I’m sure I’m not the only one expecting large quantities of guests over the holidays. This Sunday, my two sisters, their husbands, and their children are coming over for a Christmas meal, and my dad is expected to make an appearance as well. My house is far from ready, and I’m running short on time. However, my ultimate goal is not to have a sparkling clean house and perfumed finger towels in each bathroom—my goal is to create an atmosphere where everyone can have a good time, and that is most easily accomplished by keeping the stress out of the situation. A relaxed hostess creates relaxed guests.
Here are some things I’ve learned over the years as I’ve tried to transform from an uptight control freak to a gracious hostess:
1. Yes, a clean house is nice. You want your guests to feel comfortable. But you don’t need to agonize about the basket of ironing that is still sitting on your bed. The most important areas to clean are the bathrooms, the kitchen, and the room where your guests will be gathering. If you don’t have time to clean out from beneath little Bobby’s bed, no one really cares.
2. Do as much as you can ahead of time. As you look at your menu, I’m sure you’ll find items that can be prepared the day before and then placed in the fridge. Only prepare your most time-sensitive foods at the last minute (for instance, boxed stuffing is terrible reheated and you should make it right before serving). But many other items can be prepared in advance. If you’re making a fruit salad and worry about browning, slice the fruit directly into a bowl of water with a little Fruit Fresh sprinkled into it. This keeps the natural color in the fruit and retards browning. Drain off the water, mix the salad, and place in the fridge.
3. Keep things simple. I know your guests love your homemade pies, your homemade custard, your homemade cider, your homemade rolls, your homemade … you get the drift. But if you try to create an entire meal from scratch, for forty people, you might end up with a homemade nervous breakdown. Consider purchasing some of the items from a bakery or grocery store. There’s no shame in asking your guests to bring something, either. If Mary Beth makes good rolls, ask Mary Beth to bring some.
Remember, the holidays are a time to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and feel the joy of the season. If you’re so worked up over the spot on the tablecloth that you can’t enjoy your guests, you need to pull back and reprioritize. Chances are, no one is going to notice the spot, and if they do, they won’t even care. Well, Aunt Eunice will, but she’s just that way and you need to accept it and ignore her. She’s been ruining your get-togethers with her rotten attitude long enough.
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