Thanksgiving has always been Marilyn’s favorite holiday. Each year, her entire family and several friends gather at her house for the occasion. She enjoys acting as host, but always experiences anxiety as the day approaches. Marilyn, like many others who entertain, sets the bar high for herself…Perhaps too high. She agonizes over every detail—big and small—from the table setting to the presentation of each dish. By the time Thanksgiving Day arrives, Marilyn is exhausted and can barely enjoy the wonderful event she has created. Although she revels in the special feeling that’s derived from having friends and family at her home, this year she contemplated sacrificing all of that in order to avoid the stress.
Holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be this nerve-racking. To begin, let go of perfection as the ultimate goal. Most guests will not view your hospitality with the same critical eye with which you view yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over trivialities. Instead, focus on simplifying the process to enjoy more time with loved ones at the party. Guests tend to concentrate primarily on enjoying the company and the food. They rarely consider minor flaws—and in most cases don’t even notice a single defect.
Lynn came to me to help her cope with the enormous stress associated with her annual Christmas party. I suggested that in dialogue with her guests, she “under promise,” rather than create high expectations. She tried this strategy and it worked. Lynn didn’t guarantee her guests the best party ever, so she didn’t feel pressured to achieve this goal. And, since they arrived without any expectations, every detail was a wonderful surprise.
It is important to adopt the right hosting personality because for many, stress originates from a party that is too much to handle. Consider a number of guests that feels comfortable and do not go beyond this number. It’s also far easier to enjoy the preparations and the party itself when the guest list is under control.
If it’s difficult to keep the invites within manageable bounds, don’t be afraid to ask partygoers for help. Requesting contributions is not an indication of an incompetent host. However, this only works if the host makes specific requests rather than just letting guests decide. The “wait and see” approach inevitably produces an excess of wine or desserts and not enough of everything else (more stress). It is much more productive to ask for specific items. An excellent strategy is to ask each guest to contribute a signature dish. The contributors will typically relish the compliments they receive, adding a layer of personal satisfaction for all in attendance.
Hosts are entitled to enjoy holiday gatherings as much as their guests. And it is possible to do so as long as they think about meeting their own needs as much as they think about others.