How to Prepare for Hosting Christmas

Christmas carries the weight of expectation and pressure, so while it should be a happy time spent with family and friends, it can easily slip into feeling stressful. Which is a shame, because when Christmas goes well, it's a wonderful celebration and a chance to gather with loved ones.
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Joanna Simmons, Houzz Contributor

Christmas carries the weight of expectation and pressure, so while it should be a happy time spent with family and friends, it can easily slip into feeling stressful. Which is a shame, because when Christmas goes well, it's a wonderful celebration and a chance to gather with loved ones, have fun and forget about daily life.

If you are hosting the day this year, a mix of planning and managing expectations can really help ensure it's fun and memorable. So before you deck the halls or order the turkey, read these 12 tips for hosting the day and enjoying it too!

1. Set the agenda. Work out what you want to get out of Christmas and how you'd like it to be. Do you fancy a traditional celebration, with a big tree and a turkey dinner? Or are you less interested in tradition than just enjoying family time? It can be helpful to sum up your intentions for the day in one word, such as playful, alternative, meaningful or simply merry.

2. Manage expectations. Christmas takes up so much space in our cultural imagination that almost everyone has some opinion of how it should look, feel and be organized. So before the big day, gently manage your guests' expectations by letting them know roughly what to expect chez vous come the 25th.

If you have no intention of serving six different types of vegetables with the turkey, will not be having a tree this year or are pretty sure your kids will be up at 5:30 am, let them know so they can adjust their vision of the day and get onboard.

3. Bend the rules. Give yourself and your family a break on Christmas Day by bending or ignoring the rules you aspire to live by. Yes, your children will eat a lot of sugar and almost certainly ignore their sprouts. Don't worry about it! Yes, your guests may all be tramping mucky shoes through your house. Fine! And perhaps today is the day to let the dog have scraps from the table, courtesy of Granddad. Let it all go!

Enjoy the chaos while it lasts. There will be plenty of time to get back on track afterward.

4. Check the basics in advance. It's easy to get caught up in putting up decorations or shopping for gifts and then forget the essentials.

A week or so before the guests arrive, check whether you have enough chairs, china, glasses and cutlery for all of them. Will they fit around the table, or should you put up a small temporary table too? Is there space in the fridge for the fresh food you plan to buy, or will you need guests to store and bring some of it themselves?

Get all of this sorted out in advance to avoid last-minute panics on the day.

5. Get ahead. Minimize stress on the day by cooking dishes in advance that can be frozen, or stock up on a selection of prepared morsels that will save you some effort.

6. Assign jobs. When you are the host, it's not expensive presents that bring the most happiness, it's delegating! Assign guests simple tasks, from peeling the spuds to lighting the living room fire or keeping glasses topped up, so you aren't forced to take responsibility for everything.

Make sure the job is clear, though. "Help with the vegetables" is too vague. "Peel the parsnips and cut them into wedges" is more like it. Most guests will welcome being given a role, as it helps them feel useful and breeds a feeling of sharing. So don't become a Christmas martyr -- treat the day as a community effort and get the whole family involved.

7. Enjoy the moment. Turn off the voice in your head listing all the things you should be doing or criticizing you for not making your own mince pies or not getting a bigger tree. Instead, take a minute to watch and enjoy what's going on around you, warts and all. Try to see it all with an amused, ever-so-slightly detached eye.

8. Learn from experience. Think back to previous Christmases to remind yourself of family tensions, issues or flashpoints. Do board games put your uncle in a rage? Does your aunt prefer to sit in a high-back chair? Is Granny allergic to the cat? Will little Jimmy have a tantrum if presented with Brussels sprouts? You don't have to pander to your guests' every whim, but understanding and avoiding the most obvious triggers of tension can help avoid a lot of awkwardness.

9. Duck out. Christmas Day can be so full and busy that it's easy to forget to take five. So be sure to sneak away at some point during the day. Take a short walk (with or without festively clad pooch) or disappear into a quiet room to sit calmly for a few moments, before returning to the action feeling refreshed.

10. Watch your intake. For many of us, the idea of viewing Christmas Day through an alcoholic haze may seem enormously appealing, but being too woozy to carve the bird or slice the pie is not ideal. Pace your intake -- drinking water with every glass of alcohol will help you feel jolly and on the right side of functional!

11. Be clear on duration. Make sure all your guests know how long they will be staying and when they will be leaving. Guests outstaying their welcome or being hazy about when they may leave will push your stress levels up and stretch your generosity. Be upfront about how long they can stay, and don't apologize for it.

12. Make it magical. Pulling off a great family Christmas creates powerful, positive memories for everyone gathered there, especially the children. So dig deep, remind yourself it's only one day and do your best to make it a good one. The collective memories created on that day can nourish you all for years to come.

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