13 Helpful Apps to Take the Stress Out of the Holiday Season

If the holiday season is leaving you feeling stressed out or pressed for time, chances are there's an app out there designed to make things easier. Check out these apps for Android and iPhone that can help you with everything from finding the perfect recipe to finding someone who could wrap presents for you in a pinch.

1. Yummly // Free

Yummly App

If you’re hosting a dinner this season and aren’t sure what to make, turn to Yummly, home to over 2 million recipes. When you sign up, you pick what level of cook you are; then, the unique search feature lets you narrow recipes down by preferences, like dietary restrictions, cooking time, nutrition information, and more—this can help you find a dish that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. The app also allows you to add all the ingredients to a shopping list and order groceries from local stores.

Available on iOS and Android.

2. Food Network Kitchen // Free

Food Network app

The user-friendly Food Network Kitchen app is home to an extensive database of recipes, so you’re sure to find plenty of options for meals. You can save your favorite recipes so they're easy to find, create a shopping list, and even order the ingredients from your grocery store. If you want to go premium ($7 a month or, for a limited time, $48 for an annual subscription), you can take advantage of the app’s live classes with chef Q&As. Even better, a portion of your annual subscription will go to charity.

Available on iOS and Android.

3. How to Cook Everything // $10

how to Cook Everything app

You now have access to the best-selling How to Cook Everything cookbook. Alongside 2000 recipes and their variations, it also comes with 400 how-to illustrations, which take you step-by-step through the cooking process. The app also has handy built-in timers placed throughout the recipe, making meal prep that much easier. If you download the app onto your iPad, you'll have access to even more, like the ability to add notes to recipes and a constant-on button to ensure that the screen doesn't dim while you're cooking.

Available on iOS.

4. Happy Cow // $4

If you’re traveling and vegan or you’re hosting vegan friends and family, finding a place to go out to eat can be a bit of a challenge. But the Happy Cow app—which includes reviews, photos, and the ability to save restaurants for offline viewing—can help users find plant-based, vegan, or vegetarian restaurants in more than 180 countries.

Available on iOS or Android.

5. Giftster // Free

Gifster app

Trying to figure out the perfect present for everyone on your list can be stressful and time consuming. Luckily, Giftster takes out the guesswork. This app is essentially a gift registry that connects you to family and friends. Each person in your group creates their list and adds items to it. It marks the items once they’ve been bought (though the recipient won't see what's been purchased) and members can reserve the items they want to purchase on someone’s list so more than two people don’t show up with the same present. There's also a Secret Santa option. And beyond the holidays, it can work for everything from birthdays to baby showers.

Available on iOS or Android.

6. Santa’s Bag // Free

Santa's bag app

Not only does this app have a built-in Christmas countdown, it helps keep your shopping list and budget organized. First, you make a list of the people you want to buy for, and then add gift ideas, links, favorite stores, and notes for each recipient. The app also allows you to sort through your list by recipient, shopping list, extra gifts, ordered gifts, stocking stuffers, location, and more, so you can stay organized throughout the whole process.

Available on iOS.

7. Chanukah Guide // Free

Whether it's your first time celebrating Chanukah or you're just looking to brush up on the basics, this guide can help. The free app will walk you through all the aspects of celebrating the festival of lights, with prayers available in six languages, instructions on how to light the Menorah, and more.

Available on iOS and Android.

8. Task Rabbit // Free

TaskRabbit app

While the holidays bring a lot of joy, they also bring packed schedules and long to-do lists. So, if you’re looking through your planner and wondering how you can possibly get everything done, TaskRabbit can help. Whether it’s wrapping presents, assembling a child’s new toy, installing light fixtures, or even shoveling out from a surprise snowstorm, you can find someone on TaskRabbit to help you complete just about anything for an hourly fee.

Available on iOS or Android.

9. Calm // $70 a year after free trial

Calm app

Let’s face it, the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is one of the most hectic times of the year—so it’s important to take the time to breathe. Calm offers hundreds of hours of guided meditations that cover topics like managing stress and calming anxiety. The app also features relaxing music, soundscapes, and Sleep Stories designed to send the listener to dreamland (there's even one featuring Bob Ross!). Calm also gives users access to master classes that are led by experts and cover a wide range of topics from breaking bad habits to the power of rest.

