In case you missed my confession last year, I’m known as The Grinch of Thanksgiving dinner. I love the actual holiday—having the whole family together and reflecting on what we’re grateful for. The rest of it, not so much. All of the planning, cleaning, and cooking (especially making sure the turkey and all the other dishes are done at the same time) stresses me out! I’m in awe of people who are able to throw parties with such ease. So I asked the hostess with the mostess, Gina Whittington, to share some of her secrets to reduce holiday hosting stress.
She’s an event planner here in Austin who not only effortlessly hosts the holidays every year, but routinely throws exquisite events from intimate dinners to parties for over 200 people (and that’s just at her own house!). Read on to find Gina’s strategies for stress-free entertaining. And then let me know: Do you host the holidays for your family? If yes, what are your tricks to reduce party-hosting anxiety?
Divide the labor
Just because you’re the host, doesn’t mean you have to shoulder everything yourself. Communicate with your partner and see what they can do to help you out. My husband, for instance, wants to help, but we have different ideas about what goes into hosting a party. I’ve found that giving him specific tasks with deadlines makes things easier for both of us. And if a guest asks, “What can I bring?” Tell them! Wine, ice, a pie—whatever will make your life easier.
Figure out what brings you joy—and what doesn’t
Run through Thanksgiving Day in your mind. What’s your favorite thing? For me, it’s planning the decor and the menu. Now think about what you most dislike about the day. Is it the pressure of cooking a 15-pound turkey just right? Make a ham and a turkey breast instead. Is it the cleaning for hours beforehand? Consider hiring cleaners, if you can swing it. (Or refer back to point #1 and ask someone else to help!)
Lower your expectations
So many things can go wrong during a big event like Thanksgiving. The turkey could be dry, your pumpkin pie could burn, or a fight could break out over politics. To keep your cool, go into the day with low expectations. As long as everyone is warm, fed, and has the opportunity to chat with each other, your job is done.
Thanksgiving is only one day, but if you’re the host you need to start planning a week in advance. (It sounds like a pain, but I promise it will make things less stressful in the long run—especially if you schedule in time for your own relaxation!) The weekend before, decide on your menu and write up a grocery list. A few days before, go grocery shopping, clean, and think about some fun activities to do with the kids. The day before, make any dishes you can, including cranberry sauce, desserts, and appetizers. The morning of, make sure you stock bathrooms with toilet paper and air freshener and clear a space for coats. And I make sure to have everything ready at least 30 minutes before guests are supposed to arrive, in case there are some early birds.
Keep the food simple
Although the holidays can feel like a time to try out new recipes, what everyone really wants is the classic menu. Keep things simple: turkey or ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole—you get the idea. And repeat after me: There is no need to make four different pies! Make one and you’re done.
Set your mood
The morning of Thanksgiving, focus on what makes you happy. Have a gigantic latte, put on your favorite playlist, or light candles. Do whatever will put yourself in a good mood, and your guests will notice how happy you are to see them when they arrive.
Appoint a child minder
The cook(s) do not need to worry about entertaining the children. I usually put out some crafts—like having the kids make place cards for everyone—crayons, and coloring books. But someone else should be put in charge of keeping the kiddos entertained and happy, including getting them drinks and snacks and mediating any fights.
Get some fresh air
If it’s a nice day, spending lots of time outside will keep everyone happy. Go for a bike ride, play a round of corn hole, or go swimming if you can. We always head outside for a walk before dinner. It’s the perfect way for the kids to get their energy out and for the adults to work up their appetites.
Just skip it
Hosting a holiday for your friends or family can feel like a rite of passage that you must do. But if it stresses you out too much to actually enjoy the day, make a reservation! You can get delicious Thanksgiving dinners at restaurants ranging from Golden Corral to the Four Seasons. Know your limits and when being the host just doesn’t work for you.
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My sister usually does thanksgiving dinner the night before which might sound weird but it takes away the stress for her and I (I do help her) because it’s not actually thanksgiving and it gives us time to relax and help my grandmother when cooking and doing everything for the big holiday dinner with everyone. This year my mom, sister, and I decided to not do it this year and take a vacation, we are headed to Seattle and having thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. I do love these ideas which will be taken to Christmas dinner since Christmas is usually the most stressful time of year for us.
hi, gen! I have been following your blog for a while and i love it! for thanksgiving the past couple years my family (which for thanksgiving is usually pretty small: me, mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa. the rest of my family is out of state) we order a thanksgiving meal from Olivers (a local store in northern California) and we all hang out together and have a great time! but this year we are not celebrating Thanksgiving with my grandparents because we are celebrating Christmas the weekend after…i still have a lot of shopping to do…
Yes!!! Couldn’t agree more with Gina! Love the post! We outsource as much as possible. If your in Austin, Texas Honey Ham is our go to for Thanksgiving ham and then Terry Blacks for a fun take on smoked turkey. We are also adding in Terry Blacks mac n cheese because it’s amazing. Xoxox
I have cooked it for 32 years since my mom died. This year my hubby and I are going to Cracker Barrell. Just not up to cooking or the drive from San Antonio to Austin for family. But I’m doing Christmas. Tip.. cook turkey slow over night after browning breast down. Juicy!!
Love these ideas. I’m hosting Christmas this year for my husband’s side of the family, and I’ve been a bit nervous. Thanks for giving these great tips!
My mom gave me the best advise a few years back. Deep clean the bathrooms, pick up the house and do the rest after everyone leaves. This makes it so I clean once instead of twice. It really helps. With the food I have someone else bring the desserts and roasters are my friend. I use them for the sides and this keeps my oven for the meat and all gets done at the same time. Usually my out of town family does the cleaning up for me, Which is a godsend.
Here in Australia we don’t have Thanksgiving like you do. Christmas is our big celebration and we are lucky that it’s in summer. Chritmas lunch is usually a cold buffet – usually ham, seafood, salads. Rarely do we slave over hot stoves, though we may swnd the men out to barbecue (grill) some sausages or chicken, depending on whether we have a fire ban on or not.
In the past, when I’ve hosted for a big group of family, I put out a buffet and people come and go during the day – eating when they want rather than a sit down meal.
Far less stress!!