Christmas Planning: How to Win the Holidays [2023]

Christmas planning starts, like, now.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading this on December 26th in a typical post-Christmas fog, shopping for deals in January, or beginning to think about the holidays in mid-November.

Wherever you are or whatever you’re doing, great holiday planning begins right now.

Our website is supported by our users. We sometimes earn a commission when you click through the affiliate links on our website. See our privacy policy & disclosures for more information.

Christmas Planning 101

Here’s how to plan a great Christmas:

  1. Decide what you want to do
  2. Budget and prepare for it
  3. Make it happen

That’s it in a Nutcracker nutshell! And no, I’m not even joking (except for the Nutcracker bit, that’s a Christmas joke). It’s actually that simple.

The hard part is only and actually planning the things you want to do.

Only plan what you really want to do. (Don’t get caught by the holiday rush, the seemingly limitless possibilities, and every new event that pops up.)

Then, actually plan what you want to do. (As in, take the steps to schedule, budget, plan, prepare, and make it happen.)

Christmas Activities

But there are so many options! Let’s think about the types of things you may want to do with your family and friends this Christmas. Hopefully this will remind or even inspire you in your Christmas planning this holiday season.

Christmas Caroling

There’s just something about Christmas music, isn’t there? Christmas caroling is a treasured tradition.

Gathering with friends and loved ones, singing all the timeless hymns about the Advent of the King, perhaps being pulled around town in a trailer hayride, drinking coffee and hot cocoa… It’s the stuff of memories.

Holiday Shopping

Some people love the thrill of waking up at 3am the day after Thanksgiving to hit up all the doorbuster specials at the mall and other shopping centers. If that’s you, just don’t slam the door on your way out! The rest of us want to sleep.

Still, even the most normal among us can enjoy a day about town, enjoying the winter sights and sounds, the glittering lights and holiday trimmings, topped off with a special treat from a favorite vendor. When Christmas shopping is done right, it’s a wonderful tradition.

Decorating the Tree

At our house, decorating the tree is a full day activity. It starts with hot cocoa and lugging in all the holiday décor bins. Then we set up the tree, string lights on, and begin hanging Christmas ornaments.

Of course there’s Christmas music on, and the other household decorations come out. When everything is just about done, the final touch is to put the star on top of the tree. The kids take turns putting it on each year. Then we go watch a Christmas movie, and top everything off with our first Jesse tree ornament.

Workplace Events

Your place of employment will often have an event. Depending on your job and your position in the company, you might pop in for an hour – or you might be tasked with planning the whole thing!

Whatever the case may be, plug your office Christmas party into your calendar as soon as possible. And don’t forget to include office gift exchanges, potlucks, and coworker gifts in your holiday budget!

Social Parties

Everyone likes to party with friends. You’ll probably get to (or have to) attend a few Christmas parties. Some might be black-tie social affairs, while others will no doubt involve ugly Christmas sweaters or murder mysteries – preferably both.

You’ll need to mark the date in your holiday calendar, and plan to bring a bottle of wine, an appetizer to share, and perhaps gifts as well. Budget accordingly!

Family Gatherings

Family get-togethers are often the best part of the holidays – and just as often the most stressful! If you’re hosting this year, make your plans early.

Choose a date, get everyone to confirm, and determine if it will be a weekend getaway, Christmas PJs party, formal dinner, or casual all-day potluck-style fest.


The reason for the season is that Jesus, the Light of the World, was born around 2,000 years ago to redeem God’s people from their sins. By his life and death on the cross, we can be forgiven and have a restored relationship with God. Now that is something to sing about!

For Christians, worship is at the very center of all Christmas celebrations. So be sure to make worship the center of your holiday plans!

Corporately, during the four Sundays of Advent, many churches sing carols about the incarnation, read the Christmas story, and look forward in hope to the second coming of Christ.

Individually and as families, many believers enjoy Christ-centered holiday traditions that keep our focus on the Redeemer. This can include devotional readings and special activities for children.

Acts of Service

Many people find ways to give generously during the holidays. (And it’s easy to do, as many organizations are asking for your funds!)

In addition to giving money, many individuals and families look for ways to serve. This can be a day of service, focusing on acts of kindness, being neighborly, or volunteering at soup kitchens, shelters, and other charitable organizations.

If you’ve never done this before, here are 15 ways your family can volunteer for acts of service this holiday season. Otherwise, make sure to schedule your regular volunteer work before your December calendar fills up!

Gift Exchanges

A good gift exchange can make or break your holiday festivities. Start planning now to match up Christmas gift buddies or Secret Santas.

Whether it’s a work party, a Christmas party with friends, or your family gathering on Christmas Day, we recommend adding some pizzazz to your celebration with one of these fun gift exchange ideas.

Family Traditions

You probably already have many traditions, even if it’s just Black Friday shopping and setting up your Christmas tree while drinking cocoa. Keep those up! It’s the repetition that provides a foundation of beautiful memories for kids and parents alike.

Other traditions might include:

Christmas Movies

Everyone has those special Christmas movies they just *have* to watch every holiday season. If you don’t, here are some absolute classics: 10 Old Christmas Movies to Watch Each Year.

Many families also love to take a trip to the theater together. Check out upcoming films to see if there is anything that fits the bill. If not, consider other theater options, including plays and symphonies.

Christmas Planning Calendar

Here’s a rundown of the months leading up to Christmas, and what you can (and probably should) do ahead of time.


Shop for clearance deals. You’ll find the best prices of the season on next year’s Christmas gifts, wrapping paper, and holiday décor.

*Of course if you want to find the good deals, this really starts on December 26th. But you know what I mean – start preparing for next year right away and you just might score some great bargains.


