newsletters of retailers you’re interested in. 

“The competitive pressure around this event has forced most retailers to publicize their special offers before Thanksgiving,” says Jennings. “This will be truer than ever this year due to how late Thanksgiving falls.” 

When it comes to the day of, arrive early to take advantage of door busters. Dress warm and be prepared to love lines, because you’ll be in one for a while. Once inside, divide and conquer: different family members can hit up different departments or stores to get things done more efficiently. It’s a finders-keepers environment so hang onto your stuff, but keep it polite — remember: everyone has a cellphone camera, so think twice before you get into an altercation over the last espresso machine. 

Last crucial tip? Don’t walk away without a gift receipt. 

Shop local

It’s important to remember independent and small businesses on Black Friday, too. After all, you can’t throw a stone in Seattle without hitting one and, according to Kennedy Watson, it means a lot to the local retailers you visit.

Small Business Saturday (the day after Black Friday) is also a great time to visit your favorite neighborhood boutiques. 

You can also stop by your local Christmas and winter markets, such as the West Seattle Winter Night Market and Urban Craft Uprising’s Holiday Market at Westlake Park, to purchase unique gifts while supporting makers in your community. 

If you’d rather check off your list without getting out of your pajamas, the internet is here for you. Always use reputable sites, check return policies, and note that it’s a gift at checkout so items can be returned or exchanged. 

Make (and stick to) a budget

When navigating the land of holiday shopping, it’s easy for spending to get out of hand quick. “The earlier you start, you spread out the outlay of spending over a greater period, so it is way less intrusive on your budget. Plus, it makes the shopping experience so much more enjoyable,” says Kennedy Watson. 

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A couple of other ways to gift without breaking the bank are to agree on a spending cap ahead of time with your family members; keep big-ticket items to a small number of your nearest and dearest; consider meaningful handmade or DIY gifts; or focus on experience gifts that are less spendy, such as treating a bestie to a slice of pie, a cocktail and your undivided attention at Pie Bar (Capitol Hill). 

Another budgeting must? Cut out the sneaky expenses. “Reuse is best. Find a place to store gently used tissue, ribbon and gift bags during the year so that you have plenty on hand when the holidays arrive,” says Jennings. “And stock up on gender- and holiday-neutral supplies in bulk ahead of time to minimize last-minute expenses.” 

Jennings suggests using white craft bags and newspaper with ribbon to elevate wrappings while keeping costs and unnecessary waste to a minimum. 

The final stretch

LATE DECEMBER

It happens to the best of us. Between end-of-the-year work deadlines, family obligations and vacation planning, the holidays can seem to appear out of nowhere. First off, you are not alone. Second, it’s not too late! Here’s what to do the week leading up to Christmas morning.

Pick up last-minute gifts

Last-minute shopping is not ideal, but it’s a reality. The good news is you can still pull off a great gift that won’t reflect a stitch of your inner panic. Visiting local and vintage shops is not only a boost to your neighborhood, but these shops also allow you to pick a unique gift that’s special and thoughtful. 

If you’re stumped on what to get, stick to the tried-and-true categories of sugar and alcohol. Local sweets can be procured from spots such as Fuji Bakery, Theo Chocolate and Flying Apron (good for vegan and gluten-free recipients). 

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Or opt for an adult beverage that’s sure to delight, such as a growler from Seapine Brewing Company, a bottle of Westland Distillery’s single malt or a robust red wine from Novelty Hill-Januik.   

“Customers will buy many of one type of item, but assort the variety,” says Kennedy Watson, who suggests buying multiple colors of beautifully made, versatile items like candles or bath products. “It makes giving to a large group much easier.” 

Jennings suggests having a couple of signature gifts on hand to give if you’re running low on time. “A signature gift is a gift that you can give to anyone in a pinch, but it’s also actually a very special gift because it comes with a story of why it’s meaningful to you.” 

Jennings recommends sticking to a $50 price point, keeping these gifts gender-neutral, and connecting your gift with a story; for example, give a wellness-related item that’s helped you this year and that you’d like to share. 

Make gift wrapping more fun by setting up an area with supplies, Christmas music and fun holiday movies such as “Elf.” (Getty images)
Make gift wrapping more fun by setting up an area with supplies, Christmas music and fun holiday movies such as “Elf.” (Getty images)

Wrap and decorate

Once gifts are checked off your list, it’s time to wrap and decorate. Designate a wrapping room or corner and stock it with supplies. Play Christmas music or movies, such as “Elf,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” or whatever is playing on the Hallmark channel. 

For Jennings, Christmas morning is a particular favorite: “I set a surprise elegant breakfast table before I go to bed the night before. And small details can make all the difference: a tiny gift or treat at each place setting, using wine or Champagne glasses for juice and water, a strand of inexpensive battery-powered fairy lights winding through the centerpiece. Just use your imagination — anything you do to convey that today is different will make the day special.” 

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In the week leading up, Jennings suggests sprinkling votive candles in safe spots around the home and adding greenery from your yard to infuse the Christmas spirit. Kennedy Watson also advises creating a festive atmosphere with plants, recommending winter blooms such as paperwhites and amaryllis to create a magical atmosphere.

Give gifts you love and that you think they will love — and don’t apologize or belittle them. And if you get a gift you don’t like, practice proper etiquette to keep the day merry. (Getty images)
Give gifts you love and that you think they will love — and don’t apologize or belittle them. And if you get a gift you don’t like, practice proper etiquette to keep the day merry. (Getty images)

Give and receive graciously

People give and receive gifts in a variety of ways, but following good etiquette is universal. Jennings notes that the gift giver should not apologize or belittle the gifts they give, nor should they be upset if a gift is returned, as there are many reasons a gift may not be the right fit for someone. 

Likewise, receivers should exercise decorum and request gift receipts privately, and after the opening session, if an item needs to be returned.

“Give things you love, with love: That’s really the best you can do,” says Jennings. “Don’t overthink it or drive yourself crazy trying to get inside someone else’s head: it’s impossible. So, give gifts that you truly would like the other person to have, and give them with confidence.”

Kennedy Watson also emphasizes the importance of giving a gift with love. As for recipients: “Always be gracious in your acceptance of the gifts you are receiving. It might not always be exactly what you expected, but that is half the fun!” 

Kennedy Watson encourages enjoying the process and recommends not losing sight of the pleasure of giving a gift. “I have loved gift giving since I was a little kid,” he says. “The thrill of the hunt of finding just the ‘right’ thing for someone. That it has been my profession for over 25 years still makes me happy each day I go to the shops.”