12 Hacks to get you through Christmas

1. Warm up plates in the dishwasher

When your oven is even more stuffed than your turkey, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to squeeze in the dinner plates to heat up. Instead, put your dinnerware in the dishwasher for a quick rinse beforehand, and they’ll be the perfect temperature.

2. Keep your Christmas tree perky

Does your tree shed needles quicker than your father-in-law downs that first glass of port? Then move it somewhere cooler. Many of us unthinkingly put our tree by a radiator or fireplace, but all that heat will dry the tree out more quickly. A cool, draughty place, such as a hallway, will mean you don’t spend the whole festive period glued to your vacuum.

3. …or give it a fuller figure

If your tree is looking thin, there is no need to splash out on a new one. Simply buy some dark-green tinsel (as close to the colour of the needles as you can find) and twist it around the tree to give the impression of fuller branches. Once your children have piled on those terrible decorations they made in school, nobody will know. Or just drown it in lametta.

4. Always win at Christmas crackers

If you never get your hands on that covetable key ring bottle opener, here’s what to do. Hold your end of the cracker lower, so it tilts towards you, and go for a slow, controlled pull, with minimum twisting. Mop up your child’s tears when you win.

5. Make friends with your freezer

It might seem early to think about Christmas dinner, but a surprising number of dishes can be made ahead of time. Potatoes, parsnips and stuffing can all be cooked and frozen, then defrosted and reheated in the oven on the day itself. As for red cabbage – it actually tastes much better if you make it a few days before, and leave it in the fridge for the flavours to deepen.

6. Save money on wrapping paper

Christmas wrapping paper can be expensive, especially if you have a large family. Instead, buy a large roll of brown paper and some string. Your presents will look both charmingly old-fashioned and on-trend minimalist chic. If it was good enough for Maria von Trapp, it’s good enough for your Great Aunt Bertha.

7. Whip up an easy Christmas cocktail

Keep a few ingredients on hand to produce a festive cocktail when neighbours or friends unexpectedly pop around. Nigella Lawson’s Poinsettia cocktail is a crowd-pleaser – a bottle of fizz mixed with 500ml cranberry juice, finished with a splash of an orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau.

8. Keep the hangovers at bay

Don’t knock back a Bloody Mary if you wake up the morning after your office party with a sore head. Chinese researchers tested 57 drinks, from herbal tea to milk, and found that the most successful in abating hangover symptoms was… (drum roll, please…) Sprite. Buy a multipack?

9. Recycle tangled lights

We’ve all been there – you excitedly unpack the decorations, only to find the lights are so tangled you’d need a Christmas miracle to rescue them. But don’t throw them out. Find a plant pot that is home to some attractive foliage, and place the twisted strands on the soil. They’ll create a magical soft glow beneath the branches. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.

10. Soften ice cream instantly

The Christmas pudding is blazing on the table, the mince pies are fresh out of the oven, but your ice cream is harder than a South Pole iceberg. The solution – courtesy of hit show America’s Test Kitchen – is to heat a knife under hot water and slice across the ice cream in a cross-hatch pattern. Then warm a spoon in hot water and dig into the sections. And if your ice cream is always full of nasty ice crystals, keep it farther back in the freezer. Ice cream stored near the door is subject to more fluctuating temperatures, and will continually soften/refreeze – leading to those unpleasant lumps.

11. Be the boss of your roll of Tape

Nothing makes wrapping presents more stressful that constantly scrabbling to find the end of the sticky tape. Slip a paper clip over the end of the tape, and you can wrap in peace. If last year’s leftover wrapping paper is a little rumpled, iron it, reverse side up, on a low heat.

12. And for next year…

Here’s a handy tip when you take down your Christmas lights. Instead of just dumping them in a box, wrap them around a coat hanger, or even a piece of cardboard, and they won’t tangle up when you unearth them next Christmas. Alleluia.