Holidays: How To Avoid Mayhem and Gridlock During Thanksgiving and Christmas Gatherings
Anyone who has ever seen the National Lampoon Christmas Vacation movie with Chevy Chase and company knows three things about winter holiday gatherings and celebrations: First, always carefully inspect any real tree you cut down yourself for squirrels before you make it your living room centerpiece. Second, check any presents from senile relatives to be sure there are no live animals inside of them. Third (and this one makes the most sense in real life), examine your holiday sleep over guest list to be sure that the needs of all who live in or are planning to visit your home are considered and met to avoid overcrowding, conflicts and bad feelings. And that is just the beginning of any sound Thanksgiving and Christmas plan to avoid problems and gridlock in your home during large family gatherings and meals. Back to reality...
Most people make the mistake of planning their holiday meals far more carefully then they do their overall plan to create and keep on a realistic schedule, handle house guests or visitors, and decide on the best time for the presentation of gifts. They mistakenly believe it will all work out thanks to the magic and goodwill of the season. The truth is that many unhappy holidays occur simply because the host is trying their best to do the impossible by attempting to satisfy everyone involved. More disagreements and grudges tend to be created over perceived slights that occur at family gatherings during Thanksgiving and Christmas then at just about any other time apart from family reunions.
I am not familiar enough with winter holidays and religious observances outside of the USA version of Thanksgiving and Christmas to write with any authority or offer any credible suggestions beyond those occasions, so I will stick to what I know. Over the years I have helped to organize a number of private and corporate holiday events. Although it is not the most important of considerations, let痴 begin with the topic of the presentation of gifts during Christmas. Christmas Gifts are more a very loose interpretation of the celebration of the religious observances than anything else. Even many purely secular families give gifts during the holidays accepting the tradition of doing so more than any perceived deeper meaning. The main controversy surrounding the exchanging of gifts has always been more about when that should take place and who ought to be present because there are no set rules.
Some people choose to exchange gifts with immediate family members on Christmas Morning, while others believe it makes more sense to do so on Christmas Eve. The best way to determine which time best suits your personal situation is consensus. All the members of your household should have a say in the matter. As a child I can recall feeling very annoyed at my grandparents because my parents insisted that we wait until Christmas Morning to open our presents so that they could be there with us. Other kids in the neighborhood typically opened their gifts on Christmas Eve. I was not my grandparent痴 only grandchild. That meant that they might arrive at breakfast time or around noon depending on which way they headed first.
Whether it was fair or not, that made my Grandparents the bad guys and my parents equally guilty for siding with them against me. My parents did try to lessen the pain by taking me out to Christmas Eve dinner at my favorite local restaurant. However, I am sure they also hoped that the comfort food style menu would help to make me tired so that I would go to sleep as soon as we got home. They compromised by allowing me to open one gift on Christmas Eve. I appreciated that because it made me feel like my opinion mattered, but it also lessened the overall magic of the occasion. By the time I reached my teen years my grandparents were too infirmed to travel anywhere and the family exchanging of gifts ended up taking place on Christmas Eve so that we could all sleep in, then go and visit relatives and neighbors to exchange gifts with them during Christmas Day.
As recently as just a few decades ago casual friends and relatives that visited once a year and were not a part of the immediate family exchanging of gifts tended to stop by sometime on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day for that purpose along with close friends and favorite relatives who were not sleeping over. Everyone shared a cup of eggnog to toast the holiday and check out each other痴 holiday decorations. Nowadays it is more likely to find exchanging of gifts with casual friends and relatives that visited once a year taking place at neutral locations like a common gathering place or restaurant. Many people have become fiercely private about their personal dwelling situation and unwilling to share it with relatives, friends or coworkers that do not really consider part of their inner circle.
