Most of us love the holidays. We just hate the stress attached to them. Wouldn't it be nice if this year we could entertain our family and friends and keep our spirits bright while doing it?
When we asked one expert for her advice on how to reduce the stress of holiday entertaining, she said, "Don't give a party." That seemed a little extreme, so we canvassed caterers, psychologists, chefs, magazine editors, authors, neighbors and friends for their tips on de-stressing holiday feasts and parties -- ranging from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa to New Year's Eve. We even threw in a few ideas of our own.
So here, without further ado, are 100 ways to make your event easier, to eliminate some of the hassles associated with holiday party giving and, yes, to have a more joyful time doing it.
1. Create a game plan. Write it on a calendar instead of in a list so you'll have specific dates to get things accomplished.
2. Keep it simple.
3. Michelle Passoff, author of "Lighten Up! Free Yourself From Clutter"(HarperPerennial, 1998), suggests cleaning your kitchen cabinets of excess canned goods and donating them to a local food drive. This will not only foster the spirit of giving to others, it will give you more space for holiday meal preparation.
4. Start early. Buy and begin writing invitations well in advance of sending them. (Send invitations four to six weeks before the party. People's holiday schedules fill up quickly.)
5. Ask for RSVPs rather than Regrets Only. That way you'll know for sure who is and isn't coming and who simply forgot to respond.
6. Set realistic expectations, says Boston psychiatrist Susan Phillips. Tell yourself that you don't have to live up to the "storybook perfect" definition of what holiday meals should be and what your house should look like.
7. Worst Advice of the Season: To give two parties on consecutive nights with the same menu, same decorations and different guests. It's efficient, and it cuts down on preparation time; but if you find entertaining stressful, you probably won't feel like having to do it all over again the next day.
8. Accept the fact that something always goes wrong. Be prepared to roll with the punches.
9. Decide on a party budget and stick to it.
10. Make a complete food shopping list a couple of weeks before the event.
11. Elaine St. James, author of "Simplify Your Christmas" (Andrews McMeel, 1998), uses the "halving" rule for less stress. Halve the number of parties you would normally give this time of year, and halve the number of guests you would normally invite.
12. While it's nice to think that holidays will bring feuding friends and family members together, you'll be less stressed if you invite them to different events.
13. Browse culinary catalogs for good menu ideas. You can order cooked turkeys, hams, cheese wheels and other goodies that can be no-sweat centerpieces for your party. - Michelle Passoff
14. Fat-free guru and cookbook author Jyl Steinback suggests shopping on Monday for Thanksgiving dinner. Or shop before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. to avoid crowds.
15. Candles throughout the house add a warm glow. With the lights turned down, your guests won't notice shabby furniture or a little dust.
16. Ask for help - such as setting the table or cleaning up - from family and friends. It sounds obvious, but we forget to do it.
17. Check your menu against your oven space and number of burners in advance, says Zanne Stewart, executive food editor of Gourmet magazine. If you have one oven and three dishes that cook at three different temperatures, you'll need to adjust your menu.
18. Drink water to deal with holiday stress headaches, suggests lifestyle coach and author Cheryl Townsley. Her formula: half your body weight in ounces per day.
19. The freezer is your friend. You can make breads, cookie dough or cake layers several weeks in advance and freeze them.
20. Don't stuff paper and clothes clutter in a bag or box and jam it into a closet before guests arrive. Set aside enough time so that tossing, filing and hanging are part of the preparation for and joy of entertaining. - Michelle Passoff
21. Chop onions and other vegetables you use a lot, and freeze.
22. Use oven-to-table cookware for main courses and side dishes you plan to freeze. Reheat them in the microwave.
23. Take advantage of good-quality convenience foods such as flavored pastas, rice mixes, frozen puff pastry, phyllo and artisan breads, says Barbara Fairchild, executive editor of Bon Appetit magazine.
24. Do not deep clean before a party. If you must clean at all, do it a week before and limit yourself to picking up the day of the party.
25. Lifestyle coach Cheryl Townsley lowers holiday stress by making objects do double duty. For instance, prettily wrapped holiday gifts can also be your party decorations on side tables and mantelpieces.
26. Surprises aren't good at holiday feasts; they make people cranky. You can add to the traditional dishes, but don't substitute without getting your family's OK.