The Holiday Survival Guide

December in Boston means crowded streets, crowded stores, gloomy weather, and even-more-irritating relatives. Don’t let the bah-humbugs get the best of you. Our playbook for getting through the most hectic time of year will keep you blissed out till New Year’s. Find helpers for all your yuletide chores, massages for every body part, easy weekend escapes, the most blissful spots in town, smart gift ideas, seasonal tipping tips...and more!

December in Boston means crowded streets, crowded stores, gloomy weather, and even-more- irritating relatives. Don’t let the bah-humbugs get the best of you. Our playbook for getting through the most hectic time of year will keep you blissed out till New Year’s (even in the face of a certain annoying Christmas ditty). Click the links below to find helpers for all your yuletide chores, massages for every body part, easy weekend escapes, the most blissful spots in town, smart gift ideas, seasonal tipping tips…and more!



Ultraindulgent Spa-Going
Five cure-all experiences for when you’ve got the time and the cash.

One Great Massage
A rubdown for every tired part.

Instant Bliss
Quickie treatments by neighborhood

Zen (and the Art of Holiday Maintenance)
The bills are stacking up, the weight is piling on, and your anxiety level is maxing out. It’s time to call in backup.

Headache Relief
Outsource your chores

Oh, Behave! Here’s How
Tensions run high this time of year. Etiquette expert Jodi R.R. Smith, president and founder of Salem’s Mannersmith, helps navigate some of the stickier situations.

Ho, Ho, Ommm…
Cambridge yoga master Patricia Walden leads you through anywhere, anytime stress-reducing poses.

A Place to Be Merry
Where some of Boston’s most high-pressure workers go to unwind.

Four Weekend Escapes
When nothing will help but seeing the hassles of home (and the kids) in your rearview mirror



City Holiday Shopping Guide
View a list of top Boston shops (and complete contact information, including addresses, phone numbers, and websites) to find the perfect gift for anyone on your list!

Stylist J. Sybylla Smith maps out three itineraries for satisfying all the people on your list. Here’s a plan on how to tackle a marathon weekend in Boston and Natick, an hour on Newbury Street, and five hours in Cambridge and Concord.

Or, Just Stay Home
Local websites that let you score big from the couch.

The Gift of Grub
Because after a day of pounding the sidewalks (or conquering the mall), what you need is a calm setting, some restorative food, and a good stiff drink.

Park Life
Fork out for the garage, or take your chances by the curb? Avoid the gamble with our handy tip sheet for finding a spot wherever you are.

Be Good, for Goodness’ Sake:
Options for volunteering without breaking your shopping flow

The Shining
If all else fails, rekindle the holiday spirit by taking a hint from a guy who just wants to help Boston—all of Boston—lighten up.


For ultraindulgent spa-going gifts (or for yourself), go on to the next page…


Ultraindulgent Spa-Going
Five cure-all experiences for when you’ve got the time and the cash.

[sidebar]1. For The Devotee
Total Relaxation Program
Splash (4 hours, 40 minutes, $506,
I’m a spa regular—a massage here, an impromptu mani there. But “day at the spa” sounded a tad too overprivileged house mom, until I was convinced to try Splash’s TRP. The treatment started with the most pleasing foot rub of my life (apologies to my husband) and then moved into a somewhat racy full-body scrub (same). After that came a de-stressing facial and “inner journey” gemstone massage. Aura calmed, I dozed off during the scalp rub and body wrap, and woke to a lunch of salad and tea. The most stressful thing about the entire experience was having to write this article afterward. —Erin Byers Murray

2. For The Novice
Tandem Treatment
Spa InterContinental (80 minutes, $280,
Since this offering at the InterContinental’s new spa involves not one, but two therapists, I figured I was in for twice the relaxation. And mostly I was—with serene music wafting in the background, the women moved in impressive synchronicity (they practice this), smoothing oil across my body as they kneaded and rubbed my office chair hunchback. The constant guessing game I found myself playing—which masseuse’s hands were where?—kept me from complete Zen, but for the less neurotic, the hour-plus treatment comes highly recommended. —Jason Schwartz