Verbal gossip was once the greatest danger to anyone痴 reputation. Today, we all have to deal with the online possibility of being praised or trashed by friends and relatives, friends turned enemies or relatives that decide we have become their nemesis. That makes the way we deal with others an important consideration. Sadly, it has become an absolute necessity to keep those most influential among our social media connections happy. Even so, we have to be careful that allowing those people to visit our homes and meet our immediate families will not provide them with fodder to trash us with if there is ever a falling out. That is one reason why I believe so many people are opting for neutrality when it comes to meeting for the exchanging of gifts. The practice has become acceptable and provides a reasonable alternative to having just anyone visit our personal dwelling spaces.
Whether your home is the center point for family gatherings or you are just expecting a few close relatives and friends to stop by or even stay overnight during the winter holidays, you need a plan to make everything work out for the best. Knowing how many people can comfortably gather at one time in your dwelling without stressing you or any else out should always be Number One on your list of considerations. Despite the seemingly perfect overblown and huge family celebrations often portrayed in emotional holiday TV specials and such, people tend to feel neglected and annoyed when they are placed in situations which more closely resemble a flash mob event then a holiday gathering. Quality should always be more important than quantity when it comes to holiday celebrations and parties.
Sound time and financial management will help you maintain your sanity during the winter holidays. We all know that there is always too much to do and never enough cash to pay for it all. You must set priorities in advance. Your immediate family should always come first on that list; then close relatives, friends and maybe a few coworkers that you need to keep happy. It all about expending limited resources on people you spend the most time with in person, on the phone or online. It makes no sense to go out of your way to invite or impress relatives you might see once a year and leave the people in your everyday life disappointed. You will never make everyone happy and it is unwise to try. A week after your holiday celebration people will move on with their lives and, barring a fist fight or anything crazy happening there, they will forget all about it until next year. Keeping that in mind will help you maintain the actual impact of your event in the proper perspective.
The best way to annoy members of your own family is to kick them out of their rooms or beds to accommodate your overnight guests. Be honest. If you cannot make your guests comfortable without displacing those who live with you all year round tell them so. You can always inquire about local hotel or bed&breakfast rates and make recommendations to those who need to stay overnight. Drop ins and last minute overnight guests can be avoided by diplomatically laying down the ground rules with family and friends. Make sure they understand that in order to be a good host and still make sure that your immediate family or those you live with also enjoy the holidays, you simply do not have the kind of schedule or accommodations that allow for unplanned visits or last minute sleep overs.
Email, snail mail or social media invitations make sense all around and should be always be based on your personal and family priorities. RSVP is a must and you should ask if your prospective guests have any food allergies or preferences (no dairy, gluten, etc). Never just call and casually invite someone to a specific event without putting it in writing. If you do plan on allowing people to just casually drop by make sure you can accommodate them and your list of invited guests without compromising your event. Always use a list you can keep and update as needed. Include the drop-ins and alternates on your list for those who cannot attend and make those the kind of people who will add to and not subtract from the mood of your celebration. I suggest informal dress for all as long as your guests understand the need to avoid worn jeans and try to dress to impress to keep your function as up scale as possible.
If you are part of a family or just live with other people you need to include them in on any holiday event planning sessions to be sure everyone ends up having a say in who gets invited and the overall final game plan for such events. People love to say, 添ou go ahead and take care of those plans." However, when things turn out differently from what they may have envisioned those same people will assign blame and you will be at the top of their list. Dealing with potentially unruly guests is another issue to carefully consider during your planning stage. Tough love is the answer if you are faced with the unfortunate situation of having people gather together at your home who do not like or even get along with each other. Avoid confrontations between the offending parties by cutting them all out of your event! You are a host and not an extreme fighting competition referee.
Every event has problem people and most of them end up being those who feud with others or drink too much. If you feel you have no choice and must include people like that on your guest list, I suggest that you choose other people who will be willing to act as buffers to keep them from running into guests they do not like or to limit their consumption of alcohol. Drinking too much is almost always a catalyst for trouble when one or more of your guests find the courage in their glass to air whatever grievances or bad feelings they may have towards others attending your celebration. I suggest that you encourage mingling, good conversation and even games that will keep your event from being nothing more than a typical holiday excuse for people to over indulge in food and alcohol.
