By Jackie Freeman

Get a head start on the holidays.

'Tis the season for gatherings and entertaining. Whether you're out visiting friends and family or hosting a celebration, you'll save time in the kitchen when you have a stash of make-ahead Christmas desserts at the ready. Here are 12 top-rated Christmas desserts you can make ahead of the holidays, complete with tips for freezing or storing in the fridge.

1. Aunt Teen's Creamy Chocolate Fudge

Homemade fudge just might be the perfect make-ahead dessert, no matter what the season. Rich, smooth, and creamy, it can be tightly wrapped and kept in the freezer for a few months. Reviwer HSMOM26 says, "The secret is to use a candy thermometer to be sure the fudge reaches the soft ball stage (234 degrees F)."

VIDEO: Aunt Teen's Creamy Chocolate Fudge

2. Sweet Potato Pie I

This top-rated recipe calls for using freshly cooked sweet potatoes, which you'll have time to do since you're not in a time crunch. (Okay, you can substitute canned sweet potatoes if you need to.) Once the pie has been baked and cooled, wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap and a layer of foil, and then freeze it for up to one month. Thaw it in the fridge overnight and serve at room temperature, or warm it in a 350 degree F oven for a few minutes. Top it off with freshly whipped cream before serving.

Photo by Mackenzie Schieck

3. Soft Christmas Cookies

No Christmas would be complete without soft, tender, and adorably decorated sugar cookies. Several bakers, including TARA1972, say the cookies are even better made with butter instead of margarine, only 3 cups of flour, and baked at 350 degrees F until just set in the center. Learn the best tips and tricks to freezing cookies and cookie dough, like rolling the dough into logs and freezing for up to three months before baking.

VIDEO: Soft Christmas Cookies

4. Best Toffee Ever – Super Easy

When stored in an airtight container at room temperature, homemade toffee can be kept for up to two weeks. If your kitchen runs warm, pop it in the fridge to keep it a little while longer. Making toffee can be a bit tricky, so Megan Orsini always tests her candy thermometer in boiling water (212 degrees F) to make sure it is accurate.

Photo by Frances

5. Milk Chocolate Peppermint Bark

If wrapped and stored in the fridge, milk chocolate peppermint bark will keep for several weeks before the festivities. To prevent your chocolate from seizing up, use oil-based peppermint flavoring, suggests Susan V. (Water and melted chocolate don't mix.) And, don't forget to finely crush some candy canes for a festive (and tasty) topping.

Photo by pattonpatch

6. Favorite Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

Gingerbread is always a super popular recipe during the holidays. Home cook dee dee likes to make her gingerbread with unsulphured molasses (the sweetest flavor) and avoids blackstrap molasses (a stronger flavor). Bake it, cool it, and freeze it whole, then let it defrost at room temperature for a few hours before slicing and serving. If you're feeling extra decadent, top each slice with whipped cream or a drizzle of caramel sauce.

VIDEO: Favorite Old-Fashioned Gingerbread

7. White Fruit Cake

Whether you love it or hate, there is nothing more quintessential at Christmas than fruitcake. Packed with dried fruit soaked in orange juice, you can bake, cool, and freeze this alcohol-free cake in the freezer for up to a year. Simply defrost it on the counter overnight, slice and serve. Home baker Wanderer cools their fruitcake in the tin to retain as much moisture as possible before wrapping and storing.

Photo by Darinny

8. Eileen's Spicy Gingerbread Men

Don't worry that this holiday staple cookie will be too spicy for the little ones, Baricat says, "they have a pleasant, mildly spiced flavor." There are several options when preparing these ahead of time. You can freeze the unbaked cookie dough and defrost it for about 20 minutes before baking, or bake the cookies and keep them in an airtight container for several days or freeze them wrapped well. Whichever method you choose, wait to decorate your gingerbread men until a few hours before serving.

Photo by MrsLora

9. Mom's Best Peanut Brittle

Wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature, homemade peanut brittle will stay fresh for up to 2 months. ANTILOPE notes that if you use roasted peanuts instead of raw be careful not to heat the mixture past 300 degrees F, otherwise the peanuts will taste burnt.

Photo by The Comfort of Cooking

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10. White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

Cheesecakes keep great in the freezer and defrost easily overnight in the fridge. But hold off on decorations until right before serving, so they don't get smudged. To save time and money during the busy holiday season, CLEMSONMAV uses seedless raspberry jam instead of cooking fresh raspberries on the stove.

Photo by CC<3's2bake

11. Cranberry Bars

Sweet and tart, home baker Jeanette says the trick to getting the bars out of the pan is to "let them cool for at least an hour." Once they are cooled, you can put them in an airtight container and keep the bars refrigerated for several days, or pop them in the deep freeze for several months. Simply bring them to room temperature about 30 minutes before serving and they are ready to go!

Photo by Sarah Koethe

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12. Eggnog Crème Brûlée

If you're entertaining a large group of guests, or want individual desserts at the table, eggnog crèmes brûlées can be prepared up to three days ahead of time. Remove them from the fridge about an hour before serving to take off the chill, then finish them with a heavy sprinkling of fine, white sugar under the broiler until a golden crust forms. If you're going for more grown-up flavors, try swapping out the vanilla extract with rum, like cookin kathy does.

Photo by Kim's Cooking Now

More: Get inspired with our collection of Christmas dessert recipes.

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