3. For The Beauty Queen
Red Carpet Treatment
LuxeBeautique (4 hours, $400,
My appearance isn’t much to brag about these days—I’m pasty, flaky, and splotchy, thanks to too much wind and too much work. Thus I arrived anxious and bedraggled at cute new North Shore spa LuxeBeautique. Motherly, if chatty, masseuse Natalie sloughed off my dead skin and bad attitude with a delicious-smelling sugar cane–ginger scrub before giving an effective rubdown. The dreaded facial (I hate the poking) turned out to be a highlight, with aesthetician Kadi pinpointing my big-grained exfoliant as the culprit behind my dry skin. After being so well treated, I have my bragging rights fully restored. —Rachel Baker

4. For The Squeamish
Sea Foam Head-To-Toe Body Ritual
Bella Santé (2 hours, $265,
I so despise lotions that I often forgo sun block—at noon, in August—at the beach. It feels constricting, heavy, oily. This full-body treatment, then, promised
a series of affronts: first an exfoliant; then a warm, bubbling mud facial while I’m foil-wrapped like a baked potato; and, finally, a moisturizer. Yet to my surprise, I found the rubs soothing, refreshing—a skin tune-up. Such a tease, though: While my aesthetician’s hands were working, couldn’t I have gotten a massage, too? —Jason Feifer

5. For The Bride-To-Be
Cozy Comfort
Melt (3 hours, 30 minutes, $250,
With just weeks until my 200-person, out-of-town wedding, “stressed” hardly begins to describe my state of mind. At fluffed-up Newbury Street spa Melt, I get shuffled off to a cushioned pedicure banquette with an extra throw pillow, a cinnamon scone, a cup of tea, and a copy of the new InStyle. I’m more relaxed already—and that’s even before my toes are massaged, scrubbed, reflexed, and painted a spirited shade of candy-apple red, and my hands gloved in warm, moisturizing paraffin wax. From there, I was supposed to proceed to the head-to-foot polish, using Melt’s seasonal cranberry–brown sugar scrub, which, if the mani-pedi was any indication, would be divine, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stay. Did I mention I’ve got this wedding to plan? —Blythe Copeland



To find out where to get the best massages, go on to the next page…


One Great Massage
A rubdown for every tired part.

The Treatment

The Spa

The Experience

Scalp: 30 minutes, $45, integrativebodytherapy

Champi Massage

Integrative Body Therapies, Back Bay

Ayurvedic relief from insomnia, migraines, and general holiday angst. No nudity required.

Nose: 30 minutes, $45,

Neti Massage

Pyara, Cambridge

Sinuses get some TLC with a eucalyptus-infused steam bath for the face.

Face: 30 minutes, $60,

Acupressure Facial Massage

Lotus Mind + Body Spa, Needham

Hot and cold stones placed on various pressure points ease pent-up tension. No needles, no pain.

Lymph Nodes: One hour, $115,

Lymphatic Drainage Massage

Boston Bodyworker, Back Bay and downtown

Gentle pressure to the lymph nodes in the neck and armpits makes for an interesting, but not uncomfortable, 60 minutes. Emerge sniffle-free.

Hands: 35 minutes, $50,

Anti-Aging Hands

Daryl Christopher Salon and Day Spa, Back Bay

Hands are exfoliated smooth with an alpha-hydroxy serum and rubbed with an anti-aging cream.

Chest: 30 minutes, $55,

Upper-Body De-Stress

Ardan MedSpa + Salon, Wellesley

Essential oils massaged into your upper arms, décolleté, and chest let you breathe easier (really).

Neck/shoulders: One hour, $75,

Deep Tissue Massage

Backworks, Financial District

Highly skilled therapists pinpoint where you’re holding stress. Major gain for your pain.

Back: Two hours, $280,

De-Stress Massage

Splash at the Sports Club/LA, downtown

Slow, purposeful kneading to soothing music leaves you feeling pleasantly lobotomized.

Spine: 75 minutes, $150,

Rain Drop Therapy Massage

Emerge, Back Bay

Nine potent therapeutic oils dripped on your spine target tricky nerve endings all along your back.

