The holidays are approaching quickly. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Festivus, Kwanzaa… there are plenty of reasons to celebrate in the coming months. To make those celebrations actually feel like celebrations, you need to up the importance of enjoying them and take down the stress level. We know that can be easier said than done, which is why we talked with event and party experts to find you the best and most effective ways to cut down on that party planning stress.

Keep a “Not To Do” List

Time is a valuable commodity during the busy holiday season, so spend it wisely. “Vow not to do anything you hate this holiday season. Hate baking? That’s what bakeries are for! Hate stringing lights on the tree? Have a family member do it or pay a neighborhood teen to do it for you. Don’t get stuck doing things you hate. Instead focus on the things you enjoy doing.” Sharon McRill, the Betty Brigade

Plan Ahead and Shop Early

“Last minute planning will always cost you more and contribute to your stress. You can find great deals if you give yourself enough time. In addition, shop for items that can be re-used beyond this one function. Look for sales on various beverages: the holidays can provide a lot of bargains on wines, champagnes, beer, etc.” – Greg Jenkins, Bravo Productions

Teri Gault of recommends that “during the holidays, champagne deals abound in supermarkets, often with a better discount when you buy 6. To cut costs even more without compromise, opt for Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine. Prosecco on sale for $15 will rival a $50 bottle of French Champange. For example, I serve La Marca Prosecco to my guests who like Veuve Cliquot.”

Money, Money, Money

An oft quoted contributor to holiday stress is the strain it can put on your wallet. Helen Holden of Counting Candles says that in order to reduce stress and stay on track hosts should “budget realistically and include a contingency amount. Get a couple quotes for each item and use the higher end of the range in your budget. Always include 10% for unplanned expenses.”

Communication is Key

For parties ranging from casual to formal, sending an invitation that includes all relevant details is a must. Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner says, “Be sure that guests know everything they need to know. Give them an arrival and end time, the address and directions, a phone number in case they get lost, an idea of the type of food being served especially if it’s only light bites, and let them know how formal or informal the affair is and whether or not it’s ok to bring gifts, so that they can be adequately prepared.”

Greg Jenkins of Bravo Productions recommends that hosts “Send out email invites for your party and provide all of the essential details in one message. The more specific, the less likely you as the host will receive numerous responses requesting more information — and especially at the last minute.”

The Main Dish

“When a hostess decides to prepare their own food for a party, they usually over-buy and underestimate the time it takes to prep, cook, and serve the food.” Evelyn Rogers, an experienced caterer with A Taste of Honey, suggests hosts have an open house with room temperature foods ready to go when people arrive. “A smoked ham is perfect, you don’t have to worry about the internal temperature and it’s okay to serve warm. You can take it out of the oven and put right onto a platter and serve with a selection of mustards and a beautiful basket of assorted breads. Scalloped potatoes is another dish that can be set up a day early in an ovenproof white porcelain dish and taken out of the oven and put onto a wrought iron stand. Pick up a pre-washed package of mixed greens, pour into a pretty bowl, sprinkle with some shredded carrots, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds. Serve a selection of dressings in pretty carafes with mini chalkboard to identify the choices. Add a tray with a big wedge of cheese with chunks cut off, garnish with dried fruits and nuts. Shrimp cocktail is always a favorite, can be made ahead in the display dish ready to unwrap and place on table. Use a cutting board to display an assortment of Italian meats, add some olives and baby mozzarella balls; this can also be pre-set and unwrapped just before your guests arrive.”

Drink Up!

For many seasonal events, libations are a big part of the celebration. Judge your crowd (wine drinkers? beer? cocktails?) but Tracy Memoli of Suite & Savory recommends always having a signature cocktail. “It’s always a great idea to have a signature cocktail for your party or event.” Signature cocktails reduce the stress of hosting a full bar or having to provide a ton of mixers. Additionally, they can usually be made ahead of time.

Ted Kilgore, 17-year veteran of the bar and spirits industry and head mixologist for Make It Your Own, says signature cocktails can also help personalize your party. “Homemade infusions offer unique flavors not seen in stores and a personalized, handcrafted touch, setting your party apart from all the rest. What’s better, they are so easy to make at home – simply add the flavor element of your choice to a neutral spirit, such as Everclear, and allow it to soak in the alcohol in order to extract the flavor. Virtually any flavor you love and associate with the holidays can work in an infusion – from cranberries and chocolate to pumpkin and apple pie – which can be enjoyed on its own or in a unique, top-notch cocktail crafted right in your kitchen.” We especially love this recipe for Chai Spiced Wine.

Don’t Drape ’til You Drop

“Don’t feel like you have to go above and beyond when it comes to decorations for the holiday party. Chances are, you already have some festive things around the house that will work nicely. Feel free to keep it simple with rented festive tablecloths and coordinating napkins, but don’t feel like you need to turn your house upside down to decorate.  If, on the other hand, decorating is your thing, consider hiring a professional florist or party company to help to accomplish the job without the long hours or stress.” – Aviva Samuels, Kiss the Planner

Say “Yes!” to Help

Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself! Even if you are hosting a formal event instead of a potluck, there are opportunities where people would be happy to contribute. “Whether it’s the people who live in your household or close family or friends, don’t be afraid to ask for help or to take them up on their offer to help.  Guests often feel thankful for having you invite them over and for taking time out of your busy holiday season to host a party for them. It’s okay to say yes if you need a little assistance throughout the party, even if it just opening up another bottle of wine or putting an appetizer out. Be sure to allow them to feel needed rather than stressing yourself out when they prefer to be helpful.” – Aviva Samuels, Kiss the Planner

Relax and Have Fun

Aviva also reminds hosts that “it’s okay to want to be a good host and to make guests feel comfortable, but be sure to take some time to relax and mingle as well.” By planning ahead, you should be able to spend more time enjoying your guest’s company and less time trying to manage the party.

Take the first step in stress-free planning with designer digital invitations and seamless RSVP tracking here.


header image by Jenna Bechtholt Photography