Hosting during the holidays is certainly no picnic. Any movie or TV food host who makes it look entirely effortless must be lying to some degree, don’t you think? And while I know for certain hosting during the holidays will never be perfect, my hosting experience over the years has given me much wisdom which I would like to share as my gift to you.
And so, as the Holiday classic goes about the 12 Days of Christmas, here are 12 ways you can make Christmas entertaining much easier and stress-free.
1) Plan Ahead
You can never start early enough. I’ve learned from years of experience the best plans are ones you have time to work with. Give yourself a few weeks to make sure you’ve invited everyone who should be there, to get groceries, assign tasks, and prep your house. And while it may sound crazy, if you host year after year, it may be helpful (I sure find this to be true!) to keep your old notes and lists (see below) as references for the next year to come. Learn from past years and make your life easier as each hosting year comes around again. I promise you mothers-in-law don’t get any easier but hosting them sure does.
2) Lists Are Your Friends
With planning come lists: lists of guests, lists for groceries, lists for things you need to get done, or buy. Write and rewrite your lists so they are clear and accurate. And as I mentioned, keeping these lists and going back to them is very helpful. One of the most helpful lists I have is the list to help answer the ‘what can I bring?’ question. Because, while I do like my salad/bread choice/dessert better than my sister-in-law’s, I really do appreciate it when she brings her own, plus she also gets to help out, which makes her feel better. See, it’s win-win all around, which brings me to my third tip…
3) Let People Help (but Be Specific)
You can let people help, but you give clear instructions. First, have a list of all the things your meal or event needs that you know others can manage. Your guests are asking to help, so let them. Let them bring a salad, or a dessert, or the bread/rolls, or some folding chairs. The key here is being specific.
Don’t just say, “Lisa, you can bring a salad”. You want to be very clear, “Lisa, it would be great if you could bring a large garden salad with some dressing options for the side”. That way you can assign someone else a large Caesar. I find this especially helpful with appetizers. If you aren’t clear, you usually end up with lots of veggies and humus, which is great, but c’mon people, give me some jalapeño poppers!
4) Probably the Best Lesson to Learn Is to Gift Yourself
Gift yourself the gift of a cleaning service. This one small indulgence is the best gift I gift myself each holiday season. It’s definitely not something I can afford all year long, but hiring a cleaning service to clean the house the day before I host is such a treat and makes my life SO MUCH easier.
5) Store-bought in Disguise
Another gift I gift myself is disguising store-bought as my own. Sure, you could make your cheese platter, but the grocery store provides really great ones, so why not? Save yourself the time and effort and just let them do the work and transfer it onto one of your platters at home. I do the same with pies. Shhhhh…go ahead. Take those farm-stand pies out of the foil and put them on your grandma’s pie plate. No one will be the wiser.
6) Here’s What They Can Do
Another list of things is the list of the tasks guests can do when that inevitable question comes, ‘what can I do to help?”. Instead of replying, “I’ve got it covered” and then wondering, “isn’t it obvious I need help cleaning up”, or, “there’s a mountain of dishes in the sink you could start on…” and, well, I could go on… the point is I know now to be specific when the offer of help comes. So the next time someone asks, “what can I do to help?”, you can say, “you know Steven, you can help gather up the wine glasses. Thank you so much, my friend, it’s a big help!”.
7) Get Your Kids Involved
Just like making clear requests to family and friends in terms of what they can bring or how they can help, you can also get your kids involved. I like to assign the little kids with taking coats up to our room when guests arrive. Passing around appetizers, or helping to set the table are also great ways to get kids involved and feeling responsible. Teens always love the job of refilling wine glasses and make excellent dish washers.
8) Send Container Home That Night
A great item for those teens to help wash are the food containers guests brought with them. One of my least favourite parts about entertaining is all the clutter from other people’s stuff the next day. I find making sure they leave with the person they came with is ideal, and a good host always sends it home clean.
9) Have a Plan for Leftovers
With any feast, there will always be leftovers, so you’ll need a good plan on how to best conserve them because food should not go to waste. Food waste is also money thrown away and beyond your own pocketbook, the environmental consequences are huge. The easiest and most practical way to conserve food is using the freezer. Save yourself some future meal prep time by making up complete plates to be quickly heated up. Leftovers also make great lunches for the kids at school. In other words, make use of every bite.
10) Block Off the Day After
Sometimes life has other plans (and crack-of-dawn hockey practices!), but generally, I like to make sure I’ve blocked off the day after hosting a holiday party to rest, recoup and get the house back in order. Not only am I tired, but so is the rest of the family. A day to recharge will have you excited to host again next year.
11) Thanks for Coming!
Hosting is exhausting no matter how easy you make it on yourself. One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my years of hosting is that the best way to enjoy the evening is controlling how and when it should end. Clearing everyone out before they or you have had too much to drink, or outgrow their welcome makes for happier endings and fonder memories. As the hostess-with-the-mostest, you’ll want your guests to remember you at your best when the part is over too, not hiding in the kitchen until the coast is clear. And, oh yes, make sure no one takes the wheel after one too many.
12) Lastly, Put Your Feet Up & Forget the Mess
The best tip I have for easy entertaining is to end the night by putting your feet up, pouring one last glass of wine, and forgetting about the mess until tomorrow. You remember Tip #10? You’ve blocked it off for cleanup. Instead, enjoy retelling the funny stories from the evening, or catching up with your spouse on all the gossip. It’s really all about taking the time, living in the moment and savouring all the gifts the holiday season has to offer.
Isabelle, Your Appliance Expert