Holiday Hacks from Local Moms

San Diego parents share tips and tricks to make the holidays "brighter" (easier, more fun, meaningful, festive, organized, etc.). A big shout-out to moms in Poway, San Marcos and Rancho Peñasquitos, who shared their responses on Facebook! Here are their holiday hacks to make the season brighter.


advent cal C 2127

Make an advent calendar featuring silly or fun activities instead of treats: sing a Christmas carol, have a dance party in the kitchen, call a relative just to say “I love you”, etc. Sprinkling in a few surprise quarters or dollar bills is fun, too. –Jennifer Mulloy

Learn how to make an advent calendar at (pictured above).

advent 2

I made an advent calendar that I fill each year, alternating days between kids. They love waking up to get their present (even though they’re now teens). I try to limit myself to $2 per pocket, but will spend more if I find something I really like. Some of the items I’ve given are a Pokémon Pez dispenser, eye pillows, a pack of their favorite gum and hair ties. I also give each of them a meaningful ornament with their name and the year. Last year we lived in South Africa, so one ornament had a lion on it and the other a rhino. Hopefully the kids will use these keepsakes to decorate their trees in years to come. –Kristy deLange

Get 25 books from the library, wrap each one and put them under the Christmas tree. Each day in December kids get to unwrap one to read together. Hours of enjoyment for only the cost of wrapping paper!

Every year Santa brought my children a new Christmas book, so now we have a great collection. Santa always wrote a note inside the book and signed it.

Take the kids driving around different neighborhoods to look at lights, complete with fun snacks and warms drinks. Use Family Magazine’s Map of Christmas Lights to navigate your way around the county!


Make cinnamon rolls the night before to bake in the morning or make an egg casserole in the crockpot. Prep goes a long way to help have a stress-free morning.

Brittney Vier preps blueberry French toast casserole the night before, so on Christmas morning she just sticks it in the oven. “The house smells amazing and there is no cooking to be done. It’s soo yummy!” Here’s the recipe, but she substitutes Challah bread and uses fresh blueberries.

Making simple recipes helps when making cookie plates to give away, so you don't have to bake all day. I love these four-ingredient vegan peanut butter cookies (make them festive with a chocolate star on top):  –Cassie Bains



I take the Monday after Thanksgiving off work every year and decorate EVERYTHING. My kids come home to Christmas awesomeness and we enjoy hot cocoa in special cups. I also bake a ton of cookies every year for close friends and family. I really get into Christmas! –Emma Romberger

baby tree safety 2
Put the Christmas tree inside a Pack ‘n Play if you have little ones! It keeps the presents contained and curious hands off the tree. Here’s a photo of ours last year. –Jaclynn Whitehead

Buy wrapping paper, gift bags, ornaments, etc. after Christmas (for the following year), so you don't have to pay full price. 

Use fishing wire to string up Christmas cards on the mantle—it looks so festive!

Use cup hooks to hang outdoor Christmas lights—little white ones that blend in if you have white wooden eaves on the front of your house. Leave the hooks up all year so lights are a cinch to hang each year.

Use cloth bags and flannel pillowcases tied with ribbons to wrap presents for kids. The cloth bags are reusable and make wrapping so fast (and quiet). 


Christmas Letters in Tree

Growing up without much, I wanted to find a way to share the holiday spirit with my children that had nothing to do with tangible gifts, but sharing a sentiment that money couldn’t buy. This was the beginning of our Christmas letter tradition. Each family member writes a letter to the others. Everyone can participate no matter the writing level (preschoolers draw pictures). Before Christmas Eve, the letters are rolled up, tied with ribbon and placed in the tree. We take a quiet moment on Christmas Day to read them (sharing is optional). The letters have become treasures over the years. –Susan May

Request gifts that won’t clutter the house, such as zoo memberships, meal prep services or magazine subscriptions.

Ask family members to submit their favorite recipes and make a cookbook. Consider adding family photos and stories. It will be a treasured gift for years to come.

Keep a spreadsheet of gifts: where purchased, how it’s wrapped (in case a label falls off), and which gathering it goes to (when there are multiple celebrations to attend). The spreadsheet can also be used to remember what you’ve given people in previous years.

To avoid going overboard with gifts for the kids, buy them something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Use to save on shipping costs through USPS. Print labels from home for free and save on shipping.

Make mason jar cookie kits as gifts for neighbors and friends. Layer all dry ingredients in the jars; recipients only need to add eggs and butter, and bake. Don’t forget to include the recipe!

Anne Barrera made large themed felt envelopes with Santa’s mailing address on them; my kids write what they want for Christmas, put it inside, and an elf picks them up to deliver to Santa. On Christmas Day some gifts are specially labeled, “certified” from The North Pole. Gotta keep the spirit alive!


Cmas cookie 3 Janice Lew Santos

We have embraced decorating store-bought cookies for Santa in hectic years. I’m grateful to the person who said years ago that Santa doesn’t want a ton of goodies because he and his reindeer eat at every house.

–Janice Lew Santos

We let the kids open a box of fun snacks and something to do together as a family on Christmas Eve (a movie, a puzzle, etc.).

Make a fabric “Santa bag” for each child to set by the tree for Santa to puts gifts in after they go to sleep. It only takes a yard of festive fabric and a cord for a drawstring—so easy to sew! Bonus: No need to wrap Santa gifts and less wrapping paper in the landfill. 

After candlelight service on Christmas Eve, the kids are allowed to open one gift each, which is always new pajamas, so we can take adorable pictures the next morning. 


Check out all the things busy mom and local teacher Alyssa Navapanich does to save time:

  • Accesses the family’s shared gift list in Google drive, which has everyone’s wish lists, sizes, favorite colors, interests, etc.
  • Packs all stocking items in labeled bags to drop into stockings on Christmas Eve.
  • Makes side dishes for dinner a few days ahead to simply put into the oven the day of.
  • Keeps an address list for cards (already formatted for labels) that she updates as needed throughout the year.
  • Maintains a shared recipe book in Google drive with all the family recipes, including (most importantly) the Christmas cookies.


Finding Snow in San Diego

Finding Snow in San Diego

When it comes to snow, we’ve got you covered. When snow is in the forecast, here is where you'll find it in or near San Diego County. Be sure to check websites for projected snowfall, weather condit . . .

Read more

How to Stay Connected with Grandparents Who Live Far Away

How to Stay Connected with Grandparents Who Live Far Away

Those who live far from their children’s grandparents know that maintaining a special connection from afar is difficult—but it’s not impossible. Here are ways to keep kids in touch with long-d . . .

Read more

Feeling down? Turn

Feeling down? Turn "the Blues" into Family Fun

Whether your family is transitioning from carefree holidays or navigating an unexpected worldwide pandemic,"winter blues" are a real thing -- and as we've learned, can come anytime of year. Don't let . . .

Read more

15 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

15 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

Black History Month (February) is often something that is recognized at school, but is your family doing anything to celebrate or discuss it at home? Literature, food, music and art are fabulous way . . .

Read more

14 Sweet Ideas for Valentine’s Day

14 Sweet Ideas for Valentine’s Day

Looking for new ways to make Valentine’s Day fun this year? Here are 14 ideas to help make this Valentine’s Day extra special! Make a Valentine’s Day Charcuterie BoardWhile a simple cheese . . .

Read more

Unplug and Connect!

Unplug and Connect!

Unplug and connect with 24 hours of family fun during the National Day of Unplugging! Photo courtesy of Andres Amador Celebrate the annual National Day of Unplugging, an event dedicated to family co . . .

Read more

San Diego Family Magazine Logo

Be Family Informed – Sign up for our Newsletters below!