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The Complete Guide to Hosting the Winter Holidays

While hosting a single holiday can be stressful, hosting several in succession can become overwhelming to the point of immobilization — even for the most seasoned hosts and hostesses. Luckily, there are some simple ways to minimize effort and maximize productivity.

Wondering where to start when it comes to tackling the hosting season ahead? Read on for a comprehensive guide to pulling off your happiest, healthiest, most stress-free holidays yet.

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Will you be toasting to a stress-free holiday season this year?

Planning Matters

The old Yiddish proverb insists that “Man plans and God laughs.” And while it’s absolutely true that there’s no foolproof way to plan for everything that comes your way in the hectic month between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the best planning begins with knowing exactly what you’re up against.

After all, the sooner you have a clearer picture of everything, from when overnight guests are arriving, to how many people will be seated around your holiday table, the better prepared you’ll be to handle the inevitable snafu when it does occur. Planning out these logistics may not be glamorous, but dealing with them in the moment is a far less desirable situation.

In fact, it’s never too early to start thinking about your holiday plans. This also means sharing these plans with others so they can begin making plans of their own.

Of course, keeping all of these plans in your head is not only a recipe for a headache but also will inevitably lead to forgotten commitments, unpleasant oversights, and regrettable mistakes. This is why lists are your seasonal best friend. While sitting down and making lists can seem counterproductive to action, shopping lists, daily countdowns, and other lists are invaluable organizational tools. The best part? They can be carried over from year to year. Not to mention the inevitable sense of satisfaction you’ll experience every time you cross an item off your list as complete.

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Santa shouldn’t be the only one making a list this season.

Helpful Hint: In addition to making lists ahead of time, review them afterwards noting what worked and what didn’t. While everything is still fresh in your mind, update your list to reflect these changes. While it may be the last thing you want to do when the holiday is over, you’ll be glad you did it when holiday planning resumes next year.

Holiday House Prep

One of the biggest challenges faced by hosts is making sure their homes are ready for visitors and overnight guests. After all, you may be so busy shopping, cooking, and planning that finding a spare moment to clean may seem impossible. But if you circle back to planning and list-making, house prep becomes much more manageable.

As with most things in life, it all starts with prioritization. In best case scenarios, you’ll have allowed plenty of time to attend to every last detail of making your house guest-ready. However, most hosts find themselves behind the holiday eight-ball. Rather than lamenting everything you can’t do, focus on what needs to be done most and what can actually be done in the amount of time you do have.

For example, while you might have had grand plans to deep clean every room of your home before guests start arriving, this is a monumental task. If you’re short on time, decluttering visible spaces may be a more effective, efficient tactic. Additionally, spaces like your entryway, guest rooms, and bathrooms are most worthy of your attention when time is tight.

Another critical room to focus your cleaning and organizing efforts on? Holiday Command Central, AKA your kitchen. Do you have all of the supplies, storage, serving accessories and seating you need to execute and serve your holiday meals? If not, buy, rent or borrow the items you need to pull off your vision.

Deck the Halls

One of the best ways to start feeling the reason for the season? Deck your halls. This job can be particularly satisfying when it occurs in a spick-and-span home. So reward yourself following your cleaning and decluttering efforts with the joyful task of decorating. Even the simplest decorations of candles and greens can help set a magical mood.

Thinking of going grander with your decorations this year but not sure how? Experts recommend sticking with a color scheme of just two or three hues for a chic, coordinated effect.

Pace Yourself

Remember, the holiday hustle is a marathon, not a sprint. Pacing yourself is critical — both in terms of knowing what’s done and what’s still to do as well as in terms of your own sanity preservation. Luckily, pacing yourself goes naturally with list-making. Your lists can help you best determine what can and should be done ahead, and what can and should be done later.

But pacing yourself is only part of the equation when it comes to warding off burnout. Another essential piece of the holiday planning puzzle? Learning to delegate. Simply put: the best hosts and hostesses know when and how to delegate. People want to participate, but often don’t know how. Delegating is a win-win situation for hosts and guests alike.

