Thanksgiving and the first night of Hanukkah are just around the corner, and the entertaining season of December, leading into Christmas is right on its heels.  And don’t forget New Years Eve!  For some of us, that means we’re entertaining in our home, either hosting a big meal or holiday party along the way.  

entertaining without the stress

Plan ahead:

  • Get your menu together. Assemble your recipes, whether old favorites or new ideas from the latest magazine. Figure out whether any need to be doubled (or tripled!) and pull your shopping list together.  Check your own pantry first to see what you have, and supplement from there.  Start shopping early in the season to take advantage of the sales.
  • Are you in charge of roasting the turkey? Make sure you’re aware of all the defrosting and cooking time your bird will need.
  • A few days before your big holiday meal, review your menu and determine which serving pieces you’re going to use (don’t forget the serving utensils).  Gather them, clean them off (anything need polishing??), and put a post-it note in each so that you’re ready to use them when you need them, and you’re not scrambling to figure out what to put things in.
  • For some people there’s a baking day (or two) in our holiday season, helping us get ready for our holiday meals, cookie swaps, and make-at-home gifts. These days need to have their own plan!
    • Make set up and clean up easy. Use tools that can really help make it all easier: parchment paper, silicone mats, cookie scoops, etc.
    • I’m famous for deciding I’m going to have a baking day, and not remembering to take butter out of the freezer the day before. Don’t be like me. Think about any advanced prep on your ingredients.
    • If you’re baking in advance, think about the best way to preserve the food before you’re serving them. Many things can be frozen, like un-iced cookies, bread or rolls.  You can use a slice of bread in the container to help keep soft baked goods (that you’re not freezing) fresh overnight.  I love this post for some tips on how best to store or ship baked goods, and it includes that tip on the slice of bread.
  • Same thing for the dishes you’ll use for setting the table… especially if you use “special occasion” china or glassware.  Glasses always seem to need rewashing!
  • If you plan on using cloth linens and tablecloths, assemble those, too, after giving them a once-over for any stains, and do some ironing if they need it.  (Tip from Clever Girl Reader Liz:  Bring your tablecloths to the dry cleaner and have them press them for you! Definitely a great use of your time and money!)
  • Keep the alcohol budget under control for the whole season. Pick a favorite wine and buy a case with a discount. (Use some bottles for hostess gifts, too.)

Use your resources:

  • Barter with friends and neighbors!  Are you awesome at making pumpkin pie? See if you can trade an extra pie or two from something you could use from a neighbor: Trade off for a dish of theirs? Exchange for baby sitting or carpooling?  What else would make YOUR season easier, that you’d be willing to trade?  Or… heck, if you’re not a great baker, offer your services in exchange for neighbor’s pumpkin pie.
  • Cater some, or all, of your meal!  Think about parts of your meal that you can order in and make things easier on yourself. Grocery stores often provide prepared dishes, and even complete meals, for families.  Whether you pick up appetizers, desserts, or main meals, use that kind of help you for your event.
  • Hire help. Invest in a cleaning service for a deep clean before the holidays, or (hint, hint) hire a NAPO professional organizer to help you create a plan, declutter and organize your home, and get ready for the party.
  • When people ask, “What can I bring?” have a list ready of the items that you trust someone else to bring, and give them clear direction. “You know what would help? Would you mind picking up a couple of bottles of diet soda and some kid-appropriate drinks for 10 people?  Thanks!”  “It would be great if you could bring a salad that could serve 8 people as a side.  Just no nuts in it, please!”
  • Get the kids involved!  Make sure they are a part of the set up (and clean up). Kids can do a ton of things, from cleaning, to table setting, to making place cards, and being in charge of things like collecting coats when people arrive. Have them be part of the team!
  • Have a to-do list of items that family or guests can help you with when they arrive.  They always ask, “Can I do anything?” so give them an answer that truly helps you out.

The Big Day:

  • Create a schedule for the whole day. Include your food cooking and preparing, showering/getting dressed, setting up the bar, any last minute details. Keep your eye on this schedule and keep to it.  Set a timer or an alarm to help keep you on schedule. 
  • Get in a last minute cleaning. Speed clean the places where people will spend time: the bathroom, the kitchen, the living or dining rooms.
    • Bathroom: clean the toilet, the sink, hang clean hand towels and make sure there is extra toilet paper handy. Dump the trash.
    • Kitchen: clean off counters (assume there will be people bringing things that need to go on it), attack the dishes, and run the dishwasher, to be finished before guests arrive.
    • Dining or Living room: Arrange seats, making sure you have enough seating, fluff pillows, and clean the tv and electronics, which are magnets for dust.
  • Create the mood. Light the candles, turn on the music.
  • Remember that these meals and gatherings are about family and friends, making memories. Start new traditions, and honor the traditions of the past. Whether you choose to use your great-grandmother’s gravy boat, or have the youngest children make the name tags for the place settings, be sure to incorporate the love of those around you.
  • Take pictures! Capture memories while you’re creating them.

After the dust settles:

  • Clean up, at least tackle the worst offenders of the meal. Gather up any food sitting out, and make sure that you at least start to soak any of the pots or pans that took a beating. Ideally, rinse the basics and load and run the dishwasher. You can definitely relax for the night, but don’t leave yourself any projects that multiply in scariness over night. And take out the trash
  • In my house, we count the silver before taking the trash out! You never know what got scraped off with the plates.
  • Blow out those candles!
  • Make some notes… what worked? What didn’t? Give yourself notes for the future, so you can improve upon the event. Not enough rolls? Too much white wine and not enough red? Leave yourself clues for future plans, so that you can tweak your choices to get them better every year.  Oh, and don’t just say, “Too much white wine”;  that is only helpful if you know how much you had in the first place.  Say, “Had 4 bottles of white wine chilled, but only 2 were opened. People really drank red wine, and we had plenty, with 4 bottles.”  Notes like, “Ran out of green bean casserole, used 9 x 12 pan” and “New pumpkin pie recipe was a huge hit!” will really help jog your memory for next time.

Hopefully, with some of these tips you will be able to entertain in style, and without stress, all season long!

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