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Christmas in July: 12 To-Do’s to Plan Ahead for the Holidays This Summer

The countdown begins earlier than you expected.

Why wait until November to prep and plan for the holidays? We know you love the season: you select gifts with care, plan every decorative detail in your home, and wish everyone a merry season with handmade cards. But all of this planning takes work. Allow us to hone your holiday checklist and help you prepare for hosting loved ones during the most wonderful time of the year. 

#1. Take Stock of Your Stash

A well-kept holiday home begins with a proper assessment of what you already have: garlands, glittered baubles and figurines, lighting displays, preserved wreaths, and other decorations. Unpack and sort your collection, declutter by discarding anything broken or unusable, and organize the remaining stockpile for easier, more efficient decorating come December. As you sort and stockpile, consider: How will you decorate this year—by a theme, color palette or certain style? What will you shop for as opposed to personalize using homemade keepsakes? Remember that you can find collectible treasures at flea markets, estate sales, and antique shops during the off-season. And as you tap into a deck-the-halls mentality, keep this in mind: it may make you happier by giving into the holiday spirit a little early.

#2. Gather Your Gifts

Now is the time to make your list and check it twice. Shopping in stores? Do your research to know what bargains are worth shopping for now versus later (that is, Black Friday and beyond). Looking to gift something handmade of heirloom quality? Begin now. A gift made by crocheting, knitting, embroidery, or other comparable hands-on technique can take several weeks of diligent crafting. Source your materials and, if it's helpful to you, draft a timeline to keep yourself on schedule with crafting gifts in due time for the season.

#3. Work Out Your Wrapping Station

When all of your supplies are in order, gift-wrapping is fun! Create a centralized work space for your gift-wrapping materials and tools, as well as a space to package them efficiently. Take advantage of off-season sales on wrapping supplies—stock up on rolls of wrapping paper, tin containers, boxes, and ribbons. And if you're starting from scratch in terms of materials, remember: crepe-paper streamers, colorful fabrics, and even brown paper mesh all work as upcycled wrapping materials. And for on-the-go gift-wrapping? Ribbons, toppers, and special trimmings all can be corralled into this grab-and-go tote.

#4. Pre-Package Your Presents

As you stockpile gifts, wrap them in advance. But remember to add ribbons, bows, and tags later (as those are more prone to becoming tattered over time). As an organizing strategy, you can label gifts with peel-off sticky notes or coordinate their wrapping by giftee so that you don't forget who gets what. Also consider which gifts will be mailed and which will likely be delivered in person. (Unadorned boxes are stackable and, as a result, will be easy to store and transport.)

And while you're at it: practice those bow-tying skills.

#5. Keep Hostess Gifts on Hand

Think beyond the gift list of your inner circle. Come Christmastime, there are endless get-togethers, parties, and home visits in which offering a token of thanks goes a long way. If your cache is dwindling, splurge over the summer—curating a handful of items that will appeal to everyone (including you, should they still be in your care come January) will guarantee that you're never caught in a gift-giving situation empty-handed. Some of our selects? Beautifully wrapped soaps, bottles of wine, and gift baskets touting housewares are always appreciated.

#6. Think: Where You Will Spend the Holidays

Where will you be on Christmas Day, and the days leading up to it? Deciding which parties to attend, who in the family to visit, and where you're traveling (if you're traveling at all) can be the biggest juggle of your holiday planning. Discuss your priorities and must-do traditions (such as scoping out the neighborhood lights, decking the halls with your favorite Scout Elf, or picking out the family tree) with loved ones, then begin to draft a calendar for the month of December. It will fill up as the weeks progress, but this calendar will keep you focused on what is truly important to you. What are the moments you look forward to every year? Here's a precious idea: Write in these events to personalize your advent calendar.

#7. Prepare the Home for Houseguests

If you're the go-to hostess for the family, you have ample time to adapt your home to all the holiday gatherings. Plan any major refurbishes or renovations to your rooms accordingly—especially the kitchen, guest room, and bathroom—so they conclude ahead of season. Consider how your home can best accommodate everyone. For instance, consider sparing space in your entryway for guests to drop their bulky coats and snow boots, ensure you will have extra hangers on hand, and make a place for winter accessories like gloves and hats. What about the guest room? Keep it outfitted it with a fresh set of bed sheets and towels plus an assortment of everyday essentials such as toothbrushes, tissues, lotion, and bar soaps.

#8. Begin Fruitcakes and Other Giftable Sweets

Summer is the new land of sweets. If you're feeling inspired in the kitchen, make one of Martha's childhood favorites—fruitcake! You may recall the story of how she learned to bake such cakes: As a little girl in Nutley, New Jersey, Martha learned this cherished recipe from her neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Maus, two retired bakers who made everything by hand. The result was a buttery cake filled with candied fruits, nuts, and spices. This quintessential Christmas dessert only improves with time. That's because the batter is inlaid with rich mix-ins and doused in alcohol (traditionally brandy or rum). Get a head start and gather your ingredients—like dried fruits! The summer's bounty offers delightful garnishes this time of year: luscious figs, sour cherries, apricots, and peaches, all to be candied or preserved. The cake itself will keep in a tin can stored up to 5 months. (And any leftovers? Turn them into jams and preserves for edible hostess gifts, if you're so inclined.)

#9. Take Your Best Family Portrait

And save it for this year's Christmas card. While the sun is out and the weather is forgiving, why not capture some memorable moments? A perfect portrait starts with smart planning. So ask yourself a few questions: How will you choose a setting where everyone is comfortable—such as your home or the family lake house? What are some of your favorite activities to do together, which, in turn, can inspire the photo? What preparation is needed—coordinated clothing or props? Will you shoot your photographs candid-style or hire a professional? Take advantage of the "golden hour"—that is in the early morning and late in the day when the sun isn't as high, harsh shadows are softened, and your family is cast in a flattering light.

#10. Craft Your Christmas Card

Who will be included on your mailing list? Write down the names of people you've interacted with professionally and personally over the past year. Are there people who have made an impact in your life, who you'd like to thank, or who you'd simply like to stay connected with? Retire old contacts and update new ones in your address book. (If you don't want to transfer the contents all in one go, update a new contact each day—after checking your email, for example.) Next, consider how long it will take to produce your cards. If you're ordering cards through a service, you will want to account enough time for design, revisions (custom stock, foils, and other specialty finishes included), printing, and delivery—this process from start to finish can take several weeks. When they're ready for mailing, print the addresses onto self-adhesive labels, and use decorative scissors to trim the edges before adhering them to envelopes.

#11. Choose Your Charity

This year, consider adding someone new to your holiday list: a stranger in need. And while there are so many organizations that need your help during the holidays, how do you choose which one to devote your efforts to? There are so many ways to share the joy: handwritten cards, care packages, as well as donated gifts. Certain organizations are willing to take both lightly used items and homemade ones. Starting this summer, set aside a basket and encourage your family to fill it with what they no longer need: clothes, electronics, toys, games, equipment, or anything else. At the end of the season, you can donate its contents to your local charity.

#12. Plan a "Christmas in July" Party

The month of December is always festive (read: busy!) with parties, plans, and family activities. Get into the holiday spirit early by hosting a summertime soiree that is nonetheless inspired by all things Christmas: gift-making and card-writing, an ornament crafternoon, and candy cane cocktails. Oh, and our crowd-pleasing cheese platter that is reminiscent of a wreath? It's servable year-round with leafy herbs and cheese, and yet seasonally-appropriate. (We can hear the jingle bells already.)