Hosting Happy Holidays: Simpler Ways to Entertain the Masses

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Is it your turn to host the big holiday party this year? Take a lesson in simplification and discover how to host—and enjoy—a great holiday party.

As you dress your home in twinkling lights, and package gifts with color-coordinated gift wrap, are you also planning a menu and sending invitations to friends and family? Whether you’re looking forward to hosting the holidays—or are just the next name on the family roster—learn some important tips for creating the happiest (and most relaxed!) of holiday get-togethers (no matter what the holiday!).

Preparation Tips

As hard as it may be to believe while trying to master the art of souffle, with a bit of forethought it is possible to successfully host without feeling as though you need a holiday to recover from your holiday. These tips for advance preparation can go a long way during the celebration season.

Pre-Plan the Menu: When putting together your menu, instead of choosing myriad recipes, which may need to be concocted and cooked two hours prior to hitting the table, choose at least a few dishes to make ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze until needed. Also, be sure to consider the cooking time and temperature requirement of each of your dishes; you don’t want to plan a menu with four dishes needing to be baked concurrently—or all at once—at varying degrees.

Create a Checklist: Devise a to-do list for up to one month ahead of your gathering’s date. This checklist should include tasks that can be completed in advance such as pressing linens, making place cards, or organizing decorations. If you stagger your tasks, you won’t be stuck doing it all at the last minute, which would leave you far too exhausted to enjoy the get together. Be sure to add to your schedule any food preparation that can be done a few days prior as well. Many recipes—particularly desserts—can be made and stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. Making them ahead of time will leave you with less to conquer on party day.

Multi-task: This is really the key word for the holiday season. Do it as much as possible—even if it means utilizing a bit of outside help. The holidays are a great time to make use of a local food service. This way, while you’re trying to dig the tree skirt out of a black hole in the attic, someone else is picking out the perfect box of clementines. While you may pay a little more overall for the convenience, do not forget that your time and sanity have value as well.

Enlist Outside Help: Consider hiring a cleaning service to come the day before the gathering. Task them with the chores you least enjoy: sanitizing bathrooms, dusting, and/or scrubbing hardwood floors. Warning: Be sure to schedule this service well in advance—chances are many busy moms will have the same idea.

Hosting How-To

One of the most unfortunate realities of hosting a holiday gathering is that you often end up spending the entire night in the kitchen completing last-minute preparations and trying to keep up with the dishes. If this is the case, make sure you are able to enjoy your guests by bringing the party to you.

More Cooks in the Kitchen: Rather than shoo would-be chefs out of the kitchen while you season, stir, and cook, invite everyone in! Purchase inexpensive aprons at craft stores for adults and older children who will be attending your party. You can even put their names on the front or otherwise decorate the aprons if you’d like.

Identify tasks such as peeling potatoes and slicing carrots, and write those tasks on slips of paper. Put the slips into a hat, and let each guest draw a task with which they can assist or which they must complete in full. It generally will take each person only a few minutes to complete their task (unless some poor soul draws “Make Creme Brulee from scratch—blow torch in pantry”). This approach saves the host several hours’ worth of work, plus it’s a fun activity to do as a group.

The Art of Pot Luck: Another idea is to let those on the guest list know what the main entree will be a few months in advance. Ask them to come up with a side dish, appetizer, or dessert (or a combination thereof). If the guests are local, ask them to prepare and bring their selected item. If they are out-of-town guests, ask them to provide you with the necessary ingredients so that you can purchase them ahead of time. Your guests are then responsible for preparing their recipe. Everyone shares in the meal preparation, and there’s an unexpected and welcome variety to the menu, too.

Embrace Frozen Food: If you insist on preparing the entire meal yourself, don’t discount the convenience and quality of frozen appetizers or side dishes from establishments such as discount grocers or warehouse clubs. One year a friend of mine used frozen items from a warehouse club for her entire Christmas menu—appetizers to dessert (she made me promise not to use her name in case her in-laws read this). No one was any the wiser and it was the easiest holiday meal she’s ever prepared.

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