Available on iOS or Android.

10. Tripit // Free

Tripit helps take the stress out of holiday travel. After you make your plans—like booking flights and rental cars—you simply forward the reservation to an email, and the app puts together a schedule for you. You can also instantly send your travel plans to anyone you choose, so it takes all the guesswork out of when you’ll be arriving. Tripit is free, but if you want to pay the $49 a year, it comes with features such as showing airport security wait times and periodic travel updates.

Available on iOS or Android.

11. Roadtrippers // Free

If you are going to be road trippin’ to your holiday destination, you may as well make it fun. This app will help you find restaurants, scenic points, and roadside attractions along the way. With the free app, you can plan up to seven stops, but if you want to be able to add more destinations, you’ll need to upgrade to Roadtrippers Plus for $30 a year or $7 a month.

Available on iOS and Android.

12. Flush - Toilet Finder & Map // Free

If you’re on the road for a long time, it’s inevitable that you’re going to need to stop for a bathroom break. But what to do when there's no rest stop in sight? Before you hit the road, download Flush, which has data on over 190,000 bathrooms around the world. When you open the app, it displays the nearest toilets—and even lets you search without an internet connection. (Flush is only available for iOS, but don't fear, non-iPhone users: Toilet Finder is free, available on Android, and has data on over 150,000 restrooms.)

Available on iOS.

13. Fake Call Plus // Free

Seeing family over the holidays is great ... until you get stuck in an awkward conversation that never seems to end. If you're an iPhone user, Fake Call will come to your rescue. The app allows you to schedule a time for a "phone call" that will help you escape some of those not-so-pleasant discussions.

Available on iOS.

11 Festive Facts About Hanukkah

A Hanukkah menorah (traditional candelabra), dreidels (spinning tops), and sufganiyot (jelly donuts)
A Hanukkah menorah (traditional candelabra), dreidels (spinning tops), and sufganiyot (jelly donuts)
tomertu/iStock via Getty Images

Every winter, Jewish people around the world spend eight nights lighting candles, eating latkes, and spinning dreidels. But beyond the menorahs and fried food, what’s Hanukkah really about? Here are 11 festive facts about Hanukkah.

1. Don’t worry about spelling Hannukah wrong.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication, and the holiday is colloquially called the Festival of Lights. But you’ve probably seen the word spelled a variety of ways, from Hanukkah to Hannuka to Chanukah. Because the word is transliterated from Hebrew, there’s not an exact English equivalent for the sounds made by the Hebrew characters. So technically, you could spell it Khahnoocca and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong, but most people would probably be confused.

2. Hannukah celebrates a military victory and miracle.

During the eight nights of Hanukkah, Jews light a candle to pay tribute to a miracle that occurred back in 165 BCE. The Maccabees, an army of Jewish rebels, conquered the Syrian-Greeks, who had outlawed Jewish practices and defiled the holy Temple in Jerusalem by putting an altar of Zeus in it and sacrificing pigs. The Maccabees then rededicated and reclaimed the Temple, and although they only had enough oil to light a lamp for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days.

3. Hannukah is not the biggest Jewish holiday.

The Torah makes no mention of Hanukkah, and the Jewish religion places much more importance on holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah. But because Hanukkah usually occurs in December, around Christmas time and winter break when people of many religions are celebrating the season, Jews living in the United States in the early 20th century began placing more importance on the holiday. Today, Jews around the world (even in Israel) have followed suit, and Hanukkah is more important than it once was.

4. Hannukah food isn’t necessarily the healthiest.

Hanukkah has its own set of customary foods. To celebrate the holiday, Jews fry foods in oil to acknowledge the miracle of the oil. They may chow down on latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), kugel (noodle or potato casserole), and gelt (chocolate coins).

5. The letters on a Hannukah dreidel form an acronym.

Wooden and metal dreidels near glittering gold coins
tomertu/iStock via Getty Images

At Hanukkah, kids play with dreidels, which are small spinning tops. Tradition says that before the Maccabees revolted, Jews weren’t legally allowed to read the Torah, so they would study the holy text while pretending to gamble with spinning dreidels. Each of the four sides of a dreidel has a Hebrew character: Nun, Gimel, Hay or Shin. The four letters are said to stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham"—meaning "A great miracle happened there"—which refers to the miraculous, long-lasting oil.

