How to Be the Holiday Hostess with the Mostest

Discover essential tips for stress-free holiday hosting. Learn how to plan your menu, accommodate dietary restrictions, decorate on a budget, and entertain guests with ease. Perfect for those facing the challenge of hosting a family gathering, our article offers practical advice, from accepting help to enjoying the festivities. Ideal for anyone seeking to create a memorable holiday experience without the overwhelm.

Every holiday season brings with it the inevitable, dreadful question: whose turn is it to host this year’s big family gathering?

If suddenly you feel heads turn toward you and your cheeks start to warm, chances are you are this year’s crowd-selected “Hostess with the Mostest”. The holidays are hard enough as a guest, attempting to balance the necessary shopping and wrapping with mentally preparing for all of the impending awkward interactions with your in-laws, and now you have to add hosting to that list? The big day is a month away and you’re already behind. It’s a wonder you haven’t evaporated into thin air and become another Ghost of Christmas.

But before you fall into a pit of despair, remember: no one expects you to do this alone (and if you try, you likely won’t make it to Christmas Eve). Sure, now you have some extra cooking, decorating and intensive cleaning on your plate, but not everything has to be perfect. According to a 2013 Pew Research Survey, nearly 70 percent of Americans say that spending time with their family and friends is what they look forward to most during the holidays, so surely your guests will be willing to help you make that time extra special. Your mother-in-law can bring her own homemade cranberry sauce if she feels so strongly about the inferiority of the delicacy coming out of a can.

The key is to start slowly, lay out your plan of attack and carve out time for self-care along the way. Take a deep breath, and if all else fails, just make sure to focus on these three keys to hosting the holidays: the rest will fall into place.

Step One: Cooking, baking, and preparing to feed a dozen or so hungry guests

Every year, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving feel like a race that’s just impossible to win, especially because you can’t even start planning the menu until everyone on your list has responded to your invitation. If a few kind guests are willing to take a side or two off your hands, it’s time to abandon your hostess pride, no matter how strong, and accept their help. Remember, you’re only hurting yourself if you try to pull off a perfect holiday party on your own. (Bonus tip: if you’re feeling a bit unconventional next year, ask someone to bring one of our Top 5 Sides That are Sure to Spice Up Your Thanksgiving.)

Then, just when you put all of the cooking stress from Thanksgiving behind you, you rounded the corner and found: December. Christmas may be only one day, but Hanukkah is eight, and the entire month is filled with countless holiday parties and potlucks and now suddenly you’re remembering that you forgot to buy extra brown sugar to make your grandmother’s famous ginger snaps before your company’s holiday party tomorrow. How can you start planning to host your own holiday celebration when you still want to be a good guest for everyone else? Not to worry our Top 5 Holiday Cookie Recipes will give you some inspiration if you want to avoid the store and try something new for your company’s holiday party this year.

Once you have vanquished all of the holiday parties on your calendar, the only thing standing between you and a self-awarded “Hostess with the Mostest” ribbon is your own holiday gathering. You perfected your turkey game last month with our Top 5 Ways to Prepare a Thanksgiving Turkey, and now you have to turn your attention to the ever-elusive flawlessly seasoned Christmas ham.

But it’s not even that simple: you also have to account for the increasing number of possible dietary restrictions your guests could have. Susie is gluten-free, your father-in-law can’t eat dairy anymore, Aunt Carly is a pescatarian and of course your newly “hipster” niece won’t let you forget she’s vegan now. Stay strong. If you’re expecting a vegan at your table, be sure to check out our Top 5 Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes — even though Turkey Day is over, it doesn’t hurt to break out some Thanksgiving favorites during Christmas dinner.

Finally, remember that it never hurts to start planning your menu a few weeks in advance. It will ensure you don’t forget anything important while removing a lot of the pressure, because getting overwhelmed by every little detail will only make it harder to pull off the perfect menu for your party. Check out our Top 5 Kitchen Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Party to make the most of your time (and keep your cool) in the kitchen this holiday season.

