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10 Tips for the Holiday Hostess

While I always enjoy the holidays, they can be stressful, which is something I bet most other people feel, too. Though I'm no seasoned hostess, I've learned a trick or two for keeping stress to a minimum once the holidays roll around.

Here are my top 10 that will hopefully help you plan and prep this holiday season.

And please, share your own tips in the comments section below - we'd love to hear how you stay stress-free and merry!

1. Invitations

The first thing to worry about once you've decided to throw a holiday shindig are the invitations. It's a very busy time of the year for parties, so make sure you get your holiday party invitations in the mail as soon as possible. I always aim for 4 - 6 weeks out so that guests will see my invitation first and make plans around attending.

While you might not necessarily remember to put a return address label on your invitations or letters throughout the year, it's an essential piece of your invite during the holidays. You'll want to know if a guest didn't receive their invitation as soon as possible and the best way to do that is with an RAL. So, stock up on some holiday return address labels and make sure they're part of your party invitation!

2. Prep Ahead

Once it's party time, you don't want to be worrying about to-dos. I always find it's easiest to prep as much as I possibly can ahead of time and most of that comes with careful menu planning. While your decorations will be up in the days leading up to your soiree, the food really gets made the day of the party.

You know what your guests like best and what you're most comfortable cooking for a large crowd, but best dishes are those that can be prepped and semi-finished ahead of the crowd's arrival. Then, you can just focus on heating up.

3. Keep it Friendly

If you've invited a large crowd and not everyone knows one another, make it a point to introduce everyone. It might be as simple as knowing Jane is a licensed scuba diver and your sister Mary recently said she wanted to make a dive. Find a common ground and bring it up.

4. Make it Fun

Don't rely on your guests to entertain themselves. I get caught up in the decoration, food and drink planning, so sometimes, I forget this rule. Make a festive playlist chock full of holiday hits for the party, but also consider playing a holiday game at your soiree!

5. Pay Equal Attention to All

Talk to everyone at your party and pay equal attention to each of your guests. Make an effort to check-in as often as you can with all your guests to ensure they're all set with anything they may want or need.

6. Keep it Simple

There's one surefire way to add stress to your already full plate - by making things more complicated than they need to be. Your holiday party at home should be about good company and good times, not turning your home into a winter wonderland.

Decorate your home as you normally would for the holidays, then as the party approaches, give it a refresh cleaning and focus on your table spread decor.

7. Clean Lightly Throughout

This is one rule I really have to force myself to follow! After all of your work to make your party a hit, it's hard to just abandon your perfectionist approach to the actual event once guests arrive. Accept that this is party, which means there will be a mess and let things be! You can pick up empty plates, cups, etc. throughout the night, but don't go crazy. If you spend your entire evening cleaning up, you might have a cleaner house at the end of the night, but you'll have missed all the fun!

8. Take Extra Care with Food and Drink

When planning your menu, be considerate of any food allergies and special diets your guests may have or follow. Chances are you'll know if a friend or family member has an allergy, and while an adult party guest will know not to eat something if an ingredient included is a danger, a child might make the mistake of biting into it.

Avoid those most high-risk food allergens, but also keep it clear to one and all what each hors d'oeuvre or dish is with simple tent cards set in front of every plate. It's a quick and easy to-do for you, will keep your guests safe and will even add to your buffet decor.

In addition to that, make sure you have a good mix of food and drink, including soda, water, wine and beer. If someone isn't a drinker, they'll appreciate the alternatives!

Check out our Christmas recipes to get some menu inspiration!

9. Don't Play Bartender

Speaking of drinks, don't step behind the bar! You'll never get away. Greet your guests with a special sip when they arrive - most people won't make signature cocktails at home, so it's definitely a novelty - but after that, set up a self-serve bar for your party guests.

Put out a few bottles of wine, soda, water, beer, liquor, if you choose, and an ice bucket. Also, you'll also need openers, lime and lemon wedges for garnish, and straws/stirrers. Another great option to have? A holiday punch recipe that can be made in batch.

You can keep it limited to that, but if you want, consider giving your guests all the ingredients you used for that signature sip and display the instructions to mix so they can make themselves another.

10. Enjoy Yourself!

Ever been to a party where the host is plain miserable? No matter how hard you work at the decor, food and other party to-dos, if you're not having fun at your own party, neither will your guests. A hostess' attitude can truly be the make or break factor for a successful party, so keep that smile on no matter what gets thrown your way. This is a party, so relax and enjoy!

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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