6. The dates of Hannukah change each year.

Because the holiday is based on the Hebrew calendar, there’s no set Gregorian date range for Hanukkah. While it always starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, that date can correspond to anywhere from late November to late December. This year, Hanukkah is fairly late, beginning on the evening of December 22 and going to December 30.

7. Sometimes Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving.

In 2013, Hanukkah overlapped with Thanksgiving, giving rise to countless Thanksgivukkah memes and jokes about cranberry-filled sufganiyot and sweet potato latkes. Sadly, the next Thanksgivukkah won’t occur until 2070, when the first night of Hanukkah will coincide with a particularly late Thanksgiving dinner.

8. Some Jews give money rather than gifts on Hannukah.

Hanukkah gold gelt coins
sboice/iStock via Getty Images

Traditionally, Jews celebrated Hanukkah by giving their kids and relatives gelt (money) rather than wrapped gifts. But because holiday gift-giving plays a big role for both Christians and secular people, many Jews now give and receive Hanukkah presents instead of money. To acknowledge tradition, though, most Jews give children gelt in the form of chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil.

9. You’ll need to light 44 candles on Hannukah.

Hanukkah menorahs—which some Jews prefer to call a chanukiah, to differentiate it from the true menorah at the Temple—have nine branches, eight for each night plus a helper candle called a shamash that lights the others. Jews light the candles in the menorah from left to right, lighting a new candle, candles for the previous days, and the helper candle each night. You’ll need to use a whopping 44 candles to celebrate Hanukkah since you light two candles the first night, three the second night, four the third night, and so on.

10. You can buy scented candles for your Hanukkah menorah.

A big part of Hanukkah is lighting candles, but some Jews opt for a less conventional approach. Besides buying candles in different colors and non-toxic varieties, there are also scented candles available for Hanukkah menorahs. If you want to make your home smell like vanilla, raspberry, or even sufganiyot, there’s a scented candle for you.

11. Hanukkah songs aren't really a thing—at least for adults.

Christmas songs start playing on the radio long before Thanksgiving, but although you might know a few Hanukkah songs, music isn’t a huge part of the Jewish holiday. Well-known songs such as "I Have a Little Dreidel" and "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" are mainly for children, and songs like Adam Sandler’s "The Chanukah Song" are mostly for laughs.

10 Vintage Holiday Party Tips from Old Etiquette Manuals

gregory_lee/iStock via Getty Images
gregory_lee/iStock via Getty Images

The holiday party season is always packed with events, and sometimes it can feel like more of the same. Spruce up your festivities by taking inspiration from party mavens of the past. Here’s some vintage holiday party advice for discerning hosts.

Holiday Party Tip No. 1: “An appropriate rime or jingle by way of invitation adds to the charm of this very delightful season.”

All holiday parties start with an invitation, and Dame Curtsey’s Art of Entertaining for All Occasions (1918) has you covered. The book includes a whole host of suggestions for the wording of your invites. For example, never miss the opportunity to throw in a rhyme:

“We wish you a Merry Christmas
And hope you all will come
To our Christmas tree and party
And help us enjoy our fun!”

Too vague? How about this short and snappy holiday party rhyme: “Come and see, our Christmas tree, Wednesday next, at half-past three.” Or, if you're worried about tardiness, perhaps you might prefer this invitation/warning:

“Won’t you come to our Christmas tree?
We’ll all be glad to see you—
Please come at eight, and don’t be late.”

Holiday Party Tip No. 2: For a fancy dress party, “there is a wide range of historical and mythological characters to select from.”

These days, most of us reach for an ironic novelty Christmas sweater when the invite reads “costumes encouraged.” But back in the days of yore, holiday party looks were rather more elaborate. Etiquette, Health and Beauty (1899) recommends an outfit with a unique design and accessories based on the invitation’s description. Let’s say it’s a wintertime ball: An “ice maiden” look can be easily created from “a short white dress of some thin material, and a veil of the same.” Simply re-purpose glass chandelier drops as icicles; “a fan painted with snow scenes and robins would be a suitable one to carry with such a dress.” Delightful!

