Whether you're dating, engaged, recently married, or approaching your fifth anniversary, few things make you feel more like a full-blown adult than hosting your first holiday event. But the idea of it can be anxiety-provoking. Is your home or apartment big enough to fit everyone? Do you need a new dining room table? Do you have enough pots and pans? Can you make enough food to feed everyone? It's no surprise that being asked to entertain over the holidays can send your mind spinning.
"Hosting a holiday for the first time is a personal and relationship landmark," says April Masini, New York-based relationship and etiquette expert. "It's a big deal—bigger than most people who take on this responsibility realize until they're deep in the task!" First thing first: Don't fret. You will survive your first holiday as head of the table. To help make sure everything goes smoothly, follow these tips for seamless holiday hosting.
Grab coffee with the host passing on the task to you.
You're saving this family member a lot of planning, stress, and energy by taking on the responsibility for them. The least they can do is offer you a few moments, or even a whole hour, of their time to give you all of the details on how they get it done year after year. "Ask them what they wish they had started doing earlier to make it go smoothly and to give you any insider tips on what family members might look forward to most," suggests Julienne Derichs, licensed clinical professional counselor. "Gather family recipes and decide which ones you will treasure and continue to make." Talking about family holidays and traditions can help you 'buy into' the importance of carrying on, she points out.
Create a game plan.
Derichs suggests making a plan so that you can enjoy the holidays, too. Some initial questions for you to answer: Will you have any overnight guests? Where will everyone sit? Do you have enough pots and pans and dishes to serve everyone and do all the cooking? What is on the menu? What can you prepare ahead of time? "Advance preparation will save you loads of time, money, and stress," says Masini. "Plan, discuss, organize, and shop in advance for the best selection and the best prices." Bottom line: There's no room for last-minute prep when you're hosting a holiday gathering.
Invite your guests as if you're casting a movie.
"The guest list will determine the mood of the visit or the party—whether it's a big gathering or an intimate one," says Masini. "If you invite only people who paaartay, your intellectual guests will probably feel a little left out of the spirit of the event." And, the same goes for if you only invite quiet and reserved folks. There's something to said about having a balanced guest list. You may also want to consider offering non-coupled guests a plus-one. This can make them feel more comfortable if the setting will likely be made up of mostly couples.
Ask in advance about allergies or other food and drink restrictions.
Remembering that three of the five children have peanut allergies or that Aunt Sally and her three daughters no longer eat meat after you've already spent hundreds of dollars grocery shopping is bad news. To make sure you're accommodating allergies and food preferences, it's a smart move to ask around. "A simple, 'Let me know if there's anything you don't eat or drink' email a week or two ahead of time is a very polite way to make sure your hosting is on point," says Masini. "If you don't ask, expect surprises!"
Don't be wedded to turkey, ham, or any tradition.
You're the hostess with the mostess, so don't feel too buttoned up. "A bouillabaisse or lobster is a terrific celebratory spin on a traditional holiday meal," points out Masini. "Trying something new for a change may give you a burst of creative energy, so give your creative side license to run wild, and make your holiday hosting unique and truly yours."
Expect that things will go wrong.
The chances of everything going perfectly, especially when it's your first time hosting, are slim to none. So be prepared for this to go haywire. Sarah E. Stewart, MSW, CPC, life coach and author, suggests creating a "perfect jar." "Every time you or your spouse says aloud or thinks, 'I just want everything to be perfect, put a dollar in your 'perfect jar,'" she adds. "When the holiday is over, give yourselves a pat on the back, take the money and do something nice together. You deserve it for a job well done!"