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Ali Larter On Holiday Traditions, Taming The Chaos, & Drop-In Visitors

The holidays are a busy time of year for an awful lot of people. It's not uncommon to find yourself stressed out or overwhelmed by all that there is to do, between holiday prep, work projects, family responsibilities, and more. But the holiday season, for as chaotic as it can be, is also supposed to be about fun. It can be a difficult balance. Ali Larter spoke with Romper about holiday traditions and taming the chaos that, all too often, can come with the season — and, you know, having a little fun in the process.

For all the fun and excitement that can come along with the months of November and December, there's also a lot to balance. It can be stressful and busy, easy to lose your cool. But how you respond to things can influence how those around you do as well, which means that doing your best to take a little time to wind down, relax, or take a break can make a big difference not only in how you're feeling yourself, but also in the way that those around you deal with packed schedules, end of year wrap-ups, and fun holiday activities too.

"It’s about making sure that you schedule time in your day for the kids to get outside or for you to get a chance to go have a workout, because I feel like if you can stay calm in the midst of the madness ... whether it’s taking some time to meditate, going for a jog, taking 20 minutes to read a book, whatever it is for the mom to keep themselves calm, I think that’s a big part of it for the kids, seeing you can handle it," Larter says.

Once you've made sure that your needs have been met, it's much easier to indulge in some of the especially fun parts of the season — and enjoy it all the more. For Larter — mom of Theodore, 8, and Vivienne, 3 — getting the kids involved in all of the pre-holiday prep work is part of the experience — she doesn't want them left out of it all.

"I definitely love doing the wrapping and the presents with them and including them in that," she says. "And getting them different markers and things like that and allowing them to make their cards and write them out, I think, is really nice."

Crafts, markers, and the like can also come in handy when you're out running around town with the kids, all wrapped up in the holiday hustle and bustle. Larter says that she likes to stash books, coloring books, markers, and more in her bag so that the kids have something to keep them occupied and entertained, but that she's not opposed to using a bit of "Santa's watching..." to help out the cause.

They also have an Elf on the Shelf, with which Larter admits she has a bit of a love/hate relationship, but, ultimately, she sees it as just more of the season's magic.

"[W]hat’s magical about it is the look in my children’s eyes in the morning and the belief, you know, that the elf is flying back and forth," Larter says. "I mean, that’s just incredible to me and it amazes me in so many ways when I see how their imagination works. And it helps me understand my kids more too to realize that this sense of belief ... [it] helps me understand if they get scared of things, like they believe these things are true, and there really is magic in that."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Larter tends to go all out with Elf on the Shelf. But that's not the only book-linked Christmas tradition that's a serious part of her celebration.

"In my family we have this thing called Santa Mouse, and Santa Mouse is this book that was written many years ago and we read it on Christmas Eve," Larter explains. "And then ... we’d go to church or we’d go out for a nice walk with the family, and then when you’d come back — it’s almost like when you’d leave a little treat for Santa, you’d leave a little treat for Santa Mouse — and then the cheese is eaten and he hides pajamas somewhere in the house, so I grew up with that happening and we continue that tradition on."

The Splitting Up Together star gets family pajamas for the occasion and the kids search for the pajamas that Santa Mouse left after returning to the house.

Last-minute shopping — for pajamas or otherwise — can be stressful, but, with busy schedules and all kinds of responsibilities and obligations — let's face it — it can happen. "I think, like a lot of people, we leave things to the last minute, and so I grew up in New Jersey and I grew up going to Marshalls with my family and one of the things for me, now, as a mom, going there and getting last minute gifts is the best place because you can find all these surprising items at amazing prices," Larter says. "I was actually there with my mom last week getting different stocking stuffers and we found a couple great toys for the kids because they’re always restocking and bringing new things in. I also leave wrapping to the last minute so I’m planning on, Dec. 24, pulling a late night with my sister, locking ourselves in a room and getting all the wrapping done."

Last-minute preparations aren't the only unexpected or unpredictable part of the holiday season, not by a long-shot. But Larter is pretty prepared for unexpected guests that show up for an impromptu celebration as well. Beyond having a couple of bottles of wine or champagne in your fridge so that you don't have to fret when someone stops by, there are some other kitchen staples that can help make entertaining easy, even during the most stressful — but fun and festive — season of the year.

"I also think that in your refrigerator you can keep things like a brick of goat cheese, some Parmigiano Reggiano, and then I have Ali Larter’s larder, which is where I keep different kinds of olive tapenades, sun-dried tomatoes, and different kinds of crackers," Larter says. "So if someone drops by, you can grab your goat cheese, throw different beautiful sun-dried tomatoes on top with some crackers, you kind of fancied it up, and that’s a really easy dish."

Freezer-friendly foods are another way you can get ahead of the work associated with hosting duties. "I like to make things in advance so I make these gougères, which are pretty much just like a glamorous cheese puff and you make them and then you freeze them and then when guests come over, you throw them in the oven for 15 minutes and the house smells amazing and you have this like wonderful little appetizer," Larter advises.

If you're looking for something special, festive, but also super simple, fondue can be a surprising, but delicious, choice. Plus, as Larter points out, you can keep cheeses and things on-hand, so the prep time is pretty minimal once someone let's you know they're on their way over — or once the doorbell rings. "... It’s just super special and it’s a little bit different and unique for your house," she adds.

There's so much to love about the holiday season, but there's also a lot that can bring more complicated emotions, particularly at the last minute or when stress starts to get a bit overwhelming. But with fondue ingredients in the refrigerator, coloring books in your bag, and cheese left out for Santa Mouse, it might also be festive, fun, and oh-so special. Just ask Ali Larter.

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