'Tis the season of comfort and joy. But if your weekend is looking crazy, uncomfortable and joyless, here are our tips for de-stressing. Take things down a notch. Breathe.

1. Skip the malls - Unless you are a super-early bird, you know the malls will be a misery of no carparks, cranky kids and crowds at the cash register. Instead, support your local shopping centre - all those lovely owner-operated shops with friendly staff, a butcher, a baker and a greengrocer who know their stuff.

If there's a local Trade Aid or op shop, even better. Rummage for a wee treasure and know your money is going to help folks in need.

2. Give chickens and goats - Free your friends and family from the stress of more stuff in their lives. Go to one of the gifts that give back websites to buy chickens or goats (or our favourite, organic poos) to help school kids and farmers in Third World villages, or buy a book for Starship.


3. Give up - Chances are if you're this late on the present-buying boat, others in your circle might be too. Do a quick ring around, change the rules to "no presents" (or "regifting only") and suddenly all that present stress has gone.

4. Sing, sing, sing - Forget all that stressful Christmas muzak and plug yourself into some lovely, low-fi carols. Check out the noticeboards outside your local churches or head along to the last of the public Carols by Candlelight (today at Little Oneroa Beach, Waiheke; Sunday at Little Shoal Bay, Birkenhead or Stockade Hill, Howick). Auckland Baptist Tabernacle's historic main auditorium has beautiful, candlelit services (Christmas Eve, 7pm in Mandarin, 9pm in English; 429 Queen St).

5. Walk, walk, walk - Nothing like outdoors and fresh air to get those happy endorphins going.

Park the car and wander the Wynyard Christmas Quarter (until Christmas Eve). Santa's bach may be busy, but check out the public art of the gantry's advent calendar, the Silo markets.

Let the kids have a splash and a play, pop some presents for the disadvantaged under the tree for the City Mission.

6. Escape at night - Avoid the vehicle crush and walk up and down Franklin Rd lights to enjoy the pedestrian party.

Amble up to Ponsonby Rd - the restaurants may be heaving, but there's always a gelato (Three Lamps end) or an icecream from the dairy.

Head over to Motat for 6500 fairy lights (8pm until Christmas Eve, $2) or check out what's happening in your own neighbourhood.

7. Dump the kids - Only for a couple of hours, mind you. Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum has a kids' fun day today with Christmas card-making, singing with a pirate and some nautical Santa business too (11am-5pm, various charges).

8. Sneak in a pampering session - You know it's far too late to book hair, nails or spa. But if you're wandering past a mall nail booth or massage chair, nab an empty slot and give yourself 20 minutes of down time.

Ignore the lists, ignore the crowds rushing past and breathe.

9. Sneak off to the beach - It's the longest day today (hello summer solstice), so you can slip off to the beach at the end of the day for an unwinder. Fresh air, nature, a cold swim and a beaut sunset.

Aren't you glad we have Christmas in summer?

While you're at it, pick a few pohutukawa flowers and your wreath and table decorations are sorted, too.

10. Cook for a day, eat for a week - You know you'll overdo it on Christmas Day - just one more side dish, just one more pudding.

But this is a good thing.

Make sure there are plenty of leftovers to make lunches and dinners (or the best breakfasts ever) for days. Which means a great holiday for the cook.

Bundle the dinner remains into the fridge and freezer as quick as you can, then go to foodhub.co.nz for ideas for all that ham and turkey.

If anyone complains, hand them the barbecue tools.