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The holidays are supposed to be a time for family, fun and feasts, but they can also feel frazzled and frantic. Maximize the fun and minimize the stress with these tips for hosting a foolproof holiday dinner–whether it’s your first or fifty-first Christmas party.

There’s no present like time

The more you do before the day of the party, the better you’ll be able to enjoy it. Either delegate or complete tasks before the big day, like purchasing food and drinks; collecting dinnerware, cutlery, chairs and table settings; creating a playlist (or exploring playlists from your favourite streaming service) and cleaning.

You can also use that time to assess your menu and prep whatever you can in advance: wash, dry and cut fruits, veggies and herbs, tear up bread for stuffing, bake or purchase desserts, and don’t forget to mix–and sample–a practice drink (for quality control’s sake, of course).

Have an appy holiday

Appetizers are often overshadowed by the showier mains of holiday dinners, but are still the most essential course for maintaining seasonal goodwill. Not only will they stave off hanger as guests arrive, they’ll also buy you time to put the finishing touches on dinner. An antipasto platter, for instance, is an easy option–so go ahead and stock up on any combination of your family’s favourite meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, dips, crackers and preserves to serve. Although it may not stop your Grinchiest relative from making a scene, at least no one will be able to pin it on you for letting the family get hangry!

No fowl, no harm

Every turkey-feasting family has a tale of the year just from making Christmas dinner, because turkey, bless its tender, juicy legs, is a notoriously finicky fowl. Even seasoned cooks have trouble getting it right, so unless you can enlist help, know that cooking your first one on the day of the big party is basically asking for an anecdote that will take YEARS to feel funny to you.

There are two ways around this: you can roast a practice bird in advance, to get the hang of things, or opt for one of the many simpler, but still traditional options. Ham is virtually foolproof, as are pasta, fish and pork tenderloin. And since Christmas is a global affair, almost any recipe you can dream up fits into someone’s holiday tradition.

Please with punch

A gleaming bowl filled with bright, festive punch–whether boozy or not–provides a centrepiece and refreshment all in one. It also frees you from mixing and serving cocktails, so you can spend time putting the finishing touches on dinner or conversing with guests. Have some extra bottles on backup so you don’t come up short (you can always return unopened booze to the liquor store, if need be).

Feel the feels

Guests often take their cues from the host: if you’re relaxed, your guests will be too. And if you’re worried about getting every little detail perfect, they’ll feel your discomfort. Although it’s tempting to want Instagram-worthy table settings, try to focus on the mood of the event more than its appearance. Serving your dinner family or buffet-style won’t look as good as laboriously plating each dish–but it’ll reduce your workload and allow guests to load up on the dishes they like (and graciously avoid the ones they don’t). If producing a sweet social media moment is important to you, curate a little scene before guests arrive–antipasto and punch, perhaps?–so that instead of capturing magical holiday moments, you’ll be living them.

Betty White
Giphy/Betty White’s Off Their Rockers