Texas Living

How to Prepare for Holiday Guests

By Jillian Kring 12.14.22

Make room at your “inn” for extra in-laws, kids’ plus-ones, and any other expected or surprise guests this season. These welcoming tips will remove stress and put the “ho-ho-ho” back in hosting.

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

The Food

Different Diets: Many of us have long-standing holiday traditions, particularly around food. That’s great, but it’s important to be well acquainted with your guests’ dietary needs to ensure that there are plenty of options for them to enjoy. This includes appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, and dessert. If guests are staying with you, make sure that includes breakfast, lunch, and snacks as well. Many people are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, and it’s great to be acquainted with the basics.

Traditional Treats: It’s a thoughtful touch to ask guests if they have any festive, sentimental treats that you can incorporate into the holiday meal — or that they’d like to bring. It’s a wonderful way to make someone feel welcome at your family holiday.

World Cultures: An array of guests will likely have an array of cultural or traditional holiday practices and recipes. Make it a potluck and encourage everyone to bring their own quintessential holiday dish!

The Dining

Holiday Buffet: If your guest list is growing, free up dinner by making it a buffet. This allows guests to roam freely and pick comfortable spots to mingle. The formality of a seated dinner is nice but can be a bit intimidating for holiday guests who are meeting many people for the first time. If you love the tradition of a large, seated meal, buffet- style appetizers and beverages at the start of the night are a great way to settle in and break the ice before the main course.

Outdoor Dining: One advantage to our temperate climate is year-round outdoor dining. December temperatures average in the 60s. That’s just cool enough to enjoy dinner outdoors in a warm sweater with a nice, hot apple cider. Set out blankets to make dinner extra cozy and consider lighting an outdoor fire. Rustic table decor like pine branches, wood chargers, hanging lanterns, and candlesticks complete the wintry outdoor aesthetic.

Sharing the Joy — and the Chores: Make sure even you, the host, get to enjoy the day! Baking in batches and prepping things like casseroles ahead of the holiday is great for efficiency. And try to remember, if everyone in the family contributes to making the holiday special, it will be much more enjoyable for everyone, and you won’t get burnt out in the process.

The Atmosphere

Cozy Conversation: Creating a laid-back atmosphere with informal and cozy conversation nooks can make even the smallest home feel more spacious and vibrant. When the guest list surpasses your table capacity, create cozy spots for guests to gather and chat. This gathering style is always welcoming, as it nurtures conversation and comfort. Blankets, floor pillows, candles, a roaring fire, and eggnog are the perfect accompaniments to this party.

Designated Spots: Holiday parties and dinners can get exciting and chaotic. Adding a bit of organization to your home and party can go a long way. Designate areas for specific items: Clear space under the tree for gifts, choose a “cloak room,” make food easy to reach, and set up a warm drink station that includes mugs, tea, cider, hot chocolate, or eggnog. This gives the party a sense of organization and direction.

Comfy Guest Room: Prepare for overnight guests by stocking up on toothpaste and other toiletries, extra warm blankets, and any personal touches that will make them feel at home (maybe a stuffed animal for kids to cuddle or a favorite book for adults).

The Activities

Take the Guesswork Out of Gifting: Share guest lists and gift-giving guidelines with new guests. This may feel a bit uncomfortable to openly address, but it is better to keep everyone informed so that nobody feels surprised, uncomfortable, or left out. It’s also thoughtful to ask your guests about their favorite holiday traditions and discuss how those traditions might be incorporated into your celebrations.

Plan Out the Party: Strict scheduling is usually unneeded and even unhelpful during the holidays. Adaptability is important, but setting expectations is always a good idea. It’s great if guests know roughly what to expect so they can make their own plans. For example, a Christmas Eve dinner may look something like this:

  • Greet guests with hot drinks.
  • Enjoy a holiday meal.
  • Open family gifts.
  • Decorate cookies for Santa.
  • Read “The Night Before Christmas” aloud.
  • Kids change into Christmas pajamas and wind down with a movie.
  • Adults socialize.

The Kids

Different stages of life provide different challenges, and when families gather, many different ages may be present. It’s thoughtful and comforting to your guests if they feel considered in your planning. Here are a few ideas to keep everyone comfortable and happy:

  • 0-24 months: Set up a quiet space for new parents to feed the baby, change diapers, or put them down for a nap away from the commotion.
  • 2-4 years: Toddlerhood is full of exploration. Baby- and toddler-proof as much as possible! Magic ink markers, coloring with water, and play dough make for safe, mess-free fun.
  • 5-11 years: Small goody bags filled with puzzles, fidget toys, coloring books, crafts, or games will bring kids into the holiday spirit. Decorating cookies and assembling gingerbread houses are always wins.
  • 12-teenagers: Kids in this age range are most likely to ask for the Wi-Fi password. Kid-friendly streaming profiles and video games may be in order! Try having all the kids gather in their holiday pajamas with caramel popcorn, hot chocolate, cookies, and a movie. It’s hard for anyone to pass up hot chocolate and “Home Alone.”

While you’re getting your home ready for guests, keep in mind these tips to stay safe while decorating for the holidays.

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