How Do You Make Holiday Entertaining Less Stressful?
Real Simple readers share 16 trusted tips for enjoying―not dreading―the season.
Food and CookingI never put stress into holiday entertaining in the first place. Holidays are for close friends and family who don't care if the pie looks perfect or if everything is made from scratch. We concentrate on relaxing together, playing games, cooking and eating good food together, and giggling as much as possible.
Salt Lake City, Utah
I stick to tried-and-true recipes. They not only reduce the fear factor but also evoke a pleasant sense of nostalgia, as we recall Aunt Martha's caramels and Aunt Ginger's fruit salad from holidays past.
Elizabeth A. Keville
I realize that perfection is an impossibility, so I buy as much of the necessary food as I can already prepared. I used to have a 1950s mind-set with a modern-day lifestyle, and it only made me miserable. I learned that people would rather have a calm hostess and prepared food than time-intensive dishes and a stressful holiday meal.
I always make Thanksgiving dinner for my family, with about 17 to 20 people. I break the week down into daily chores so I can get everything done before the big day. On Monday I grocery shop; on Tuesday I bake; on Wednesday I make stuffing and prepare the potatoes. The evening before, I set the table and decorate it with leaves, candles, and pumpkins. On Thanksgiving morning, I cook the turkey, and I still have time to relax and watch a little bit of the parade on TV before company comes. Just before dinner, I heat up some vegetables and anything else guests have brought. I don't end up overwhelmed by the number of things that need to be done, and I actually get to enjoy my company.
Tarrytown, New York
As Christmas approaches, my dad and I pick a weekend to get together and make cookies to serve on Christmas Day. Other family members are there as we bake, and we all tell stories from previous holidays and gatherings. The ritual always centers and relaxes me and reminds me how special my family is to me.
Cedar Park, Texas
Twenty years ago, five of my colleagues and I decided to take a December weekend evening to make Christmas cookies together, creating holiday treats to share while relaxing and having a good time. All invitees bring cookie recipes and ingredients to bake from scratch. Recipes are swapped, and our cookie-baking skills have improved significantly. The event has since evolved into a competition, with recognition awarded for Best Cookie, First Runner-Up, Ms. Congeniality, and, at times, Needs Most Improvement. The event moved from Chicago to New Jersey when our employment opportunities migrated with the company most of us worked for, but we continue to have a wonderful time together and walk away with great cookies for the season.
Morristown, New Jersey
On Christmas Eve, I used to prepare the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes all on my own: seven fish or seafood dishes, like deep-fried calamari and garlic clams over linguini, for our whole family. Cooking for such a large group had become very stressful, so three years ago I decided to ask for help with the preparation. Now my sister, sisters-in-law, and nieces come over early, and each brings an entrée. We set up makeshift workstations and catch up while cooking. We get to laugh, chat, and reminisce―plus, we've started a tradition of our own.
Haddonfield, New Jersey
I have learned to take stress out of holiday entertaining by asking for help. My husband prepares the turkey outside on the charcoal grill so I can use the entire stove for side dishes. My mother-in-law makes delicious homemade bread, rolls, and dressing. It makes the dinner a team effort.
Spartanburg, South Carolina
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