Libido: One hour, $210, violet

Couples’ Massage

Violet Skin Boutique, Back Bay

Masseurs work on you and your beloved in the same room (on separate treatment tables). Hot!

Feet: One hour, $65,

Happy Feet

Spa Christine, South Boston

A really elaborate foot rub, in which feet are exfoliated, buffed, and kneaded. A bit of reflexology comes as a bonus.

Aura: One hour, $90,

Holistic Serenity Massage

Bella Skin, Newton

Touch therapy releases feelings of stress, anger, and anxiety.

For contact information for all these spas, click here!

For the best quickie treatments in your neighborhood, go to the next page…


Instant Bliss: Quickie Treatments by Neighborhood


By Ann Lucas

Illustration by Joe McKendry

1. Back Bay. Ultrasound facial, 30 minutes, $125, Exhale,; Shopaholic Massage, 15 minutes, $25, G Spa,

2. Cambridge.
Shirodhara “third eye” treatment, 30 minutes, $40, Pyara,; mini facial, 30 minutes, $45, Sasha Salon and Spa,

3. South End. Ultimate Scalp and Foot Massage, 25 minutes, $110, 98 North Salon & Day Spa,; Pumpkin exfoliating peel, 30 minutes, $35, Étant,

4. West. Jimmyjane Manicure, 30 minutes, $28, Miniluxe, Newton Centre,; Fast Blast Facial, 30 minutes, $85, Bluemercury, Natick,

5. North. Mini massage, 30 minutes, $65, Alexander’s Spa & Salon, Wenham; heart-shaped bikini wax, 30 minutes, $75, Andrew Michaels, Salem,

6. South. Aromatherapy steam, 30 minutes, $25, Adamo Day Spa Retreat, Cohasset,; 30-minute makeover, $30, Maxime Salon, Hingham, —Ann Lucas


For 11 gurus to help cure whatever ails you, go on to the next page…

Zen (and the Art of Holiday Maintenance)
The bills are stacking up, the weight is piling on, and your anxiety level is maxing out. It’s time to call in backup.


By Terri Trespicio

Photos by Yeheshua Johnson

1. The Personal Trainer
Roman Szpond

“A good trainer will keep you focused and engaged,” says Szpond, “and help you achieve real results”—such as sticking to a regimen and keeping off extra holiday pounds. Plus, when you’ve already paid 100 bucks an hour, you’re more likely to show up. ($100 per session, Inner Strength, 309 Main St., Watertown, 617-924-0111; 1524 VFW Pkwy., West Roxbury, 617-325-6200,

2. The Hypnotherapist
Brian Mahoney
You needn’t be a claustrophobe or pack-a-day smoker to benefit: Hypnotherapy can address even garden-variety anxiety. “By creating a calm, pleasant state, you gain control over your emotional reactions, and can access that feeling later when you need it,” says Mahoney. (Cost varies, Boston Hypnosis, 48 Melrose St., Boston, 617-542-4444,

3. The Chaplain
Walter Cuenin
For the unsettled spirit and anxious mind, connecting with faith can bring some peace and clarity. “Talking to someone you trust in the religious community m
ay help you deal with issues that arise this time of year,” says Cuenin, of Brandeis. “Even if you feel estranged from organized religion, this is a good time to take another look.” (Free)

4. The Energy Healer
Diane Fraser
Don’t roll your eyes—light-touch energy healing may have you feeling calmer, more energized, and better equipped to cope with the onslaught of seasonal angst. “There isn’t a person who leaves without feeling an immediate change,” claims Fraser, who makes house calls. ($75–$100 per session, 617 -407-6552)

5. The Chiropractor
Julie Burke

It might be more than shopping bags putting a knot in your back. “Physical and emotional stress accumulate, throwing off your natural balance,” says Burke. Her gentle touch (no snapping or popping) helps restore alignment and reduce muscle fatigue. (Cost varies, Newton Chiropractic and Wellness Centre, 345 Boylston St., Newton, 617-964-3332,

6. The Cosmetic Dermatologist
Ranella Hirsch

Quick procedures like wrinkle-reducing dermal fillers, laser treatment for correcting sun damage, and peels for clearer, brighter skin create that radiant holiday glow (without the hangover). ($250–$2,500, 777 Concord Ave., Cambridge, 617-868-8685,