Popular holiday party games that suit adults and children include Fill The Christmas Stocking (see how fast your guests can fill one with candy or small party favors), a Gift Wrap Contest (who can wrap a gift faster and still have it look presentable), as well as all time favorites like Word Find, Charades and Two Truths and a Lie. Young children will appreciate holiday theme coloring sheets and an ample supply of crayons. Teens enjoy most any version of Photo Booth which can be played with a digital camera or even cell phones. If your party will include adults only and everyone is game you can get creative by hosting a sexy lingerie and underwear modeling contest for women and men. Just remember that anything that is beyond PG rated may come back to haunt you later on social media and no one wants to be the cause of any relationship break-ups brought on by jealousy.
Children and teens can be a problem if you do not attend to and accommodate them just as you would any other guest. Most young people are easily kept busy by providing an area where they can enjoy their own activities, mingle separate from the adults, watch TV, play electronic or video games and enjoy their own supply of soft drinks and appetizers. A word to the wise: Keep young children and teens separated and never make teenagers your baby sitters, especially if they are invited guests. Two other simple ways to avoid unpleasant situations are by scheduling an early start for your event and moving things along at a steady pace.
Over the past forty years there have been many changes to the way people celebrate the winter holidays, this is especially true of Thanksgiving. Thanks to stores opening in the early evening or even the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day people bent on getting the best deal on a gift or the exact one they want before it sells out have started their traditional gatherings and meals far earlier than in the past. In many cases people are sitting down to dinner not long after watching the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. Although some people attempt to make their Thanksgiving Meal an evening affair, this is usually a mistake. By then most of their guests would have managed to have their own holiday meal at home or in a restaurant.
Gone are the days when the kids sat around in their pajamas and watched TV during the early to late morning while mom began stuffing the bird and dad potted around the garage or tried to sneak in a quick round of golf or some fishing if the weather permitted. With big flat screen TVs in most homes these days many holiday hosts have incorporated the watching of a parade as part of their overall celebration. Young children tend to be less interested in such events and would probably prefer to watch cartoons, so keep that in mind if you plan on trying to stuff everyone in the same room at the same time to watch parades or other holiday events. Guys will want the TV free and clear for football games beginning in the early afternoon, so keep that in mind as well.
Appetizers such as stuffed-pitted and non-pitted olives, cocktail onions, celery, baby carrots and hor d'oeuvres (hot and cold) should be made available to your guests before the main meal in whatever location you will use for a meet and greet at the beginning of your event to allow time for the dinner table to be properly set and serviced. I suggest that you have several smaller appetizer trays available around the room so that guests do not feel like they are competing for the goodies. Avoid too many refills to keep your event moving along. If your affair is casual no one will likely complain about small plastic Appetizer bowls or plates as opposed to the usual porcelain or metal tray types which will keep your dish washer running all day. Some hosts play recorded music. If you do I suggest instrumental soft holiday favorites performed in a more neutral style like smooth jazz.
Holiday Meals these days should never be served based on the concept that people will be allowed to eat whatever and as much as they like until they are stuffed. For example, placing serve-yourself plates piled high with food on the table will assure a disorganized, lengthy and sloppy service. Ask your guests what they would like and always handle the plating out of sight in the kitchen. If you insist on some traditional remnants of family gatherings from yesteryear and are serving a Turkey, bring it out and allow your diners to view the baked bird. You might even want to cut the first slice before your carve it up in the kitchen and give that to the most senior or respected of your guests.
You can tastefully place a couple of medium sized platters of dark and white meat turkey that is not piled too high on the dinner table for people who might want a little more without turning your table into an all you can eat buffet. Items like cranberry sauce, bread, butter, Parmesan cheese and various condiments can be made available on the table in any number of small dishes strategically placed around the table rather then in huge bowls to maintain the integrity and civility of the meal. Small gravy boats strategically placed to accommodate two or three guests each are also a good idea.