Gather gift and party ideas. Keep your ears and eyes open when you’re around family members and friends. Learn what they like to do and the things they appreciate. This will help with gift ideas for sure, but it will also help you come up with creative holiday activities and party plans.


Discuss and book your holiday travel plans. If you wait later than September, ticket and lodging prices start to rise and other people’s schedules might fill up.


Plan family gatherings. October is a great month in which to do this because you can plan both Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers.

Book holiday photos. If you take professional pictures every year, book your photographer early as they will certainly be busy during the holidays.

Make a Christmas wish list. It might seem silly or even selfish to make a list. But trust me, it’s actually a blessing to others! Your friends and even your family probably don’t know what you want. It’s hard to come up with ideas for others that are truly special. A list will go a long ways towards helping them enjoy giving great gifts! Here are some ideas of what to put on your Christmas list.


Plan meaningful traditions. I know some people who gather together to read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory every year.* Many families bake cookies, hang ornaments, go to church, sing hymns and carols, volunteer at homeless shelters, and more. Whatever your traditions may be, prioritize them and weave them into your Christmas plans!

*A wonderful choice.

Decorate for the holidays. Set up the tree, spend the afternoon decorating with hot cocoa for the kids and maybe some “special” eggnog for the adults.

Finalize the details for early Christmas shopping trips. Scour the ads for the best Black Friday sales, schedule where and when to meet, organize a game plan for where to go next.

Send out invitations for Christmas parties. But beware – send your party invitations too soon, and no one will commit. Send them too late, and everyone will be already booked. Mid to late November seems to be the sweet spot.

Set up your gift exchanges. White elephant, Secret Santa, drawing names from a hat, or anything else you might do will require some planning. Get the details out to everyone this month so they can be pondering, shopping, or creating the perfect Christmas gift. Check out our list of best Christmas gift exchange games to add some spice to your family or office gift exchange.

Send out Christmas cards. You’ll want your holiday cards delivered in the early days of December, so mid-to-late November is the perfect time to get these printed. Local printers will do the job just fine (especially when you have a great template), but for high-quality designs and prints we recommend Minted.


Prioritize meaningful traditions. We can’t say it enough: If something is important, make it a priority or it won’t happen. The busyness of the holidays will take over and you’ll be left wondering what happened. Choose your favorite Christmas traditions, plan them, and enjoy them!

Buy Christmas presents. December is by far the biggest shopping season of the year, and the chief driver is gift-giving. Make sure you cover everyone on your list, which may even include pets. Don’t forget those stocking stuffers, either! Here are the best stocking stuffers for women and for men.

Gather party supplies. Decorations, tablecloths, plates and utensils, party trays, games and activities, food, drinks, a music playlist, and (perhaps) ugly Christmas sweaters.

Remember to have fun! In all your organizing and planning, don’t forget to have a great time! Let a few plans fall by the wayside as you enjoy time with friends, family, and loved ones.

Christmas Planners

Put everything in one place with the perfect holiday organizer. Here are some of our favorite Christmas planner notebooks.

Simple Christmas Organizer (Notebook)

When it comes to holiday planning, simple is best. The Simple Christmas Planner Organizer Notebook is one of our favorite options because it gets right to the point and leaves you plenty of space to create your own special holiday.

Includes general to-do lists along with things like movies to watch, songs for playlist, recipes, budget, shopping lists, gift lists, traditions, Christmas card tracker, and much more. The best part is that it guides you while handing you the reins, so you can use it however you like.

Wire Bound Christmas Planner (Notebook)

This Wire-Bound Christmas Planner is perfect because the binding allows it to easily lay open and flat on any surface! Not only is it super-cute, it also features everything you’d expect, including November and December calendars, a budget planner, bucket lists, party planners, Christmas Day and Eve schedules, and more.

Printable Christmas Planner (Digital Download)

Designed for our busy contemporary lives, this digital download provides 96 printable pages of holiday planning, including to-do lists for October, November, and December. And of course you’ll find all the typical categories, like budgets for gifts, food, and parties, stocking stuffer planners, gift lists for everyone in your family, and even an Elf on the Shelf planner. What more could you possibly want!

Ultimate Christmas Planner (Notebook)

The Ultimate Christmas Planner is a cutesy yet thorough organizer. Inside you’ll find help with recording and storing treasured recipes, traditions, and memories so that you’ll always have access to them. You can also plan out this year’s activities and budget, track Christmas cards sent and received, curate gift lists by recipient, and much more.

Google Sheets Christmas Planning Tracker & Budget Download (Digital)

Do you like to keep organized with spreadsheets? Then you’ll love this digital download, which will provide a Google Sheets file perfectly set up to track your Christmas gifts.

Christmas Planning Checklist

  • Make travel arrangements early
  • Schedule photo shoot
  • Make and send Christmas cards
  • Organize and schedule family gatherings
  • Set a budget for the holidays
  • Plan gift exchanges
  • Schedule parties and send out invitations
  • Make a Christmas wish list
  • Get wish lists from others
  • Black Friday shopping
  • Decorate tree and interior
  • Set up Christmas lights outside
  • Get wrapping paper, tags, tape, etc
  • Track gifts purchased & people to give gifts to
  • Prioritize meaningful family traditions
  • Plan your holiday party menu, décor, games, and music
  • Arrange volunteer/service/giving activities for your family

Read next: The Complete List of Gifting Holidays

Christmas planning checklist - pin it image
Photo of author

Daniel Szczesniak

Daniel launched All Gifts Considered in 2013 to help people find the best gift ideas for anyone and any occasion. He has worked for Northwest Gifts, an online gift shop based in Oregon specializing in American-made and personalized gifts, for...

... read more