Party Time: Four Steps To Easy Entertaining

planning tips for holiday parties

Shhh! Don't look now, but the holidays are right around the corner. Will you be ready to offer hospitality in your home?

Busy home managers have many reasons to dread entertaining, whether it's drop-in visitors or a large party. Entertaining can be costly, in time and in money. Our homes may not measure up to the standard touted in glossy furniture store ads. Often, we're unsure of ourselves in the role of hostess. Many of us didn't learn the knack at Mother's knee-yet we still measure ourselves against her yardstick.

Take heart! Changing times have brought changing ideas and standards. Entertaining doesn't need to be stressful. With an attitude adjustment and some advance planning, even the busiest home manager can entertain with ease.

Step One: Change Your Mind

The biggest obstacle to easy entertaining? Us! Too often, we have strict notions about what constitutes hospitality. We think "dinner party" and fret about whether the towels match the shower curtain-and we miss the whole point of the effort.

What does "entertaining" mean to you? Take a moment, and think of what springs to mind. Do you worry about your lack of fine china and polished silver? Do you fret about the furniture? Do you thumb frantically through cookbooks and food magazines, looking for just the right recipes? Do you vow to bar the door to guests until you've cleaned the house from attic to cellar? Time for an attitude adjustment! All these concerns are irrelevant to true hospitality.

The first step to easy entertaining is to put the focus where it belongs: on the guests. It's helpful to redefine your terms. Do you "entertain" or do you offer hospitality?

Those who entertain take aim on material things: house, food, dishes, decorations. They view each dinner party as a production that must be scheduled, coordinated and directed to perfection. The event takes place in a stage set of polished furniture, cleaned carpet and precisely-set tables. Too often, the "entertainer" is so stressed and exhausted by all the preparation that she doesn't enjoy her own party! With this mindset, entertaining is a chore, to be done as infrequently as possible.

One who offers hospitality has a different focus: her guests. To her, hospitality is about sharing. Her hospitable home welcomes visitors and draws them into the warm family circle as treasured guests. Her values put people before floral centerpieces and ironed napkins. She may engage in as much preparation as the "entertainer," but she knows that when a guest feels truly welcome, the state of the floors is unimportant.

Start by changing your mind. Will you offer hospitality this holiday season? Or will you stage an entertainment? Resolve to put first things--your guests--first on your list. Armed with this mindset, you'll avoid the perfectionist traps that stand ready to snare the entertainer.

Step Two: Prepare For The Unexpected

Do-ahead preparations will take the stress out of drop-in visitors, and free you to enjoy visits from unexpected guests. Purchase or prepare hospitality supplies: crackers, some good cheese (the smellier the better to deter grazing children) frozen cookies or slices of cake. Child-proof the latter by wrapping aluminum foil and labeling as "liver and onions" before you freeze!

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Keep a stock of good tea bags and coffee on hand, and assemble a teapot, sugar bowl and creamer, and several good teacups in one spot. Invite your guests to join you in the kitchen as you swish about efficiently, assembling a welcoming snack!

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