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Turning hectic holiday planning into family fun

Kids can feel left out of the pre-Christmas holiday planning. (©iStockphoto.com/Rich Legg) Kids can feel left out of the pre-Christmas holiday planning. (©iStockphoto.com/Rich Legg)

By Gail Belsky

 If it feels like you lose days of your life preparing for the holidays, it's because you probably do. According to a 2010 survey conducted by Consumer Reports, the average American woman spends 42 hours buying, wrapping and returning presents; standing on supermarket lines; and attending holiday gatherings. That doesn't even count the days spent decorating, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. (Don't feel bad: A 2010 survey in the U.K. showed that British women spend 300 hours on the holidays!)

If it also feels like you're in holiday mode for months, it's because you probably are: According to the National Retail Federation, 40 percent of Americans begin their holiday shopping before Halloween.

So with all the energy and attention that goes into making the season bright, how do you keep family at the top of your list? By including them in the act. Here are five festive ways to make holiday prep a family affair.

1. Run a mall marathon.

You don't have to be the only one racing from store to store. Bring the whole family and split up into groups. (Older kids can be their own team.) Divide the shopping list so the kids don't see what they or their siblings are getting, and then fan out across the mall. Arrange a post-shopping meeting spot and a time to gather. The team that arrives first "wins." Then, reward all marathon runners with a family dinner out.

2. Record the proceedings.

Who says gearing up for the holidays isn't entertaining? Have the kids break out the digital recorder or camera and put them in charge of making a "documentary" on the pre-festivity preparations. Then, when you're ready for a break, sit down for a family screening and a big bowl of popcorn.

3. Start a cooking assembly line.

Even the most mundane tasks become fun when you do them as a group. Time to make the carrots? Pass out the peeler, cutting board and knife, and give everyone a station to man. Little kids can take their positions at the sink to hose down the peeled carrots in a colander, or at the counter to dry the veggies off with paper towels.

4. Cruise the cookbooks.

You may have a set holiday menu that you stick to each year, but even the biggest traditionalist can work in a surprise dish to shake things up. Have your family do the picking together! Pull out your favorite cookbooks and let everyone flag their favorites. Then put it to a vote. Or put each family member in charge of finding a certain type of dish -- appetizer, side dish, dessert.

5. Divvy up the decorations.

Kids can lose patience when you spend hours on tree trimming, so give them smaller decorating projects. Let them come up with creative ways to hang indoor holiday lights or make decorations for the mantelpiece or table. Introduce them to some old-time holiday crafts like cutting out paper snowflakes or stringing a popcorn garland. You don't all have to be doing the same thing at the same time to be doing things together. Joining forces to get things done is a great way to share the holidays.


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