7. The Biofeedback Practitioner
Inna Khazan

“Biofeedback measures your pulse, temperature, breath, and heart rate so that you can learn to control your response to stress,” says Khazan. You’ll gain insight into your freak-outs—and learn how to stop them before they start. ($145 per session, 10 Post Office Sq., Boston, 617-231-0011,

8. The Acupuncturist
Matthew Amato

Tiny needles are inserted into specific points on the body, allowing the patient to experience “fewer aches and pains, lower stress levels, and even better sleep,” says Amato. ($70–$100, 617-429-0942)

9. The Herbalist
Madelon Hope

Hope will target the root of your woes (sleeplessness, panic, et al.) with customized herbal formulas. “Herbs are safe and gentle, but potent, too,” she says. “Used correctly, they can ease many chronic issues.” ($75–$150 per session, Boston School of Herbal Studies, 12 Pelham Terr., Arlington, 781-646-6319,

10. The Life Coach
Kerri Richardson

A life coach can give you a hand in sorting through your biggest problems, from dealing with family to staying out of debt. “A coach can help you develop a strategy that works,” says Richardson. “This can be the year you do it right.” (Cost varies, 978-312-1044,

11. The Meditation Teacher
Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche leads workshops on meditative healing, which, he says, can result in a positive, serene state of mind. (Cost varies, Buddhayana Foundation, 3 Barnabas Rd., Marion,


Go on to the next page to hire one of our ten elves to help you out with all of your holiday chores…

Headache Relief: Outsource Your Chores


By Blythe Copeland

Illustrations by Joe McKendry

1. Decorating the tree: Installers from Christmas Décor’s eight Massachusetts locations keep the holidays bright with custom-designed combos of garland and lighting that they’ll hang for you at the start of the season, take down at the end, and store in their own warehouse the rest of the year. Regular checkups help ensure all bulbs are lit, and stay that way. (

2. Planning the party: If your talents run more toward party-going than party-throwing, call on Lyn Pellegrini. Her Art of the Party catering service provides china, silver, decorations—and meals from some of the city’s top chefs, including Geoff Gardner of Sel de la Terre and Paul O’Connell of Chez Henri. Even a certain Ms. Stewart would be jealous. (617-859-7932,

3. Buying the gifts: There’s nothing as satisfying as coming home from a day of shopping laden with carefully chosen presents for your nearest and dearest. If only you could get that feeling without the actual shopping (and the crowded stores, pushy people, and broken escalators). The Proper Shopper’s Linda Workman does the hard part, buying from your suggestions and leaving you with all the warm-and-fuzzies and none of the bruises. (617-901-3382,

4. Wrapping the gifts: A textbook Christmas morning starts with stacks of flawlessly wrapped gifts—and ends with a mound of shredded paper. The pros at Beacon Hill’s Rugg Road Paper Company will fold, tape, and beribbon any size box in bright stripes, bold solids, and festive designs from companies including Peculiar Pair Press and Snow & Graham, executing wrapping jobs so precious even the kids might pause to appreciate them. (105 Charles St., Boston, 617-742-0002,

5. Assembling the toys: The last thing any Santa stand-in needs on Christmas Eve is a pile of tiny pieces, a set of vague instructions, and a bike that has to be assembled by morning. The staff at Hands of Time concierge service can take that chore off your plate: The impressive roster of services includes furniture and toy assembly. All you have to do is leave the finished product under the tree and help yourself to a few of those cookies left out for the man in red. (617-281-7606,

6. Cooking the feast: Even on a slow day, coming home to a kitchen full of raw ingredients can be daunting. Chef Andrea Silver, who learned from Michael Schlow and Jacques Pépin before starting Brookline’s Sweet and Savory, shows up, groceries in hand, to prepare as many as five meals for your family—leaving the freezer stocked with short ribs, crispy apricot pork chops, or anything else you select from her menu of classic American fare. (617-835-3874, sweetand

