Eight Ways to Make December Merry

This may sound Scrooge-y, but I’ve never really been into holiday stuff.

I used to find Christmas quite stressful. Fitting in all the gatherings, spending too much on gifts, eating too much, drinking too much, and cramming too much into an already busy schedule would make me dread the holidays. I used to be quite happy when January 2nd rolled around, and I could return to some level of normalcy in my life.

Okay, okay, I do sound Scrooge-y.

But maybe I’ve changed a bit. Last year, I had a nasty bug that prevented me from enjoying a lot of the holiday merriment. This year, since putting up our tree way too early for my usual liking, I decided to just embrace the holidays. You know, become one of those people that actually gets into them.  So far – to my surprise – I have been enjoying it.

I’ve done a bit of research about things going on in Niagara this month, and there really is a lot – more than I even realized. I’ve since found out about at least three events that I really wish I had been able to get to and support. I have made notes for next year.

So without further ado, here are my eight ideas to help make this holiday season in Niagara one of the merriest.

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1. When buying gifts, try to buy them locally.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this a million times before – but it really is a great thing to do, and you know all the reasons why. Back in the days when I was really broke, people would advise me to make my own gifts. This advice just made my heart sink. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You still have to spend money on the raw materials, it still takes a lot of time (which is in short supply leading up to Christmas), and most importantly, perhaps you have no skills in this department. I certainly do not. Luckily, there are lots of people who do, and many of them are in the neighbourhood.

A good place to start in the Niagara region is the Craft Arts Market, which offers a great variety of local products from artistic entrepreneurs. There is also the Kristlemas market coming up on Sunday, December 13th at Stratus. A great bottle of wine makes a terrific gift, and of course we have many local wineries to choose from. If your gift recipient is not a wine lover, we have breweries and a distillery here too. If you want to give the gift of a local experience, there are so many. How about a food tour with Niagara Culinary Tours? Or a wine tour? A spa day? An overnight getaway at a B&B? A gift certificate at a local restaurant?  As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

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2. Enjoy some history, with a Christmas theme.

History abounds in Niagara, and I love seeing historic properties gussied up for Christmas. I don’t know if “gussied up” would be the appropriate term to use for Fort George, but they are hosting Fort George Garrison Christmas on December 12th and 13th. Just further down along the Niagara Parkway, McFarland House is hosting their annual Holiday Tea on the 12th and 13th as well. Apparently the tea is already sold out, but they do have a waiting list on the go. They are also advertising tours of the house, though I am unsure if that is only for tea attendees or if you can just walk in. I hope you can walk in – I would love to see McFarland House in its Christmas splendour. The tour is priced at $6 for adults.

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3. Dig that Christmas Ugly Sweater out of your closet, and have some fun with it

Oh yes, that Ugly Sweater. The picture above is from my recent adventure with Niagara Culinary Tours. We ate good food, had lots of fun, and walked around Niagara-on-the-Lake, all in our magnificent ugly sweaters. We may or may not have indulged in some spontaneous Christmas caroling as well. You can also join in the festivity every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday up until Christmas – ugly sweater mandatory, I’m told. Come on, if I can do it, so can you –  I caved to pressure and got my Super Elf sweater. I must admit, it’s grown on me. So much so that Super Elf may have an encore performance at the Ugly Sweater Christmas Party at Westcott Vineyards. If you care to join in the ugly sweaterness, it will be held on Friday December 18th, from 6-9pm at the winery. With amazing food and delicious wine, you won’t even notice the sweaters. After a glass of wine or two, I may even become Super Elf.

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4. Treat yourself to a nice meal out.

I’ve had some amazing meals down here, and I still have so many restaurants on my “Can’t Wait to Go There” list. I’m lucky that I already have a couple of meals out planned for over the holidays. I’ll be returning to the fantastic Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards for a special holiday celebration. You already know how much I love it there.

