The holiday season is supposed to be about peace on earth, joy, and matching snowflake-adorned sweaters, right? But more often than not, the holidays unravel into a time of unbounded chaos and stress, leaving us five pounds heavier and five times more frazzled than before. We believe family time should be fun, not frantic, so we’ve compiled this how-to guide to help avoid the "I need a vacation from my vacation" syndrome.
1. surviving shopping
After Thanksgiving, all bets are off when it comes to avoiding crowds at major malls like Bellevue Square. Break from the pack and venture out to local boutiques and artisans to find gifts that are truly unique. Bellevue’s Main Street, in the historic downtown, has a variety of clothing boutiques and art galleries, as does Kirkland. Also, don’t forget about the nearby vineyards and distilleries for gifts with a sense of local pride. Looking for a last-minute gift without the stress? Don’t rule out shopping online. Sites like Amazon offer two-day and overnight shipping on thousands of items, while Etsy and eBay host a vast variety of unique items, from handmade clothing and accessories to autographed athletic and musical memorabilia.
2. surviving holiday fare
If visions of pumpkin lattes, pecan pie, and large turkey dinners dance in your head around this time of year, you’re not alone. This is prime time for extra helpings of desserts to turn into winter muffin tops and love handles. If you want to avoid gaining extra pounds this winter, try this one simple tip: fill up on veggies first. When feasting with family, fill up your plate with mostly veggies, and one serving of lean protein. This will make you feel more satisfied than breads and other starches, so that when the pie is passed around, a little sliver will do. The key is to allow yourself a little treat without going totally overboard every chance you get.
3. surviving family
The holidays are all about spending time with family, but sometimes, between your nosy aunts, kooky cousins, and screaming baby nieces, you just need a break. The key to keeping your sanity through all the madness is recognizing how to do this with grace. Workouts are a great way to get in a little alone time without offending anyone. Similarly, offer to make a coffee run. Enjoy your cup of joe at the coffee shop with a little sweet solitude, and bring back goodies to the house—everyone wins. And if you really want to retain as much peace as possible, consider treating a few of your loved ones to a room at the Hotel Bellevue—it’s the ultimate spare room.
4. surviving travel
Sea-Tac is busy every day of the year, and that only multiplies come the holidays. The golden rule of holiday travel: don’t procrastinate. Book as far in advance as you can, with an eye toward the best dates and times to travel. Usually, flights running a week or more prior to Christmas Day are cheaper, less crowded and easier to book. The night before your flight, check in online to avoid lines and stress. To ease travel on the day-of, ship gifts beforehand and travel as lightly as possible, preferably with carry-on luggage. Shuttle services provide reliable and relatively cheap transportation to the airport, saving you the stress of driving and expense of parking your car at the airport. Shuttles will drop you off directly in front of your terminal, leaving only the TSA between you and your holiday.
5. surviving boredom
While most adults revel in time off of work for the holidays, sometimes having the children home from school for weeks at a time can be challenging, and usually by day three, echoes of "I’m bored" can be heard ringing throughout the halls. But with myriad activities going on in Bellevue and the surrounding areas, you can be prepared to keep those little ones busy and, most importantly, your sanity in tact. Here’s what we suggest:
Santa Train to Leavenworth
From Dec. 13–15, celebrate the Christmas season in style, and travel by rail on Amtrak’s Empire Builder over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth, a quaint Bavarian Village. Spend the day at the Leavenworth Tree Lighting ceremony, and then return to Seattle by motor coach. ➸ alkitours.us
Shows begin nightly at 7 p.m., through Dec. 24, along Bellevue Way and Northeast 8th Street, with music, lights and toy soldiers. ➸ magicseason.com
Bellevue Magic Season
A $10 admission includes an ice skate rental for annual fun at the ice arena in downtown Bellevue. ➸ magicseason.com
Seattle’s Westlake Center
The tree is lit each year the day after Thanksgiving, leaving downtown with a magical feel and holiday cheer in the air while guests sip cocoa and shop for family members.
Argosy Cruise Christmas Ships
On-board choirs sing carols, and guests can choose to cruise on the lit-up ships or stand along the various Puget Sound shores the ships visit to watch the show. ➸ argosycruises.com
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s "The Nutcracker"
With performances through Dec. 29, PNB’s annual production has become synonymous with the holiday season and is great fun for all ages. ➸ pnb.org
Seattle Center Winterfest
The Seattle Center is packed with free entertainment through early January, and last year’s event included performances by Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras and the Microsoft Jumpin’ Jive Orchestra, as well as ice sculpting and a winter train and village. ➸ seattlecenter.com/winterfest
Cut-Your-Own Tree Farms
Throughout the state, families can find and cut their own trees, and in some areas, ride sleighs through a winter wonderland. ➸ For locations, visit pickyourownchristmastree.org.
United Way of King County
You can gather winter clothes, sort stocking stuffers or even become a secret Santa.
Seattle Children’s Hospital
Opportunities include providing office support, greeting and directing patients and visitors, playing therapeutic games with children and staffing the gift shop, to name a few. ➸ seattlechildrens.org/ways-to-help/volunteer
An organization that serves children in foster care to secure education, basic material needs and social experiences, volunteers help by becoming donation drive hosts, "wearhouse" assistants or representatives of Treehouse at special events, and by performing clerical work. ➸ treehouseforkids.org
Ongoing opportunities include working at their food bank; receiving, sorting and stocking donations; picking up food donations and delivering them to homes; sorting clothing, and assisting with supervising children in Hopelink housing. ➸ hopelink.org/take_action/volunteer
Seattle Milk Fund
This organization helps break the financial barrier that prevents parents from pursuing a college education. Seasonal opportunities include assembling wreaths, tying wreath bows and selling wreath raffle tickets. Volunteers are also needed for photography, event monitoring, event decorations and committee representatives. ➸ seattlemilkfund.org