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Four weeks before Christmas

If you want to beat the long lines, arrive at the mall 10 minutes before Santa's shift begins to get your kids' photos taken, and use the time you've saved to pick up gifts for family, friends and unexpected guests. Pop your greetings and gifts to overseas recipients in the mail (to take advantage of the cheapest rates) along with your kids' letters to Santa.

Get organized this holiday season. Expert Marcia Ramsland tells you how

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Three weeks before Christmas

Place your bird orders at the butcher's before the turkeys run out so you won't have to settle for less-festive prime rib. If you're ordering in-stock merchandise from and want free shipping, order before Dec. 9.

Two weeks before Christmas

Send all your domestic holiday cards and packages this week through Canada Post's standard service and place all your online orders at Amazon if you want free shipping. Pick up the non-perishable items for your holiday feasting, but avoid the 4 to 6 p.m. window - unless you're in the mood for a cranberry sauce battle with the rush-hour crowds.

Ho-ho-holiday help How do you deal with the crowded malls, the pushy perfume-counter clerks, the parking-lot rage? 'Tis the season to be kind to your fellow shoppers and spread your advice.

The week before Christmas

Malls will be packed, so if you still haven't bought gifts (shame on you), grab them by Dec. 20 since the following three days are the busiest shopping days before Christmas. If you're really pushing it, Dec. 23 is the last day you can mail packages and cards (using Canada Post's Priority Next A.M. delivery service).

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*And don't do this

Try to sneak out late on Christmas Eve for 11th-hour shopping; most stores close earlier than usual.

Listen: Sting

If you just don't do the stuffed bird and red and green wrapping-paper thing, the next four weeks may grate on the nerves. And while it's hard to avoid The Twelve Days of Christmas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas on constant rotation when you're at a tinsel-festooned mall, you can control the seasonal soundtrack at home. Praise whatever higher power you believe in for Sting. The man (the legend) released a generic winter-themed album this year as an alternative to the pop and country covers of holiday classics. There are a few carols among the 15 tracks on If on a Winter's Night , but much of the album comprises acoustic musings on the season of solitude, reflection and rebirth (we can see the impact yoga has had on Sting's life).

Warning: If you're not into Northumbrian pipes, the melodeon or the Scottish harp, this may not be for you.

Dakshana Bascaramurty

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