Outsource When Possible

A cousin of delegating, outsourcing tasks ranging from cleaning and setup to the holiday meal is a terrific way to eliminate stress without sacrificing the quality of your holidays. For example, enlisting the services of a trained cleaning person or someone to do the dishes afterward is a great way to ensure that your house truly shines, while ordering up a menu of gourmet mail order food from the country’s finest restaurants and artisans can ensure exceptional holiday spreads.

Meal Planning 101

Speaking of holiday meals, they’re so important that they deserve a category all their own. Of course, there’s the main holiday meal featuring conventional favorites like turkey, ham, roasts, and other crowd-pleasers. And then there are the accouterments — the side dishes which take any meal from ordinary to extraordinary. Last but not least, of course, are the desserts: the holidays are nothing, after all, without a taste of something sweet.

But many hosts make one critical mistake: They fail to plan beyond the main meal. If you have overnight guests, for example, the holiday meal is just a small part of your menu planning. From bright-and-early breakfast on Christmas morning to late-starting, slow-moving brunch on New Year’s Day, the best hosts have every meal covered. Another reason to stock up heading into the season? To ensure that the cupboards won’t be bare for guests who just “drop in.”

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Coffee cake is elegant but easy.

Which brings the conversation back to outsourcing. Unless you’re a gourmet chef who would enjoy nothing more than spending the entire holiday season in the kitchen, it’s unrealistic to assume that you can handle all of the food on your own. Mail order food lets you serve up all of your favorite items without devoting your whole holiday to cooking them yourself. Because while cooking everything from scratch can be incredibly time-consuming, gourmet food by mail trims time without sacrificing taste.

Embrace the Experience

It’s easy to get carried away with how everything looks on the surface. But far more important? How everything feels.

From the second your guests walk in the door, they should feel comfortable. Spinning seasonal tunes, taking coats at the door, immediately offering a drink, and stocking guest rooms with extra-special touches like water, gourmet chocolates, phone chargers, and an agenda for the weekend all help create a welcoming atmosphere.

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Chocolate makes any stay sweeter.

But don’t neglect your own experience in the hustle and bustle of attending to everyone else’s. While the days leading up to the holidays can be a whirlwind, the truth is that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s will be over before you know it. Be sure to take time out to truly appreciate this special time with friends, family members, and other loved ones. These memories will stay with you long after the holidays have come and gone.

Be a Gracious Guest

Many hosts get so caught up in their hosting duties that they forget about purchasing host and hostess gifts for dinners, parties, and other events at which they’ll be guests over the course of the holiday season.

Unfortunately, this oversight can lead to a huge and unnecessary amount of last-minute stress — not to mention dealing with long lines at crowded shopping malls just to end up with an inferior gift. Avoid this common problem by shopping for gifts online in advance of the holiday.

One rule of thumb for choosing well? Keep it personal. Not only is a personal gift more likely to be wanted and used, but it also shows thought. After all, anyone can buy a present, but how many of these presents truly express a meaningful connection with the recipient? Mail order companies like FoodyDirect offer easy one-stop shopping thanks to carefully cultivated inventories of fine foods from some of the country’s best restaurants and artisans.

Let It Go

“Perfect” holidays may exist on the pages of Martha Stewart Living, but, in reality, the definition of a “perfect” holiday is very different than the ones featured in glossy magazines and on television shows. Rather than holding yourself to an impossible ideal (something no one else will be expecting of you), accept and embrace your limitations.

When things do go wrong, maintain your perspective and remind yourself why you gather in the first place. A shortage of pillows may seem like catastrophe now, but it won’t matter in the future…unless it becomes humorous holiday lore retold every year, that is.

Take a Time Out

Even the most outgoing extrovert needs a break now and then. Being “on” at all times while hosting house guests is an impossible feat. Be sure to build time into your schedule for resting and rejuvenating. Getting out of the house can be particularly restorative. Even a stroll through the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights can help you re-catch the holiday spirit if you lose it in the moment.

One last thing to keep in mind? There’s no award being conferred on January 2nd for “best holiday host ever” so resist getting tripped up in fears over whether you’re doing enough or doing it right. Instead, commit to putting your personal best effort forward. Then prepare to kick back, relax and join in the fun. After all, what’s the point of all that planning and executing if you never get to enjoy any of it? Get a jumpstart on your hosting duties this season by shopping foods and food gifts at FoodyDirect today.