7. Baking the cookies: You could order up a tray of generic holiday cookies to put out while entertaining, but a much sweeter note would be the same homemade treats your nana used to make. Only in this case, they’re made by someone else. Cuisine En Locale will whip up batches of your secret family recipe for an hourly rate. Nana never even needs to know. (617-285-0167,

8. Organizing the closet (you know, for all that loot you’re expecting): Planned to hide some presents in the closet, only to find, under all the mess, some from last year that you thought you’d lost? It happened to us, too—before we met professional organizer Heidi Solomon of P.O.S.H. She turns crowded clothes-keepers into efficient storage systems, leaving plenty of room for concealing Santa’s booty (as well as your own fashionable gifts to yourself). (617-277-7674,

9. Returning the duds: She means well, but Aunt Louise always winds up giving you gifts that are just slightly off the mark (except that hideous handpainted vase, which was way off the mark). Rather than let them languish in your junk drawer, have the couriers at City Schleppers return them for you. They’ll wait in line to get a refund, or trade in for exactly what you wanted. (617-236-1199,

10. Figuring out how to write it all off: Get a head start on a happy spring with some early-bird tax advice. Although most paperwork isn’t yet available, an accountant who steps in now can help you organize receipts, make last-minute (deductible) donations, and otherwise set you up for a refund that will pay for all of next year’s holiday assistance. (Back Bay Accounting and Tax, 617-578-0800,


For the seven rules of holiday etiquette, go on to the next page…


Oh, Behave! Here’s How
Tensions run high this time of year. Etiquette expert Jodi R.R. Smith (at right), president and founder of Salem’s Mannersmith, helps navigate some of the stickier situations.

By Terri Trespicio

Photo by Yeheshua Johnson

1. Every year my boss gets drunk and hits on me at the holiday party, and then “forgets” the next day. What should I do?
Once he’s on his second drink and showing the familiar signs, take off—and that goes for any situation in which your boss and alcohol are involved.

2. Whenever I see her, my sister loves to remark on how skinny I am. How do I get her to stop?
For backhanded compliments like this one, always use the same response: “Thank you! I try really hard.” She’ll eventually realize she’s been here before.

3. My neighbor throws the dullest holiday parties. How do I get out of it?
Etiquette requires you provide the regret, not the excuse. Keep it simple. Don’t lie about what you’re doing instead—it’ll just get you in trouble.

4. My newish relationship may not be built for the long term. How do I avoid an awkward gift exchange?
Drop him or her ASAP. Otherwise, suggest a $25 limit, which eases the pressure.

5. I’m Jewish, and every year my Protestant mother-in-law asks, “How could anyone not want to celebrate Christmas?”
Avoid a scene. Say, “I’m so happy I can be here with your family.” Then change the topic.

6. Is it better to show up late to a party or not at all?

My preference is to pick one party. But if you’re a social butterfly, let the host know when to expect you, or that you will be leaving at a certain time, so he doesn’t think you simply bailed.

7. I’m waiting for a parking spot at the mall when someone swoops in and snags it. What do I say?

You don’t. They won’t learn a lesson from you, so don’t attempt to teach one. Manners matter, but safety first.


For six on-the-go yoga moves, go on to the next page…

Ho, Ho, Ommm…
Cambridge yoga master Patricia Walden leads you through anywhere, anytime stress-reducing poses.

Illustrations by Joe McKendry

1. Uttanasana
When: While having an irritating phone conversation with your “sick” nanny. Why: Positioning your head lower than your heart has an instant cooling effect on your nervous system.

2. Seated Pada Hastasana
When: At your computer, while trying to score last-minute Nutcracker tickets on Craigslist.
Why: This easy stretch relieves built-up tension throughout the body.

3. Utkatasana variation (chair pose)
When: Waiting in line amid screaming kids, including your own, to see Santa at the Burlington Mall.
The position lets you stretch tired calves and strengthen ankles while keeping a hand on your child.

4. Half Gomukhasana (cow face pose)
When: Stuck in traffic on the Pike. Or Route 9 East. Or the parking lot at Natick.
This move releases stiffness in the neck and shoulders, which naturally contract when you’re anxious.

