merry ChristmasThe holidays are here; time for an endless stream of food, fun, family and friends. Only this year, it's your turn to host the big holiday party. That's right, after a few seasons of skirting by with a side dish and a bottle of glühwein, you're up for the main event. So, where to start? What do those symbols on your oven mean again?

Don't let the stress of hosting a large event keep you from doing it! With a bit (well, a lot) of preparation, and a touch of planning, you'll make hosting a holiday dinner party look like a piece of cake... or pie (yum).

The following is a guideline to running a smooth holiday dinner party. Again, this is only a guideline, take what you read and feel free to adjust it, so that it works for you! 

4 weeks out

Send out your invites; a social media event invite, or e-vite, is the modern (and currently most convenient) way to invite your friends and family to your party. It also gives you the opportunity to keep an at-a-glance look at your guest list. You can also use this online event as a space to interact with your guests. Other options are: the classic written invitation, email invitations and good 'ole fashioned word-of-mouth. The most important thing to remember is that you keep track of your guest list, in whatever way works best for you.

Remember to include the following information in your invite:

Time of your event, address, telephone number and whether or not your guests should bring something to share at dinner—and do yourself a favor, never hold a holiday dinner party before 15:00. We all know that a holiday dinner is really a "holiday late lunch,” but when you're able to sleep till a normal hour, wake up, and have time to relax with a cup of coffee and breakfast before you start cooking, your mind and body will be ready to take on the long day of festivities. You want to be the best host you can be, not a total zombie.

2 weeks out

Now is the time to set up your menu. If you're going for a traditional American meal, it's turkey for Thanksgiving and turkey or ham for Christmas. In Germany, duck is a common Christmas dinner menu item. Don't be afraid to bring yourself and your own traditions to the party! Once you've decided on what you're making, the first thing to do is let your guests know. This is especially important if you've asked guests to bring along a dish to share, so they don't accidentally make a duplicate dish.

Tip: If you don't know all of your guests that well, ask if anyone has a specific food allergy that you'll need to watch out for!

Optional Step - The Four-Box Purge-

We all accumulate extra items around the house throughout the year. (How many times have you actually used that cherry pitter since you bought it?) So before a big gathering, do a bit of a purge. You'll be surprised how many items you can pull out from the random drawers around the house. If you have kids, now is a great time to evaluate what toys they actually play with. When you have less clutter, you have less to clean, and having less to clean always comes in handy when throwing a big party. It's also a wonderful time of the year to donate your old and unused items.

1 Week Out

Now is the time to buy all of your pre-packaged items: your stuffing, your cranberry sauce and the crunchy onions for your green bean casserole. It's the perfect time, really; your store of choice should still have all of these items available, and you're not holding onto them for too long (since we all know how limited pantry space can be here in Germany).

Remove any unnecessary items from your fridge. All those leftover cartons you swore you would heat up for lunch—it’s time to take the plunge and dump them. No one likes wasting food, but you'll need all the room you can get for your fresh-food ingredients and future leftovers.

If you purchased a frozen turkey for the main dish, now is the time to think about thawing. The handy chart below will help you determine when to start safely defrosting in your fridge:

  • 10 pounds — 2 days plus 12 hours
  • 15 pounds — 3 days plus 18 hours
  • 20 pounds — 5 days
  • 25 pounds — 6 days plus 6 hours

2 Days Out

Send out a reminder to your guests about the party in the medium you originated the invitation. If it was a Facebook event, then add a post to the event page.

"Hello, Everyone! We are so excited to see everyone tomorrow at 4:00pm. Let us know if you have any questions or need directions!"

An event reminder is just as important for you as it is for your guests. They'll be reminded of their commitment, and you'll be able to double-check your guest list.

Now that your event reminders have been sent, get your fresh-ingredients list together and head to your market of choice. This is (hopefully) going to be your last trip to the market before the big day, so make your list and check it twice (or three, or four times)! 

Today is also your big clean-up day. Like most things, it's best to keep a list of all the thing you need to do, especially the little tasks we normally don't do as often (oven, windows, baseboards, etc.) Concentrate on the main areas your guests will be. If your playroom is on another level, consider setting aside a little play place where the younger kids can have fun with a little more supervision. And make sure there is a comfortable and quiet room for a new breast-feeding mom, or a tot that may need a little power nap.

The Day Before

Welcome to your main food prep day, and what should be the busiest day of your party preparations. Today is the day you do the tedious tasks like peeling, chopping, seeding, mixing—and almost anything else that ends with an "ing." After your veggies are chopped and your mixtures are made, organize them in a way that makes sense to you.

For example: Label various resealable storage bags (think Ziploc® bags) with their contents (Stuffing mix, turkey aromatics, sweet potatoes, etc.). By starting your cooking day with everything organized in a "grab-and-go" fashion, you reduce your cooking time and increase the time spent with your guests!

It's safe to say that the biggest inconvenience of cooking for a large party is the post-cooking/post-party clean up. After all the food prep work is done, do all your hand washing and run your dishwasher. This next step is important—UNLOAD your dishwasher the night before! You want a completely clean and accessible space so that all those cooking utensils, pots, pans, ceramics, and bits & bobs have an immediate place to go. You will thank your future self when you are in the thick of cooking.

After everything is done, you can sweep the floors and spot-mop the main areas of the floor where your guest will be; make sure the waste bins in the main bathrooms are empty, and check for rogue hair-balls if you have pets that shed. You'll want to put your head to the pillow knowing that you're waking up to as little extra work as possible.

Phew! You did it. Tomorrow is the big day. Try to go to bed early so you are well rested and raring to go.

The Day Of

Good morning! Are you ready for your low-stress holiday party?  First thing's first, sit down with your morning drink of choice (coffee, tea, mimosa...) and make a list detailing your tasks for the day, including what to cook and when. This list is your road map for the rest of the day. Keep it in an easily accessible place, and write down absolutely everything. For instance, if guests are set to arrive at 3:00pm, one task might say: 

"• 3:00pm - Guests begin to arrive, place the hors d'oeuvres"

This list is especially helpful if this is your first large dinner party, or if you tend to get a bit flustered when cooking multiple dishes.

You have your list, you have your prepped food, and you have an empty dishwasher. (I said you would thank your future self). Now, the only thing left to do is cook (and ENJOY) your amazing meal with your friends and family. Yes, it really is that "simple."

Extra Tip: When your guests arrive, the good ones will ask if you need help. If you do need help, LET them help. Even if it's something as simple as opening the wine or taking the side dishes to the table. This may seem like one of those "Duh!" tips, but sometimes when you're in the final stages of cooking, knowing that you're friends are here to help will truly make the final touches go more smoothly.

The Day After

Be honest, how late did you sleep in today? Before you start the day, sit down, have a cup of coffee (or another mimosa), and reflect on how yesterday went. Was it a complete success or a day you'll look back on and laugh at? Remember, whatever happened, the most important thing is to be proud of yourself. Really. Holiday parties are not easy, and you pulled it off! And now you have your own do's-and-don'ts of throwing your next holiday party... but not before your round of side dishes and glühwein. Happy Holidays everyone!