Added to all the other items on a holiday to-do list, entertaining can send stress levels soaring when the whole point is to have fun and celebrate the season. Try these tips for reducing the hassle of entertaining so everybody enjoys themselves more—especially the host and hostess!
- Reframe the occasion. Instead of thinking of the holidays as an obligation to entertain, consider the season a way to spend time with people you enjoy all too infrequently. Decide far in advance: To whom do I really want to extend an invitation? How elaborate does the occasion really need to be? Can we attend an event together, or go out to dinner, instead of having a party? How much money should I realistically spend on entertaining? Here’s a radical idea: Do I need to do any entertaining at all? Is it someone else’s turn?
- Rethink the details. Nothing reduces hostess stress and work load like having a pot luck supper. You provide the main dish and everyone brings everything else, including beverages. Host a pot luck appetizer party, or a pot luck dessert party.
- Parcel out your energy according to priorities. What’s most important to you this holiday season? If you love to bake, bake. If you loathe baking, patronize a bakery. You’ll make a small business’s holiday merrier and save yourself hours of work. Do you enjoy elaborate decorating, or can you pare the trimmings down to one main room? Can you shop online? Reducing some of these tasks down to manageable size will save time and energy you can spend on having friends over, if that’s important.
- Clean in zones. No need to clean the whole house if people aren’t spending the night. If you are entertaining, just focus on the rooms your guests will actually occupy. That usually means the kitchen, powder room, entryway, and family room or living room. Close the doors to rooms that are off limits. Remember that low lighting and laughter do wonders for any party. If you’re in a hurry, sweep the piles of mail and bills into a grocery bag for the evening and stow it in a bedroom closet. Just don’t forget that it’s in there!
- Take smart shortcuts. If you insist on hosting a party where you provide all of the food, plan the menu far in advance and prepare foods that can be made ahead of time and warmed up. Some side dishes, desserts or appetizers can be ordered from a favorite store, restaurant or specialty caterer.
- Do as much of the physical work as possible the day before. Cleaning, table setup, serving space organization—right down to getting out the platters and utensils you’ll need for each dish and placing it where it will go—will save you lots of time on the day of your party if you attend to those details the day before. Don’t wear yourself out to the point of not being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
- Don’t forget safety precautions. If you live in a cold climate, make sure the driveway and walkways are well cleared and salted before your guests arrive. Don’t leave candles unattended or place lit candles where someone’s sleeve can catch fire reaching for food. Most important, don’t let guests drink and drive.