If you plan on serving any sort of alcohol it is wise to limit your guests to one or two drinks before the meal, serve a nice wine or even non-alcoholic drinks during dinner and encourage the consumption of coffee or tea afterward. Egg Nog is always a wonderful holiday treat as long as you keep the alcohol content down to a minimum. Make sure you have some Nog with no alcohol for children, people who prefer not to drink and those who are on the wagon. Egg Nog is best served at the start of your affair or for a toast during dinner. I recommend discontinuing it afterwards. The last thing you want is to send inebriated guests out to their cars to drive along side any number of other inebriated vehicle operators already on the road during the winter holiday season.
When it comes to the main meal you should limit what is available to a reasonable number of choices which tend to be attractive to all of your diners. This will help everyone fight the battle of the holiday belly bulge, avoid days of cooking and tons of wasted leftovers. The most popular major proteins for the winter holidays are Ham, Roast Beef, Pork Roast, Lamb and Turkey. Since some foodies prefer fish or choose them for religious reasons it is wise to have something like Tuna, Shrimp or Crab available as an alternate. However, make it clear to your diners that these are not appetizers or side dishes or you will run out quickly. Having enough for everyone will almost certainly blow your holiday meal budget to smithereens. A nice hot or cold vegetarian platter is always appreciated by Vegetarians and Dieters as well. Some hosts prefer to serve platter dishes like Lasagna, Chicken or Eggplant Parmesan or Baked Ziti as alternatives or even starters (although starters are not needed or expected for most holiday meals).
When planning your meal be aware that a number of people are allergic or intolerant to food stuffs like peanuts and various dairy products (milk, ice cream, cheeses) or ingredients such as gluten. Others simply make those choices in search of a more healthy diet. There are many delicious gluten-free breads and dairy alternatives you can offer your guests. Most large food stores now offer a wide variety of tasty gluten free products at prices that will not break your event budget. Silk is an excellent and popular alternative to dairy milk and every party host should have a good supply of it on hand. There a number of non-dairy vegan margarine, topping and cheese choices out there which you should also offer as an alternative to butter.
A good host will do their best to offer a balanced menu. You may have personal food preferences, but that does not necessarily mean you should force your guests to adhere to them. Offering a little something for everyone is your best bet. It is not that difficult to mix traditional holiday food favorites with choices that accommodate dieters, vegetarians and people who require or desire dairy or gluten free foods. Your main goal should be to serve a meal that marries the traditional with the modern. After you decide on what to serve make sure you have the proper cooking and serving items needed for your menu. Nothing is worst than finding out at the last minute that you do not have enough pots, pans, dishes or cutlery.
Decorating your home for any holiday event is always a challenge. I suggest that you simply decorate the way you would for yourself or those who live with you to avoid giving your guests the sense that they have just arrived at a holiday attraction rather than someone痴 home. Folk Art and Craft items always trump flowers, plants and cardboard decorations. Christmas Trees are another consideration. An increasing number of people like to have their Christmas Tree up and ready for the Thanksgiving Holiday. That is a personal preference, but I think that if you are having a number of people over for Thanksgiving it may distract from your event and add to the feeling of melancholy that some people experience at Christmastime. Save your tree for Christmas specific events.
In the end having a successful holiday event, party or meal is all about planning and execution. Never try to do it all yourself or micro-manage those helping you. If you live with other people always gain a consensus regarding your event and do not be afraid to ask for help. If you are in charge of the overall plan make sure that those assisting you are handling the responsibilities assigned to them. If not, offer help rather than criticism. Create a budget and stick with it. No one wants to be faced with huge credit card bills after the holidays. There will always be those who have grandiose delusions of creating the perfect holiday event no matter what it costs. Those are exactly the kind of people that should not be involved with the planning or execution of your affair. If you cannot avoid their involvement, make sure you keep an eye on them. Happy Holidays!