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Tips for hosting painless holiday parties

Even a casual family gathering can be a lot of work. Here are some tips for the minimalist party-thrower to the high-spirited hoedown hostess of one hundred.

These tips can help plan memorable holiday gatherings that will minimize the stress and maximize the fun.

1. Plan early and plan often

It can be frustrating to find out that intended party guests have other plans. December weekends tend to get booked up early, so it’s a good idea to send or e-mail invitations as early as possible.

Another possibility is to schedule a gathering for a time when people tend to be less busy, such as during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the last night of Hanukkah or even New Year’s Day.

2. Design a realistic menu

If a host plans to enjoy the party too, it pays to have a menu that includes a number of items that can be made ahead of time and then heated or plated just before guests arrive.

While it’s always fun to try out new recipes when entertaining, it can be helpful to experiment with only a few items on the menu – and to leave enough time for substitutes if the results are disappointing.

3. Embrace tradition

During the holiday season, many people warm to the idea of time-honored traditions, so don’t be afraid to serve up a family favorite Christmas pudding or Aunt Lydia’s legendary potato latkes.

4. Serve up festive beverages

Make sure that there is a merry mix of beverages for those guests who don’t drink alcohol or those who have had enough.

A nonalcoholic punch or a pot of hot spiced cider can be popular and served with rum on the side for guests who want a little something extra.

5. Set the scene

While some hosts like to go all-out in the decorating department, others prefer a more low-key approach. Either way, make an effort to create a pleasing ambiance that appeals to the senses.

Put out an assortment of candles. Put up a pot of simmering water flavored with cinnamon, cloves and allspice to fill your house with a heartwarming aroma. Put on those favorite holiday tunes. Bask in the glow of the guests’ delight.

6. Keep children happy

When planning a gathering for guests of all ages, it’s helpful to have activities on hand for the younger crowd.

Set aside a space for children and set out a variety of toys and games that will keep them occupied and engaged.

7. Get help

When hosting a large party with guests who may not know each other, it’s important to be on hand to make introductions and keep the conversations flowing.

When planning to join the party once the guests have arrived, consider hiring one or more helpers to serve and clean up.

8. End on a positive note

Don’t let guests leave without saying goodnight. Make sure it’s a good night for all by arranging for designated drivers who can see that their friends in need get home safely.


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