Cover Stories

Making the Holiday Gathering Easier

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you’re not ready to completely hand over holiday hosting duties to your adult kids but feel like doing it all is nearly doing you in, you have options to make the gathering easier. Planning should be your first step.

“I’m a proponent of making a list for a gathering,” said Sonja Vigneux, owner of Errand Angels in Liverpool. “Purchase ahead of time what you can so it’s not last-minute.”

Knowing what you will need to buy and what you have on hand will make hosting easier. Cooking in advance can also help, such as making a few dishes or sides and freezing them so they only need reheating.

It’s also OK to delegate. Vigneux suggested asking attendees to each bring a dish.

“You could hire services to do the shopping for you,” she added. “Even if you order things ahead, have someone pick it up for you.”

Planning and cooking a full, sit-down dinner—even with help—can result in a lot of work and clean-up efforts. Instead, you could plan a brunch with juice, coffee, and fancy pastries from a bakery. Or pick up sub sandwich platters and chips to lay out a casual lunch. Or soups and fancy breads and crackers.

Disposable place settings in holiday colors and prints can offer a festive touch without requiring hours of clean-up.

It’s OK to have some or all of the food catered. Your adult children will likely have their own traditional meal at their homes.

It’s fine to have something more casual, with an open house format. Your adult children and grandchildren can feel free to come and go between a two-hour span, for example and help themselves to an appetizer and dessert buffet and visit a while. The open house format limits contact among any family members who do not get along well, since they can leave without making a big scene by leaving in the middle of dinner. It also helps families with young children who need to visit two sets of parents, stepfamilies and four sets of grandparents within a short holiday timeframe.

Don’t feel like you need to have a big to-do for entertainment.

“Put maybe one or two people in charge of entertainment that doesn’t include football,” said Linda Ruckdeschel, owner of The Bridal Connection, an event planning business in Syracuse. “Whether putting a puzzle together or playing a simple board game, smaller kids would love to have something to do.”

You could also lay butcher paper and markers on a low table for the kids. Play a family-friendly holiday movie nearby to keep the little ones busy so grown-ups can visit. Assign a teenaged grandchild to oversee the tots so their parents get some time off.

It can also help to designate someone to keep an eye on frail elders in the group to make sure they’re included in conversation, shielded from overly exuberant youngsters and provided with what they want to eat and drink. Navigating a large, boisterous crowd can be intimidating. The designated person should be ready to take the senior home when they’re ready to go.

Don’t overdo it while decorating. If ladders are too tough to navigate safely, enlist someone else to outline the roof with lights. Or you could brighten your home with lights in the windows. Light nets are easier to toss over a small shrub than winding lights around the boughs.

“Consider buying a simple wreath for the front door with some decorative things they put on it or buy it premade,” Ruckdeschel said. “Go with garland over a mantle with a couple festive candles or a nativity scene. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive.

“Enlist the grandkids to help a day or two after Thanksgiving and offer some treats. They can have a little camaraderie. It might be a way to establish a tradition. There can be cultural influences they may not understand. It enhances family ties. It gives them something to take forward into their adult years they can remember. Kids can string lights and put things outside.”

Instead of going all-out decorating, you could also rent a facility. A church fellowship hall, lodge, enclosed park facility or hotel or restaurant meeting space can make your gathering easier as it’s already decked out. Plus, the space is set up for hosting groups and will be simpler to clean up.