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May 24, 2019

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Throwing a holiday gathering? Check out these party hacks

Holiday party illustration

The holidays can be a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends. But between shopping, baking, wrapping and running around, who has time? You do! Throwing a party can be fun and fairly stress-free. Here's how to make it happen, holiday style.

Fudge your food: Great chefs will tell you that making home-cooked meals for those you love is one of the best ways to show you care. But it's no secret that cooking is time-consuming. Catering can be key, but an entire spread might be beyond your budget. Consider catering part of your meal to save yourself much-needed shopping and cooking time. Have the caterer handle your main dishes and you take the sides, or vice versa. Other options include purchasing party platters, ready-made meals or cooking trays of food (lasagna, baked ziti, etc.) that freeze well, so all you have to do is throw it in the oven and serve.

Head start

Make a holiday party playlist now. Don’t wait for the rush to begin.

Potlucks rock: Leading up to the main event, your friends and family may ask, “What can I bring?” Don’t be afraid to take them up on the offer. When done well, potlucks can make for a great spread of food with a little something for everyone. Don’t forget to keep track of and share everyone’s assignment to avoid duplicates.

Keep them active

Give guests the options of board games and cards. Set them out ahead of time so folks can take them or leave them as they please.

Pre-party prep tips: No matter the occasion, the sooner you start planning and prepping, the better off you'll be. Besides cooking and cleaning, here are some things to do in advance:

• Find your accessories. Bottle openers, coasters, servers, platters, cake cutters, cheese knives, serving spoons, napkin rings, hot pads, etc.

• Line your garbage can with multiple bags so you’re not fumbling for new bags when you’d rather be mingling.

• If you're planning a sit-down meal, set the table the night before.

Sick of washing your tablecloths?

Purchase a roll of wrapping paper or brown paper at the craft store or post office. You can label your food and drinks right on the paper and leave markers for guests to scribble and write festive messages.

• Decide where guests will put coats, shoes and boots. Can you clean out your coat closet for a night?

• Stock your bathroom. There's nothing worse than having to make a toilet paper run in the middle of a toast.

• Don't make guests hunt for the trash. Make garbage and recycling bins easy to find and big enough for a crowd.

• Don't forget the ice.

• Set up a drink station. Pull out whatever glassware you plan to use and set it up for guests to easily find and serve themselves.

Don’t have a punch bowl?

Use your slow cooker for warm cider. Throw in spices for an aromatic treat.

Delegate: It’s your party—you should enjoy it, too. Give your spouse, kids and close friends jobs for the event. They’ll be happy to help. Tasks to dish out:

• Kids are great at taking coats or arranging shoes and boots.

• As guests arrive, have someone ask what they’d like to drink or point them to the bar.

• Put someone in charge of keeping an eye on the garbage so it doesn’t overflow.

• Clean as you go. Give someone the task of picking up plates, cups, bottles and cans throughout the night to keep things tidy.

Using plastic cups?

Keep a stash of holiday gift stickers nearby so attendees can label their drinks.

Three cheers for the bar: Here’s how to keep your holiday guests happy and hydrated:

1. Bartender: If you can afford it, hire a bartender. It’s a classy move that will keep your hands free.

2. Simplify: Make a special holiday punch or serve signature cocktails in pitchers, and then have a few bottles of wine and beer options on hand.

3. Skip the booze: Not every holiday party has to be boozy, especially if it’s family-friendly. Great alternative drink options include hot chocolates, coffees, teas, spritzers and seltzers with fresh and seasonal fruit.

4. Don’t forget the H2O: Bottled waters are great, or a dispenser with cups is fine, too.

Kids invited?

Designate a kids’ corner with easy crafts, coloring books, kid-friendly snacks or a holiday movie.

Throw a non-dinnertime party: Go easy on your time and your budget by hosting a mid-afternoon or late evening party, and let your guests know what's on the menu. Serving non-dinner options such as sweets, appetizers or finger foods can be easier to prepare and often less expensive. You can use that cash to beef up your bar or drink options.

Try January

If you just can’t imagine squeezing one more thing into the holiday season this year, don’t worry. Send a “save the date” soon and throw your party in January. It will give everyone something to look forward to once the chaos ends.

Don't rule out a holiday brunch: Think mimosa bar with a colorful row of juice options. Plus, booking your friends on a Sunday morning might be easier than trying to carve out a Saturday night in December.