Make a plan
Take some time to really plan out the event. How many are coming? What's on the menu? How should the house look? Make a to-do list and set deadlines. Doing as much as possible in advance will make the day of the party that much easier.
Better yet, delegate some of the work. Even preschoolers can help put away groceries, wash veggies or fold napkins. If a guest asks if she can bring something, let her. People love to feel useful, and it gives you one less thing to do.
Gather your tools
Once the menu is set, review your tableware, serving dishes and cookware to make sure you have what you need. Borrow or purchase what you're missing. Among today's options is a growing array of cookware designed to go seamlessly and beautifully from oven or stovetop to even the most formal table, saving time, money and cleanup.
Make the most of your space
The size of the meal may expand during the holidays, but cooking and serving space doesn't. A countertop toaster oven or high-wattage double burner can be a lifesaver for expanding oven and stovetop capacity. On the buffet table, tiered servers hold appetizers and desserts vertically, rather than horizontally, saving valuable space and creating an attractive display.
Decorate for the senses
Involve all the senses in your decorating scheme. Enlist a spouse or older child to come up with a holiday music playlist or CD. Be sure to include instrumental pieces to play during dinner so it won't impede conversation.
Fill the house with holiday scents, such as cinnamon, mulberry or evergreen. Scented candles are an easy and attractive way to provide fragrance and a warm glow to any room, and candlelight makes your guests look 10 years younger. But don't put candles in high-traffic areas. Today's flameless scented candles are so realistic, with LED bulbs that glow and flicker like a real flame, chances are your guests won't even notice the difference. And they provide an alternative to placing real candles near curtains, Christmas trees or other decorations.
Enjoy the results
Don't be so busy playing hostess that you forget to enjoy yourself. Organize the kitchen so that the bulk of the cleanup can be done later. Have storage containers handy for leftovers, designate an area in the kitchen for dirty dishes, and then forget about the rest.
The host sets the tone of the party. Forget about perfection and keep the focus on what matters -- family and friends. You may find yours is the party that people look forward to throughout the year.
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