How to Host a Stress-Free Holiday Gathering

Holiday gatherings can create many wonderful memories. But if you’ve ever attempted to host the get-together yourself, you know first-hand just how stressful it can be. From timing each dish to be placed on the table, piping hot and all at once, to make sure everyone is comfortable, being the host of any intimate holiday party is no small task–especially when you aim to impress.

And with the anxiety of the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic, it only adds to the stress.

But don’t fret! If you wish to throw a small dinner with your dearest friends or close relatives, it’s still entirely possible. Believe it or not, you can have a safe, social distance friendly party with little effort. Here is how to host a stress-free holiday party with a close-knit gathering of friends and relatives.

Deck the Halls

The holidays can creep up fast, even more so when you wish to throw a small party amongst hunting down gifts for the kids and family. So, first things first: Before you even send out invites, break out the boxes of holiday decorations and deck the halls! Swap out the pumpkins for twinkle lights and ornaments—no more last-minute runs to the grocery store or procrastinating.

Also, hand out your lists and delegate tasks to other family members or even guests. Have kids clean up their toys or, if they’re older, clean the bathroom. Update any furniture hardware so everything is party-ready. And don’t be afraid or feel guilty for asking guests to bring side dishes, saving you from spending all day in the kitchen.

Hold a Drive-By Holiday Party

Another way you can host a stress-free and social distance-friendly holiday party is to hold a drive-by party. In place of a formal sit-down meal or a cramped living room seating, allow guests to swing by in their cars.

A drive-by party is also a smart way to give guests the flexibility to come and go as they please, respecting their COVID comfort zones. You can share with each drive-through guest why you’re thankful for them and send them on their way with a goody bag.

Offer Up Side Dishes and Appetizers

In order to avoid the added stress of a special dinner, make sure to cook ahead! On the day of the holiday party, the last thing you need is to be on your feet all day in a hot kitchen. Instead of leaving little time for yourself to change out of an apron, come up with side dishes that you can cook ahead. Cooking to impress guests stresses anyone out.

So if you can, prepare dishes that simply need to be warmed up as your loved ones arrive. Simmer a soup or stew in the crockpot or make a quiche or casserole that can slide into the oven with your main course. Tip: Keep food safe under glass or plastic containers and offer up paper plates and toothpicks that can be discarded without much cleanup.

And remember: It’s not cheating to use frozen appetizers–not everything has to be made from scratch! You can also make a few simple trays with tapenades, cheese, crackers, fruits, nuts and other nibbles, offering them up on coffee tables and the kitchen bar.

Keep Clutter Out of Sight

As you tidy up and decorate, don’t feel obligated to do a full spring clean, so to speak. Keep in mind that it’s okay to declutter and clean only the main gathering areas where guests will mingle.

On the day of, sweep paperwork into a box to sort later and move the kids’ toys into their rooms. Close any doors to messy areas you wish to remain private, such as bedrooms and guest rooms. It’s one less area you have to clean (and disinfect) before and after the gathering.

Put on Some Holiday Classics

Entertain your guests by playing some classic holiday movies. If you’re planning on hosting a small number of parents and their kids, this is the perfect way to keep everyone amused. Parents can let their children watch together while they enjoy chatting with other adults.

Some of the best holiday movies to watch include Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Polar Express. Complete the movie marathon with holiday-themed snacks like Christmas puppy chow or white chocolate Christmas popcorn.

Stream Holiday Music

Numerous studies have proven that music decreases stress. So even before guests arrive, create a playlist of some of your favorite holiday tunes, letting it calm the nerves. Music sets the mood, also, allowing you and your loved ones to get into the holiday spirit.

Don’t have time to create a personal playlist? There are plenty of music streaming sites and platforms, such as Spotify and Pandora, that offer a curated collection of all your holiday favorites. Just remember: Even if you prefer rockin’ around the Christmas tree, make sure to keep the music low enough so that guests can converse without having to shout.

Start Your Own Traditions

The expectation of family traditions leaves one feeling added pressure for every little thing to go right. If you enjoy the tradition, but find it tedious and hard work, cut yourself a break this year and simplify it. If friends and family expect your famous cookies, don’t feel obligated to make enough for everyone to take home. Bake only a batch or two.

If you prefer, start your own traditions, too. Come up with new family traditions that don’t require extra effort, like playing a favorite holiday movie in the background or sharing memories of past holidays. Fun and undemanding traditions like these can make your time with everyone much more enjoyable.

Hosting a holiday get-together doesn’t have to be stressful. With proper precautions, careful planning and some clever tricks, you can pull off a small party effortlessly and still make lasting memories.