Step Two: Decorating to get in the holiday spirit

If you’ve been living on your own for years, you probably have a pretty impressive stash of festive decorations saved up, but if you’re in a new city or newly moved out of your parents’ house, decorating for the holidays can be difficult and expensive. Suddenly, it’s a bit overwhelming how many years Mom and Dad must have spent collecting holiday decor to have filled all of those boxes in the garage. Maybe you can snag a few ornaments from their grasp, but if not, it’s time to start building up your own supply of holiday-themed saltshakers and hand towels. Target, Francesca’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond usually have no shortage of adorable holiday decorations you almost definitely don’t need.

Still, if money is the main obstacle standing between you and your own winter wonderland, consider tapping into your creative side with our Top 5 DIY Holiday Decorations That Will Make You Look Like The Next Martha Stewart. Maybe the last time you tried to make something on your own was during kindergarten arts and crafts, but you probably spent more time peeling glue off your fingers than putting it on the paper, and there’s no time like the present to try again. It could be a fun family or roommate bonding activity — and if all else fails, you can at least laugh about your difficulties using scissors or how lopsided your Christmas tree topper is.

Of course, DIY decorations are nothing short of time-consuming, even if you aren’t artistically challenged. So if you’re feeling a little lazy, there’s always a little magic in just breaking out a red blanket, cutting up some pieces of printer paper into snowflakes or lighting a scented candle that reminds you it’s finally that wonderful time of the year again. And if you need a few more ideas, check out our Top 5 Holiday Decorating Hacks for more tips on how to save money and time decorating your home this holiday season.

Step Three: Entertaining your guests

Once your menu is in place and your humble abode is looking tastefully spirited, it’s time to actually host your party. Yes, this means sweeping, Swiffering, dusting and vacuuming every surface in the house, knowing full well your mother will be using hawk eyes to detect even the slightest bit of dirt the second she walks in. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a challenge, since you just cleaned for Thanksgiving a month ago, and that party went off flawlessly.

You managed to survive November with our Top 5 Ways to Stay Sane While Hosting Thanksgiving, but being a hostess in December is a whole different beast to behold. No disrespect to Thanksgiving, but Christmas and Hanukkah are the crown jewels of the holiday season: schools go on extended breaks, friends and family members come in from all corners of the world and big announcements are usually made because everyone is back together (if you’re in the know, try to contain your excitement a little better than Kristen Wiig).

So if you’re feeling a bit more overwhelmed than last month, it’s understandable. Check out our Top 5 Ways To Stay Sane While Your Family’s Visiting For The Holidays if you need a little more support as your party approaches.

An easily accessible playlist with all of the Christmas classics is a necessity, but don’t be scared to sprinkle in a few more modern takes on the usual tunes, just to see your family react. (Dad is sure to love the Ying Yang Twins’ classic “Deck Da Club,” or 1997’s hip-hop star-studded take on “Santa Baby.”) Hot cocoa should be heated on the stove at the ready, with a little peppermint schnapps nearby in case you feel the need to relax more unnaturally. And, of course, no party is complete without a few useless and awkward games intended to bond your most distant family members together. If you feel like cementing your status as the black sheep of the family, check out our Top 5 Raunchy Christmas Party Games To Make Your Family Cringe. Just remember: save your rowdiness until the kids have gone to bed.

Finally, now that your big gathering is here, make sure you actually enjoy it! Though it may seem counterintuitive, the American Time Use Survey reported that from 2010 to 2013 men and women actually spent less time eating and socializing during the holidays than they did during the rest of the year — probably because they’re spending a lot of their extra time planning, cooking and decorating — a concept you are no stranger to.

This holiday party may have been a lot of work, but you pulled it off and the in-laws are even complimenting your Christmas ham. Now go eat an extra piece of apple pie and make sure to sleep for at least 12 hours before you even think of preparing for New Year’s Eve.

Which of these tips were most helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below!