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Guide to a Stress-Free Holiday

How Do You Take the Stress Out of Holiday Entertaining?

Readers share tips that will lower your stress and lift your spirits.

Thanksgiving dinner on the stoveJustin Bernhaut
Every year, my sister and I host our own Thanksgiving dinner, the antithesis of those we dreaded as children. At our party, guests can arrive when they like, leave when they like, bring what and whomever they like, and wear whatever they like. We provide the entrée and the beverages, the guests bring the rest, and everybody is happy―we’re all doing exactly what we want to be doing on Thanksgiving.
Yiannis Psaroudis
New York, New York
I put together “working play” parties. Depending upon the needs of the group, we might bake cookies or wrap presents together. It’s festive, fun, and low-key.
Wendy Ferguson
Portland, Oregon
No one arrives without something for the meal. Dessert, side dishes, homemade bread, vegetables―you name it, someone has brought it. Because everyone helps, we end up spending time together rather than worrying about who has to do what.
Patricia Grausam
Perth Amboy, New Jersey
For holiday cocktail parties and buffets, I hire a bartender. I can make the food and decorate in advance, so it’s not worth getting a caterer or a florist, but having help at the party is invaluable. A good bartender will not only serve drinks but also help replenish platters and stay for cleanup, so I can feel like a guest at my own party.
Phaedra Hise
Richmond, Virginia
Since my husband and I are both vegetarians, much of the holiday stress involves one of our mothers or grandmothers worrying about what to feed us. Starting in mid-October, I make up batches of our favorite vegetable casseroles. That way, I can always offer to bring along “a really fun vegetarian dish for everyone to try."
Ariella Rogge
Florissant, Colorado
The hardest guests to impress are my parents and my in-laws. So I ask my mother and my mother-in-law to each contribute a dish at our festive meal. By the end of the evening, they have received many compliments on their cooking, and they leave feeling the event was an absolute success.
Selena Heng
Holiday entertaining should be fun. If children are included in the party, I set out plain sugar cookies with lots of decorations―frosting, brightly colored sugars, sprinkles, crushed candy canes―and let them have free rein. Later on, we serve the cookies for dessert and send some home with the party guests as well. It’s not much effort, and it makes things fun for everybody.
Christina Berreth
Bainbridge Island, Washington
I always hire someone from a cleaning service. She gets to my party early and stays until after dinner. She tidies up the kitchen, picks up after guests, and washes and puts away all the dishes. It costs me roughly $60 to $70 per event―a small price to pay to have a good time without worrying about the mess.
Tania Nordstrom
Northridge, California
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