Holiday Party Tip No. 3: “Simulate the sparkle of newly fallen snow.”

Vintage Christmas ornaments
VictorHuang/iStock via Getty Images

The Good Housekeeping Hostess (1904) recommends using silver and white decorations for your Christmas tree to create a magical feel. Lightly brush the branches with glue and then add a sprinkling of salt, which under the soft lights will have “the appearance of glistening frost.” Etiquette and Entertaining (1903) says that the room should be “gaily decorated” with “long swags of evergreens caught up in the center and at each side with a bow of red or blue ribbon” for a cheerful look.

Holiday Party Tip No. 4: “If you are entertaining 10 or more guests you had better have punch.”

Punch is the classic holiday party drink. The 1930s book Shake ‘Em Up says simple finger food should be laid out on the other side of the room from the punch bowl to “keep the guests in motion.” What goes in the punch bowl? “For the Christmas or New Year at home, egg-nog has long been the accepted beverage,” but the authors admit that it is “a nuisance to make.”

Holiday Party Tip No. 5: “Guests can help themselves from [a] party nut tree.”

A 1956 ad for Royal Nuts recommends that holiday party hosts fashion a fabulous Christmas nut tree for their guests. The “tree” is made by shaping a loaf of brown bread into a cone and then sticking it onto a candle holder so it stands up. Then, the host should spread the cone with cream cheese (made green with food coloring) and stick nuts onto the tree with toothpicks for a fabulously festive appetizer sure to get guests talking.

Holiday Party Tip No. 6: “Let the first care be, not the cakes and apples, but the games and other entertainment.”

Who needs food and drink when you have party games to play? An 1876 article in American Agriculturist exhorts any good party host to provide a constant supply of games and amusements so guests don't get bored. It cautions, however, that non-stop games can become tiring. Now and then, hosts should offer attendees “something which will amuse while resting in their seats.”

But if you’re thinking Spin the Bottle, think again. One of the amusements suggested in the article is to create an elaborate ruse in which a young child is dressed up convincingly as a large doll. Guests would then be encouraged to ask questions of the 'doll,' and be shocked when the supposedly inanimate object responds with a nod. The magazine does admit, however, that "any of these tricks, if poorly done, are very stupid."

Holiday Party Tip No. 7: Have an “exciting, spectacular feature” on the holiday table.

Holiday table
DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images

What could be a more exciting centerpiece than a vegetable en flambé? Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook (1956) recommends a flaming cabbage for your holiday party table. You can make your own by hollowing out a cabbage and placing a small can of Sterno inside, then lighting the Sterno. The lamp should be entirely hidden by the cabbage, while the flames should emerge from the cavity. For a little extra pizazz, stick cocktail sausages on toothpicks into the cabbage’s outer surface. Naturally, guests will then gather 'round and cook their own wieners over the open flame.

Holiday Party Tip No. 8: Set the stage, then “in comes Santa.”

A visit from Santa Claus is the highlight of any holiday party. The Complete Hostess (1906) knows how to set the scene. Christmas music should drift into the room followed by “a recitation of The Night Before Christmas by the little hostess, dressed as a fairy.” Now, the poor soul wearing a red fur costume outside the room should ring sleigh bells, then get nearer and nearer, until who should come into the room, but Santa! Then “with many a quip and jest,” Santa should produce a gift for each guest.

Holiday Party Tip No. 9: “Present[ing] a young lady with articles of jewelry, or of dress … ought to be regarded as an offense rather than a compliment.”

Be careful what you give as holiday presents. An ill-chosen gift can offend the host, according to All About Etiquette (1875). Instead, young men should give the ladies in their lives a bouquet, a book, or “one or two autographs of distinguished persons.”

Holiday Party Tip No. 10: Have a solution on hand “for the party which you know will be too much for you.”

Prevention is better than cure, or so says Shake ‘Em Up. Before you attend a festive party where the booze will be flowing, it recommends a few prophylactic measures. “A quart of milk is a conservative preparation,” while “a physician recommends a large plate of green pea soup.” If neither is available, “a pony of olive oil is reputed to coat the stomach lining and ameliorate the wear and tear of subsequent beverages.” While we can confirm that a “pony” equals 1 ounce, we can’t say if these hangover preventers actually work—so attempt at your own risk.

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