I love Christmas. Love, love, love. I love Christmas so much, in order to make sure the family got together in a way that was meaningful and significant, I took it upon myself to host the party.
[The perfectionist’s motto is “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” and I am under no illusion that I am anything but a perfectionist.]
At the time, 20-something with no kids and only one job, hosting the extended family for the holidays was not a big deal. I had time to spare, and the time I couldn’t spare I carved out anyways. It was a labor of love. I really did enjoy it.
I planned the meal, made a gift list for all who’d attend, shopped early for presents and wrapped them all ahead of time. I grocery shopped at the cleanest, healthiest stores, started cooking two days early, brined the bird, baked the pies, made candy, baked cookies, created place cards, rented furniture, rearranged tables to fit everyone in one spot, made up guest rooms.
Back up, Martha Stewart. I GOT THIS.
You’re probably thinking “oh my goodness, what a showoff, no one does that for reals except PTA b*tches and Real Housewives of Orange County.”
Yeah, pretty much. Overachiever OCD perfectionism runs in my family, so I came by them honestly.
And, if I’m completely honest, there was at least a little bit of showing off. I delighted in the work, so it wasn’t all for appearances, but I reveled in the accomplishment. It made me feel good.
THEN GUESS WHAT.
Life happened. I had three kids. I moved out of my huge, entertaining-able house. I got a second job, then a third, then launched a business of my own. I have zero time to spare, let alone any soft spots in my life to carve out extra.
Instead of two-month-early, ready-wrapped Christmas gifts that appear under the tree on December 1, my kids get used batteries, underwear, and half-eaten packs of Tic-Tacs in their stockings because I forget to shop for stocking stuffers until December 23.
Hosting family Christmas the way I did before is a thing of the past.
I STILL LOVE CHRISTMAS. I still feel it’s very, very important to spend time together, but now that I’m a working mom of three it has to be done differently. I have limitations, immoveable boundaries that must be maintained even through the revelry of the holidays, and so I must adapt.
In order to produce a memorable, meaningful, fun, STRESS FREE holiday party, here are five tips I’ve learned over the years. They save time, reduce stress, and still manage to light up everyone’s eyes on the big day.
1. Organize a gift exchange. Instead of worrying about “will everyone have a gift to open,” and “how much did I spend on so-and-so, is it even with what I got for the other guy,” create a gift exchange with an upper spending limit. Each person has ONE gift to buy, instead of ten, everyone gets one gift, everyone is happy.
You can even exchange the gifts in a fun way (Yankee Swap, Blind Draw, Secret Santa), or add a fun theme to the purchases (every gift has to be purchased at consignment, or be something you’d use in the 80’s).
Gift exchanges save time, money, and shopping. (The guys will love it.)
2. Pot luck. Spend 2 hours in the kitchen instead of 2 days, and ask everyone to bring something for the meal. To avoid a free-for-all (or a Laurvick event that ends up having two taco salads and four bowls of glorified rice), plan the menu and assign specific dishes to each guest.
The best part of planning a pot luck this way is 1) everyone that has a special dish can make it and showcase their talent, and 2) you get to pick what you like best to eat, and make sure that it’s there.
(…that second one sounds kind of self-serving, but if you could taste my friend’s salmon ball appetizer, you’d ask her to bring it too.)
3. If creating the menu and cooking the big stuff is your thing, plan for a dessert pot luck instead. Spend your time brining birds and whipping potatoes and leave the sweet stuff to your guests.
You could even ask everyone to bring three dozen of their favorite cookies, then swap out five or six of each kind to send home with guests. You’ve saved time baking, they leave with a holiday cookie plate. Win, win. (Win, because your Christmas baking is done without the extra time.)
4. Host the party outside your home. No set up, no clean up, just arrive and have fun and leave.
Find a venue that provides cozy, hospitable space, and book your event there. Some places will let you pot luck, some will offer buffet at a reasonable price. At River Ridge we rent our Annex and allow outside food for a small cleanup fee. Ahtanum Youth Barn has plenty of space and kitchen facilities, Zesta Cucina’s banquet room is beautiful for medium size parties, and both Selah and Terrace Heights Civic Centers have larger rooms for the biggest families.
5. Plan some simple activities. You don’t have to captivate your guests the whole time, but a few well planned keep-things-fun activities is a good idea and removes the pressure of entertaining. Pull out board games the kids haven’t used in a while, buy simple foam-sticker crafts from Hobby Lobby for $1 each, or (if you’re crazy, like my uncles) plan on a brisk (freeze your bits off) football game in the snow.
For all adult parties, play Cards Against Humanity or I Never. For family games, check out Speak Out, the game that requires you to stuff a dental gag in your mouth and speak normal sentences. One of my kids is getting this for Christmas, for sure.
It shouldn’t require too much ahead of time thought. Take five minutes, throw together a few games and crafts, then pull them out at the party if things get dull.
Holidays are times to celebrate with family, enjoy company, and be present. Plan ahead, get some of your loved ones to chip in and help, and remember to take care of yourself in the same way you take care of everyone else. It’s your Christmas too, make sure you get to enjoy it!
For information on The Annex at River Ridge, call the clubhouse at 509.697.8323.