Stress-Reducing Secret No. 5: Put the Party Before Perfection

I’ve hosted countless holiday fests. Many of those were less fun than they could have been for one simple reason: I had a vision that “good” hostesses always had everything done in advance, so when the guests arrived everything would be calm, everyone could sit down to a conversation-rich happy hour, and then a perfect meal would appear from the kitchen.

In fact, gatherings at my house were far from this ideal. The food was never done in advance, much less when dinner was supposed to happen. They would come together in a frenzied rush about an hour after the appointed time. The conversation was intermittent and hurried, kids were underfoot, guests were coming and going—and I was always in the middle of the mess trying to transform the cacophony into a symphony. And it was very stressful.

My sister-in-law first gave me the idea for a different kind of holiday feast, a “community-cooking” model that wouldn’t fight the natural bedlam but would put it to good advantage. So the next time a holiday gathering rolled around, I assigned everyone a dish and said, “Bring your ingredients and join me in the kitchen. You’re responsible for your dish from its start to its arrival on the table.”

It took a while for everyone to get accustomed to community cooking rather than Mary cooking while everyone else partied and waited anxiously and stressfully for dinner. It also took me a while (but not that long) for me to let go of the June Cleaver party hostess standard. Interestingly, our holiday feasts are even more crazy now, with everyone cooking together. But they are a lot more fun—and a lot less stressful!

Read more in the Stress Less Holiday Series:

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