5. Parvatasana (mountain pose)
When: Waiting for takeoff during an inevitable weather delay at Logan.
Why: Reaching upward eases kinks in the neck, especially when paired with deep breathing.

6. Balasana (child’s pose)
When: You’re on your hands and knees, Cinderella-style, during pre- or post-holiday party cleanup.
Why: Elongating the waist, in combination with conscious breathing, reduces stress.


For five new stress-free zones, go on to the next page…

A Place to Be Merry
Where some of Boston’s most high-pressure workers go to unwind.

By Blythe Copeland

Photos by Diana Levine

1. Good Times Emporium, Somerville
Jackson Cannon
Bar Manager at Eastern Standard
“After 13 hours of serving hundreds of people, I’m too amped up to go home and go to bed. When I get to leave work early—maybe every other Saturday—I like to go to Good Times Emporium in Somerville. I’ll play video games or pool by myself, have a little whiskey and a bottle of light beer, play some Skee-Ball. A little bit of rooting for my Keno numbers, and I’m relaxed. I don’t have to relate to anyone. Nobody kno
ws my name there—that’s why I go.”

2. Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard
Martha Smith-Blackmore
Medical Services Director at Animal Rescue League
“My husband and I take our dogs to Martha’s Vineyard. We go out to the wooded areas up-island, or out to Chappaquiddick. We call it ‘dogs’ weekend’: They have such regimented lives, and here they can be off-leash and splash in the water. Then we go four-wheeling on the dunes. I don’t bring my phone and I don’t bring my computer. I pretend I wouldn’t be able to find a connection anywhere.”

3. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Emma Roberts
Owner of Capers Catering

“I work about 80 hours a week, as many as six parties a day. With catering you need to put forth all you have, because people are often hiring your service for a very important day in their lives. I really enjoy the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I go and have a cup of tea and imagine Isabella Stewart Gardner in there. It’s so interesting to see what her vision was, and her taste, through the gardens and the artwork.”

4. The Middlesex Fells Reservation
Carol Tienken
Chief Operating Officer of Greater Boston Food Bank

“At the food bank, my day job is about running the operation; in addition, I’m project-managing our new 110,000-square-foot building that we hope to finish in 2008. I’ve turned gray doing this. For a break, I go snowshoeing in the Fells, for that peacefulness, that sort of getting back to basics, just breathing fresh air and clearing your head.”

5. IMAX Theater, Museum of Science
Sal Lizard
Owner of Genuine Santa

“As a professional Santa, I work every day in November and December. There’s only one of me, and I don’t like having to tell people I can’t make it to their party. Whenever I have free time, I go to the Museum of Science. My grandpa taught me you should learn something new every day. I like the room with the electrostatic stuff—what boy doesn’t like to see sparks? I also enjoy the IMAX. The only problem there is that sometimes I get too relaxed and fall asleep.”


For four weekend escapes, go on to the next page…

Four Weekend Escapes
Get Out of Here!

When nothing will help but seeing the hassles of home (and the kids) in your rearview mirror

1. Vinotherapy Weekend, Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham

Drive From Boston: 90 minutes.
What Awaits: Wine tasting upon arrival, two nights in a plush room, breakfast overlooking the ocean, and a shiraz scrub for two in the inn’s new $25 million spa. (Starting at $875 for two; 800-332-1577,

2. Winter Rejuvenation, Breakwater Inn & Spa, Kennebunkport, ME
Drive From Boston: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
What Awaits:
Two nights’ stay, an romatherapy massage and facial, and a wintry wonderland right outside your doorstep. (Starting at $278 per person; 207-967-5333,

3. Elopement Package, the Chanler, Newport, RI
Drive From Boston: 90 minutes.
What Awaits:
Justice of the peace, photographer, tasting menu, champagne, cake, and the chance to avoid that holiday favorite, “Aren’t you married yet?” (Starting at $4,000 for two; 401-847-1300,

4. Celebrate You, Canyon Ranch, Lenox
Drive From Boston: 2 hours.
What Awaits: Three healthy meals per day, guided hikes or snowshoe treks, a 100,000-square-foot spa, and the bliss of knowing no one. (Starting at $2,040 per person; 413-637-4100, —Christie Matheson