The end of the year is all about food and fellowship—and skirting the rail between insanity and glee as you prep, primp, and plan for the wild ride that is the end-of-year holiday season. What’s the key to wading through the triumvirate of major holidays with a modicum of grace and a lot more laughter? Here’s some guidance for your holiday party planning.
Start With All Things Edible
Food and drink dominate the holidays. Even if you’re not throwing your annual party this year, there will be gatherings where you’ll want to bring your best appetizers to share or dinners with the family that need to be managed. That makes your kitchen the heart of the action, and there’s a few things that can help smooth the way.
- Dig out those special dishes you only use for the holidays now, like grandma’s punch bowl and that massive platter with the turkey on it that looks like it needs an enema. Enlist the kids to polish the silver and that cherished gravy boat from Aunt Ethel that always drips, and prep them all now for serving duty.
- Take an afternoon with a glass of wine or mug of cider and make the menus for every function for the entire duration of the holidays. That includes not only the feasts or parties at your own home, but the dish you take to the neighborhood potluck, the cupcakes for the school function, and your signature gingerbread you bring to the office. This is also the time to check in with guests who might be staying for a few days about food allergies or intolerances.
- With those menus in mind, make a foray into the pantry and make sure you have everything you need or add it to the grocery list. A mad dash to the store at 7 p.m. on party night never adds to the festivities. Unless it’s for more libations or ice. That’s just a given.
- Stock up for the munchies. Snacks become a mainstay over the holidays when lots of people, big and small, mill about claiming to be starving.
- The bar. For goodness sake, don’t forget to stock up the bar. Be sure your menus include the libations for each event, which could run from punch to hot toddies to bottled water and coffee.
- And paper goods. Many a panic attack becomes just a nuisance moment when you have plenty of napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper on hand.
- Whatever you can cook or prep in advance, do it. Plenty of cookies, desserts, as well as casseroles stay fresh in the freezer. That frees you from being chained up in the kitchen when you’d rather be in the living room, enjoying a glass of holiday cheer.
The Way It Looks
The twinkling lights, that crazy crystal cornucopia everyone makes fun of but you adore, the garlands and wreaths. It’s what announces the holidays every time you open your front door or walk into your kitchen every morning. Don’t skip decorating, even it’s just something simple.
- Don’t hesitate to purge. Some decorations just need to go. When your favorite Santa’s face has worn to nothing but a nose and that wreath sheds plastic needles like a green snow, throw them out.
- Before you go jump on the latest pre-pre-Black Friday deal to add to your existing decor, though, think about designating a theme or color scheme for your home. It helps you choose pieces more judiciously that easily coordinate, saving you time when you create your displays and making more of an impact when entering the room.
- If you’ve got a hodge-podge of boxes you’ve stored every bauble and fake pumpkin in for decades, imagine how delightful it would be to just reach for clearly marked bins instead. It’s a step that makes switching décor from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas a delight rather than a very frustrating trudge through a mire of disarray to find the tree stand.
- Don’t forget music. Holiday and party playlists abound on music apps, and inexpensive Bluetooth speakers set throughout your house not only add to your gatherings but uplift your daily sojourn through these special times of the year.
Deck Yourself Out
All those functions call for the right gear. From the fancy New Year’s gala to your crazy friend’s ugliest sweater contest, plan for them all now from socks to earrings, like a menu. Make sure you aren’t stuck panic-buying clothes for little ones, either, just because they outgrew last year’s outfit six months ago.
Check Your Gift List…Twice
There is nothing worse than unintentionally snubbing someone because you forgot them. So like Santa, make a list and check it twice—and keep a few extras around.
- With supply chains tighter this year, early shopping offers prime advantages. You avoid the last-minute mobs at the stores, and, if you shop online, you avoid the crushing blow of “out of stock” blinking alongside your perfect choice for that persnickety Uncle Eustace. But beware. Kids are likely to change their minds, so don’t commit too early on all their gifts.
- Stock a few extra simple gifts, like liqueurs and bags of specialty pretzels, for the person who gives you a gift you weren’t expecting, or in case checking your list twice still doesn’t prevent you from forgetting your boss.
- Don’t forget wrapping paper, ribbon, gift bags, tags, and tape. You can never have too much of these staples.
Not all overnight guests are expected. Sure, the annual pilgrimage of the kids—and their kids, the dogs, and that new ferret—are all planned and expected. But even if your annual soiree invite said, “Cocktails at 8”, you might end the evening with a surprise overnight guest. No need to panic, if you’re prepped.
- Keeping some extra toothbrushes and paste ready with a few t-shirts for sleeping and sets of clean sheets and towels at-hand makes a surprise guest easy to manage.
- For those planned stays of a few days, little touches like toiletries, guest towels, water bottles, and a sign displaying the Wi-Fi password are welcoming details.
- Make room in closets and dressers for extra coats, boots, and clothing now by storing some of your own items elsewhere until everyone goes home again.
- Restock your first aid kit along with essentials for allergy, cold and flu, and other over-the-counter remedies for anything from headaches to heartburn. Now you can offer relief and manage any small incident without having to run to the store.
Remember that making the holidays bright doesn’t depend on little Tommy getting the oh-so-popular Megatoy that shoots actual lasers. Nor are your holidays a failure because you actually forgot to get something for beloved Grandma Gertrude. Some of the biggest mistakes make for the greatest laughter. The joy of the season, the gifts, and the gatherings depend only on relishing the time and conversations with those around you.
The enemy of these joyous moments lurks in overscheduling and stressing. So control your calendar this year. Make sure you earmark time for simple things that don’t require anything from you, like attending the local tree lighting ceremony or a twilight walk in the brisk, wintry air. Because some of these little moments spark the best memories of all.