Holiday entertaining survival guide

Sep 28, 2012 at 4:36 a.m. ET

Everyone loves to party during the holidays, but the stress of planning and guest relations can dampen the fun. Taking a few pre-party precautions and implementing some crafty strategies makes you a survivor who never gets voted off the island.

woman hosting holiday party

Every year as the fall and winter holidays grow near, you have fairytale visions of friends and relatives exchanging amusing anecdotes in a perfectly decorated festive atmosphere, lifting a glass of bubbly and sharing the cheer of the season. But then reality smacks you and you remember the tiff your cousins had at last year’s holiday gathering, waking up to wine-stained carpets, unpackaged leftovers and a note of apology from your best friend for getting tipsy and breaking your crystal vase.

Minimize this year’s disruptions with a holiday entertaining survival guide. With a little planning and ingenuity, you and your guests can enjoy an incident-free season that creates pleasant memories and leaves your heart and house fully intact.

Friends and relatives

You love them both, but you aren’t compelled to entertain them simultaneously. If they happily mingle throughout the year at other gatherings, it’s fine to have them at the same party, but if that’s not the case, have two separate parties. For sit-down dinners, use place cards strategically placed to keep known head-butters away from each other. Always claim the prescribed seating is just an idea you got online, not a strategy for peace.

The drinks

Designate a trusted teetotaler to man the bar and review the mixology plans before the party starts. Inform your volunteer about who tends to over-imbibe and explain how to reduce the alcohol in mixed drinks and add water or club soda to make up the difference. Instead of mixed drinks, offer a big bowl of punch with lots of fruit flavors and minimal alcohol to keep over-indulgers in check. Make a pot of high-quality coffee to end the party.

Atmospheric pressure

Peace on Earth starts with peace at home. Create a relaxing, comfortable atmosphere with lightly-scented candles and lamps with low-wattage bulbs placed in corners. Keep a door or window cracked to let a little fresh air into the room. Create a CD with a mixture of holiday tunes and favorite pop hits from the past and present to satisfy a wide range of tastes. Rent or borrow a coat rack so wraps don’t get piled in disarray on the guest bedroom bed. Likewise, designate an easily accessible place for boots and shoes. Have disposable take-out containers available to easily pack up favorite leftovers for guests to take home.

Signing off

As the host, it’s your responsibility to end the party. Discreetly blow out a few candles to indicate the event is winding down. Ask guests if they’re done with their drinks instead of offering refills. Turn on lights in adjacent rooms to interrupt the dim party atmosphere. Start reminiscing about the night’s activities with comments like, “This was fun. Maybe next year we can…” If guests linger after all these hints, hand them their coats and tell them it was lovely to see them again.

Holiday celebrations should be fun for both hosts and guests. Exercising a little control ensures your event will be a wonderful memory for all involved, with minimal fallout and clean-up the morning after.

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