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‘Tis the Season to Host: Your Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Holiday Entertaining

If you’re a first-time host gearing up to welcome family and friends to your new home this holiday season, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Fear not; we’ve got your back. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, here’s a general piece of advice: Remember, you don’t have to emulate the extravagant parties your parents or grandparents used to throw. This is your show, and you get to set the stage.

Feel like breaking out the wedding china and serving a traditional feast? Go for it. Prefer a more relaxed vibe with chili and beer? That’s perfectly fine as well. Maybe you’re a morning person and want to host a brunch with mimosas and quiche. If you despise holiday music, ditch it and cue up your favorite R&B playlist. One valuable lesson we’ve learned from enduring a pandemic is the importance of letting go of what’s not essential, and that might include that Great-Aunt Trudy’s chess pie that nobody truly enjoyed.

Darcy Miller, a celebrations consultant and the author and illustrator of “Celebrate Everything! Fun Ideas to Bring Your Parties to Life,” advises understanding your audience. If you have guests who are apprehensive about sitting close to others, consider creating individual mini-graze boards. These personalized platters can feature savory or sweet items and be adorned with place cards for a personalized touch. Plus, they can double as decorative elements when displayed on your table.

To make your holiday hosting experience smoother, we’ve gathered advice from party-planning experts and culinary gurus on how to plan, shop, cook, serve, and clean up while keeping your sanity intact.

1. Have a Game Plan: One of the best ways to avoid stress is to be well-prepared. Set your table a few days in advance, as if your event is scheduled for a day earlier. This provides a buffer for last-minute tasks such as cooking and arranging fresh flowers. Ensure your home is clean, procure additional dining chairs if needed, and purchase beverages several days before the event.

2. Create a Detailed Timeline: Establish a timeline for the day of the event. Allocate specific times for various tasks like putting dishes in the oven, setting up the table, and lighting candles. Lay out platters with serving utensils and labels to make it easier for helpers. Being organized minimizes last-minute chaos.

3. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help: While it’s acceptable to seek assistance, be cautious about what you ask guests to bring. It’s better to have essential items covered yourself to ensure everything goes smoothly. Let guests contribute extras like drinks or desserts to lighten the load.

4. Choose Your Serving Style: Select a serving style that suits your space and preferences. Buffets work well when you lack a large dining table, allowing guests to help themselves. Alternatively, opt for a family-style meal, where people gather around a table, and dishes are passed around. This approach can reduce the need for elaborate decorations.

5. Embrace a Hybrid Menu: Takeout is a convenient option for both family dinners and entertaining, as many restaurants offer holiday dinner dishes. You can order the main course from a reputable restaurant and focus on preparing simpler sides. It takes the pressure off and ensures a delicious meal.

6. Use Make-Ahead Dishes: Prepare dishes that can be made in advance to reduce last-minute stress. Avoid recipes that require last-minute attention, such as pasta or fried food, and opt for forgiving options like a hearty chili or a slow-cooked brisket.

7. Keep It Simple: Avoid overloading your menu with numerous appetizers and side dishes. 

Limiting the number of options not only saves you time and effort but also prevents food waste.

8. Personalize Your Space: Add a personal touch to your gathering with small details. Consider personalized place cards, handmade by your kids or party favors that include chocolates. Seasonal greenery, such as maple leaves, can be used as table runners, providing a lush and festive atmosphere.

9. Establish Your Own Traditions: Blend old and new traditions to create a unique experience for your guests. Whether it’s incorporating holiday crackers from another culture or merging culinary traditions, find ways to make the celebration meaningful to your family.

10. Make Time for Self-Care: Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Allocate a few hours before guests arrive to get dressed and relax. It’s essential to maintain your well-being and ensure you enjoy the event.

Remember, the goal is to create a welcoming and enjoyable atmosphere for your loved ones. Your home doesn’t need to be perfect; it’s the warmth and love you share that truly matter. So, chill out, savor the moment, and create lasting memories with your family and friends.

After all, it’s your party, and you get to call the shots. Whether you choose to celebrate in style or unwind with a cozy movie night, make it your own and relish the experience.

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