I’m also planning a meal at Oliv Tasting Room & Restaurant at Strewn Winery. Oliv Restaurant has a few weekly specials that you may want to keep in mind for the upcoming busy days. On Tuesdays they offer $10 personal artisanal pizzas (with purchase of beverage) all day. I’m looking forward to trying the Wild Mushroom & Chorizo one in particular. They also have Red, White and Roasted Thursday (served from 5-7 pm), specializing in roasted entrees infused with their Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars. Their Oliv Sunday Brunch, served from 11am-4pm on Sundays, looks very tempting as well – especially the Lobster Scrambled Eggs. Yum!

I know it’s the season for lots of food, but a nice, relaxed meal out with your loved ones is such a treat. The angels rejoice when I don’t have to cook.

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5. Let someone else do the baking

I recently met Kit and Stacie, the lovely, energetic, talented duo behind Scratch Bakery.  Boy, do these ladies make a yummy cookie. Not only cookies, however. They also make squares, loaves, cheesecake, bread pudding, sticky toffee pudding, cannoli, pavlova, and pretzel bread pudding. Hang on, it gets even better – they have holiday trays, where you can mix and match three flavours of cookie, and one type of square. You get the benefit of all the deliciousness without having to bake yourself.

But it still gets better. These young entrepreneurs will be donating 10% of the proceeds of every cookie tray to Project Share. So, let’s sum all these benefits up. One – you save the time from baking yourself. Two – for the holidays they will even deliver the goodies to you. Three – You get to support these fantastic women in their new business, and Four – you help out in the community to boot. In addition to the 10% donation, Scratch Bakery is also joining forces with other local businesses at the Chef’s Table Star Christmas Dinner. This Dinner will provide a Christmas feast for families who frequent Niagara’s Project Share.

Take my word for it, their Salted Chocolate Chip Shortbread is delicious, and so are the Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. Their Eggnog Cheesecake and Chocolate Pretzel Caramel Squares will be on my Christmas table this year too.

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6. Add some new beverages to your Christmas repertoire

Yeah, yeah, because it’s me, you thought it was going to be an alcoholic beverage. I’m pretty set in my ways for Christmas drinks though. I always, always start off Christmas Eve with Nigella’s Pointsettia Cocktails. I always, always start off Christmas Day with them too. Then for the rest of the day it’s on to whatever special bottles of wine I have selected for that year.

So my new Christmas beverage this year is tea. I am just venturing into the world of tea, and my friend Steph has opened it up even more for me. We were chatting about a special tea for Christmas, and she came up with a great idea. It’s the Twelve Teas of Christmas – all holiday themed teas to drink on the days leading up to the big event. I’ll be tweeting about my daily selection starting on December 13th. They all look really tasty.

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7. Plan a date with your Mom. (Or Grandma/Aunt/Special Mentor, etc)

The picture above is my Mom. I think she’s pretty cute. She’s also been very good to me, so I like to do something special with her around the holidays.

She loves flowers and gardening, so we’ll be making a visit together to the Floral Showhouse for their Christmas Display. Maybe we’ll stay in the Falls and have dinner somewhere, and then take a look at the Winter Festival of Lights. Whatever she would like to do, cause it’s her day.

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8. Plan some time to just unwind and relax.

By now, you know that a book and a glass of wine is one of my favourite ways to relax. I’m definitely scheduling some time for this over the holidays. But I’ve got some other “relaxed” things going on too. A couple of casual dinners with friends, a spa afternoon with a girlfriend, a tea date with a new friend, and some time with one of my oldest friends from Toronto. There will also be lots of snuggles and chill time with my sweetie pie….stuff that’s not really scheduled, where you can just chat, enjoy, do something or not do something.  I find I enjoy the holidays much more when I take time at some point to just do whatever I want to do. I suggest you try to do the same.

Enjoy

I know it may seem strange to have a list of more things to do at a time of year that is already busy. But the thing that has actually helped me to enjoy the holidays is having this list. It is just a guideline though, and it’s supposed to help alleviate the holiday stress, not add to it. It’s also reminded me of the importance of enjoying the holidays, and a lot of these activities will help me to do just that.

What will you be getting up to over the holiday season?

*** As with all posts up to this date, this post does not contain any sponsored content – it is just my own opinion on some fun things to do and businesses to support in Niagara this holiday season. A full page detailing all of my content policies will be up early in the new year***