Feeling the pressure for this year to be the best Christmas ever? You are not alone. The countdown to the big day often begins long before you start opening doors on your advent calendar (and that’s if you’ve even managed to get hold of one after the rush) with lots to plan and think about ahead of the festive extravaganza.
To help you get ahead of the Christmas curve, we asked the experts for their advice. Professionals in everything from hunting down the best gifts to wrapping them, from creating amazing festive floral wreaths and table displays to setting the cosy mood with scents, they have all the tips and tricks you need.
How to find the perfect gifts
Joe Petchelco, founder of Arddun Stores, knows how to seek out unique and thoughtful gifts that won’t be returned in the new year
To my mind, a good gift is always something surprising and unexpected. I like to give gifts that people can use and experience and enjoy – something that they might not buy for themselves, be that one-off ceramics or beautiful, luxurious bath towels.
Both our families have birthdays around Christmas, so if my partner and I don’t plan ahead we’re in big trouble. We’re always sourcing things for the store, so if we see something that we think would be perfect for someone, we’ll buy it there and then.
Explore your local high street. There are so many independent stores where you’ll find something different. Do visit in person, too. Not all products make it online, especially if they’re unique.
Every brand we work with is thoughtful about the environment and the footprint they leave. I like to think our gifts can make people think a bit and push them in a direction they might not normally go.
The best gift I’ve been given were some socks from my partner. We lived in Australia for three years and I was fascinated by the ibis birds – which the locals call ‘bin chickens’ as they go through the trash. He’s a graphic designer and drew some beautiful birds which he had embroidered on some socks for me. He’d gone to so much effort, and they cost very little. Good presents needn’t cost the earth. arddunstores.com
How to wrap presents like a pro
Stationery expert Katie Leamon knows how to make even the most awkward of gifts look fantastic under the tree
I love wrapping presents. Ever since my late teens it’s been ‘my time’ at Christmas. We’d go to see my nieces in a nativity play and then I’d go home and have a few hours watching a Christmas film, drinking mulled wine and wrapping gifts. It was heaven.
There’s no point doing it beautifully for my children – a delicately placed bow is just another obstacle to getting to the toy inside – but I still make an effort for people who I know will appreciate it.
I like to bring in natural materials where possible; so I might tuck in a sprig of holly or a bit of rosemary at the last minute.
It helps to have space to wrap, and things like good-quality tape dispensers, too. That said, if I have time I’ll use ribbons instead.
Not all paper can be recycled. I avoid metallic papers and anything with a lot of glitter.
Put awkwardly shaped presents in a box – it makes wrapping so much easier. I love the look of a pile of boxes beautifully tied with ribbon. Or you could do as my partner Ruairi does and wrap gifts in tin foil. As he says, there’s no need for tape, it’s shiny and kind of Christmassy, and you can use it to cook the dinner with afterwards! katieleamon.com
How to make a Christmas wreath
Floral stylist Willow Crossley shares her tips for creating a luxurious wreath that rivals expensive shop-bought alternatives
For me, wreaths are not just for the front door. I love them on interior doors and hanging from the walls or ceiling, and use flat ones for the table… I’m all for having them everywhere.
The bigger, the better, though do remember you’ll need it to fit on your door. Ours normally goes up in mid-December; it’d be much earlier if I weren’t so busy decorating other people’s houses.
I buy copper rings and pack them full of damp moss (secured with reel wire), but pre-made moss bases are available, too, which are a great idea if you’re short on time.
A traditional wreath might start with branches of spruce or pine, but you can do amazing things with eucalyptus and ruscus; gypsophila and asparagus fern, or even plants like muscari, which have the most incredible scent. Dig them up from the soil or remove from their pots, keeping the bulbs attached, and bind them in, pushing them into the moss for moisture.
Wreaths are up for a long time, so plan accordingly. Roses – if you have to have them – won’t last well, while dried materials such as straw flowers and seed heads (nigella, lunaria, teasels) are always going to be easier, and you can use them year after year. Dried hydrangea heads are a dream if your wreath will be hung in the dry. Outside, they’ll turn brown and soggy. willowcrossley.com; createacademy.com
How to set the festive mood with scents
Ebi Sinteh, co-founder of homeware and candle brand Our Lovely Goods, shares his advice on how to stimulate all of the senses this Christmas
Music makes such a difference to the atmosphere of the house, and as soon as December hits we seem to have music on 24/7. We love a little bit of Christmassy jazz – Nat King Cole or Louis Armstrong – as well as the cheesy classics and, of course, music with a nod to our heritage: some Afrobeats, Highlife and Afro Jazz.
There’ll always be candles on the Christmas table. Eating by candlelight is something we do throughout the year, it just makes things feel a bit more special. We sometimes light a candle at breakfast, too – usually when my daughter is at nursery and
I have a moment to breathe.
Try mixing different types of candles to create an atmosphere. We like to use a selection of container candles, beeswax tapers and tealights, which look great on a mirror or in a mirrored tealight holder to bounce light around the room.
It’s not just about the light they give off, think about the fragrance, too. I grew up with scented candles at home and, when I started making my own, I loved experimenting and seeing the moods different scents can create. Warm, spicy smells like cinnamon and orange zest are classics for Christmas, while the clean, woody fragrances of pine, bergamot and clove also work well. ourlovelygoods.com
How to make your Christmas decorations sustainable
Trendsetting florist Kitten Grayson can help you dress your home for the season without creating waste in the new year
Decorating allows you to create an atmosphere for people to make amazing memories in. When I was little, we always used to go and see The Nutcracker ballet in the run-up to Christmas and that’s been a huge inspiration for the work I do today – I try to evoke that sense of enchantment.
I like to use lots of wild, natural materials – garlands of hops, foraged berries, dried hydrangea heads or grasses – but used in a very considered way. Every piece of foliage or flower is beautiful in itself and we want to highlight that.
I always find it so painful seeing Christmas trees lining the streets in January so, for the last few years, we’ve found fallen branches in our local forest that we either put in a stand or suspend from the ceiling, and decorate with gorgeous ribbons, baubles and fairy lights. That idea of sustainability is also behind our new Everlasting Installation service in which we use dried flowers to create bespoke pieces of floral art that are designed to last for years rather than days.
It’s easy to dry your own flowers. Hydrangeas, dahlias, straw flowers, statice, gypsophila and roses all dry well. Just hang them, freshly picked, upside-down somewhere airy and out of direct sunlight. Just a few in bud vases running down the table can give a really dramatic effect. kittengrayson.com