The frenzied holiday entertaining season is upon us once again. Kind of funny how there is such a mix of joy and dread associated with the holidays, especially when you’re hosting a holiday get-together. First, if you are me, you freak out and say you can’t do it and you’ll never survive the experience. Then you shop, you clean, you prepare tasty nibbles and drinks, you smile, you schmooze, and you collapse with joy and gratitude when it is all over, promising yourself never to host something ever again. But maybe that’s just me.
I’m not Martha Stewart, armed with a whole battery of lowly interns coming up with ideas about how you can make festive coasters with twine and tinsel, but I have learned a couple things about hosting and surviving a holiday gathering. Here are a couple things I’ve learned.
Cleaning. When I’m cleaning in preparation for a holiday party, I prefer to space it out over a couple days before the event. I like to break things up between cleaning the high and low traffic areas. A couple days before the party I dust, vacuum, and hide stuff in the parts of house that will not have high traffic during the holiday party, and I clean the high-traffic areas like the kitchen, bathroom, and entry area the day before the party. This helps prevent a last-minute cleaning marathon right before guests arrive. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel festive when I’m answering the door smelling of Endust.
Bathroom necessities. Years ago a hostess told me that, in addition to cleaning the bathroom, making sure the bathroom trash is empty, and making sure the good hand towels were out, she always made sure there were plenty of easy to find spare rolls of toilet paper in the bathrooms during her parties. When I thought about it, it made good sense. There are few things that will strike panic into a guest’s heart like being in someone else’s bathroom and, let us say, having committed to a course of action, only to discover that there is no more toilet paper on the roll. At that point it really doesn’t matter how nice your floral arrangements are, or that you are serving organic goat cheese even if it is a little more spendy–all that guest cares about is how quickly you’ll notice that your curtains are missing. Once your party is in full swing you don’t know if you’ll be able to check the bathroom supplies, so before the party starts try to make sure there are extra rolls of toilet paper within easy reach of the toilet. Women might want to consider also making feminine hygiene products available for female guests as well.
Bottles and cans. If you don’t want to spend the day after your party pouring half-full cans of flat soda down the sink, then serve soda from 2-litre bottles instead of cans. A lot of times people will drink only half the contents of their can, set it down, and wander off. Serving soda from a larger bottle helps avoid some of this waste (especially if you serve it in smaller glasses), and then open additional bottles only as you need them.
Limit options. During the holidays we adore abundance, but that can be unwieldy for a harried host or hostess to deal with in the midst of the holiday hubbub. So, screw it. Less really can be more. Are you or your guests that much happier during the holidays if you run yourself ragged making sure they have a plethora of homemade options for nibbles and drinks at your party? Probably not, so why kill yourself? Serve a more limited variety of foods and drink options at your party, not less food or drinks. If you simplify your menu it makes it easier to shop, easier to prepare, and easier to serve. And, if you really want a wide variety of options and can’t enjoy the holidays without it, then you might consider having a potluck-style gathering and letting your guests share their skills.
Party people. Being the host or hostess of a party means more than just providing swanky digs, toilet paper, drinks, and eats for your guests. Granted, that is a good start. More than anything, people want to have a pleasant time and not feel like they wasted several hours of their lives being uncomfortable and lonely because they don’t know anyone. As host, you have the advantage—you probably know most of the people at your party. If not all of your guests know one another, then introduce them as they arrive and continue to circulate throughout the party. A successful soiree has more to do with making people feel welcome and at ease than handcrafted ornaments made from recycled gin bottles.
Used and abused. In the course of your party you may be very fortunate to have guests who are not complete pluggers and will very kindly offer you assistance. Should these dear people offer to help you with your hosting and duties in the kitchen, by all means graciously accept. Hosting the party doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. But don’t repay this good deed from your more helpful guests by dumping on them and flitting off not to be seen again until the end of the party. No matter what passing delusion prompted you to host the event, hosting is your responsibility.
I hope your holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, New Year’s, and Festavus) are happy and that your party’s a swinging success. And I really hope that next year you can kick back and relax while someone else does the hosting. No one should be expected to do all the work of hosting things two years in a row.
*I would love to hear your tips for holiday party survival. You just can’t be too well-armed.