Hosting a memorable holiday gathering is the goal of many. Perfectly cooked meals, magazine-worthy decorations, and happy guests full of laughter and smiles is every host's dream. Trying to make that dream become a reality can be a thing of nightmares. Keeping a few tips in mind, you can avoid much-feared catastrophe and disappointment.


Invite Only Whom You Truly Want

There is always one person who causes some type of trouble, be it the uncle who has one too many drinks, or the cousin who seemingly cannot avoid sensitive subjects. You might promise yourself never to invite them again. Yet, year after year, even though you know they will cause the same uproar, you mail the obligatory invitation. Consider avoiding the drama this year by leaving them out. While this might seem a bit heartless, chances are if you are sick of their antics, others are, too. Save yourself and your guests the difficulty by cutting your list to only those guests who truly enjoy being around one another. Holiday dinners are not corporate affairs where you simply must invite people you do not like spending your precious time with. They are gatherings of kindred folk, meant only for enjoyment.


If you feel there is no way to avoid inviting the problem person, consider hosting more than one event. You can invite groups who get along well, while avoiding placing people who cannot seem to get along together. This tactic is not always possible, but when the possibility of hosting multiple parties to avoid conflict is available, it works fabulously.


Keep the Menu Simple

By the middle of October, both magazines and television alike begin publishing glamorous menus and recipes fit for kings. Unfortunately, most do not have the staff of a king, so concocting luscious spreads may be highly impractical. Not to worry--even simple menus can be delicious and grand.

Keeping your menu simple by sticking to one or two proteins, a handful of side dishes, bread, and one or two dessert choices makes cooking for a crowd doable. You might even have time to throw together an appetizer and a cocktail. By concentrating on just a few items, not only will time management be easier, but you will also be able to pay close attention to each item, making sure each is superb. If you expand your menu to cover too many items, you will likely run out of time, causing you to rush dishes, which would have otherwise been perfect. Even very simple dishes can taste heavenly when prepared correctly.

The holidays are not the best time to try a new, fancy recipe. Nothing would be worse than having the star of your show flop; burned brûlées, fallen soufflés, or scorched duck à l'orange will not impress anyone. Save new or difficult dishes for a day when you have time to fail. For the holidays, try to pick tried and true recipes you know will be a hit. Sticking to what you know will not only save time and money, but your well-prepared dishes will showcase your kitchen skills.


Decorating Does Not Have To Break the Bank

Tables dressed in gold and silver, trees trimmed with designer decorations, and mantles holding crystal vases full of colorful flowers all look pretty. However, you can spend a fortune trying to make your home look like those on magazine covers. Some department stores have discounted items following the holiday season, but if you try to shop before or during the holidays, you will pay much more for the same items. Since there may be no choice than to shop before the markdowns, consider using what is available to you free, and/or shopping dollar stores.

For many, fall décor is as simple to find as taking a walk. Pinecones, pretty leaves, pine boughs, and even some fresh fruit may be available just outside your door. Of course, you will want to ensure these items are really yours to take, but even if you do not have your own trees, you may be able to find some of these items free. Some parks will not mind you picking up leaves or pinecones. You might also ask a neighbor for a bit of natural décor from their yard. Sometimes, people are more than willing to give away bits of nature as they do their fall cleanups. Offering a helping hand might sweeten the pot for them, too. If these types of items are not available free, farmers markets often offer wreaths, gourds, pumpkins, and other types of items easily used for decorating.

Dollar stores are another great place to find holiday décor. You are not likely find good china or crystal, but most discount stores have some great options, especially if you would like to be able to dispose of them after your party, or do not want to worry about items being broken.  Plastic mimicking crystal, disposable tablecloths with cute holiday designs, tree decorations for under a dollar each, and even candleholders or centerpieces are all readily available at affordable prices. With a little ingenuity, you can use other inexpensive items to decorate: wreathes from crepe paper, name cards from colored paper, luminaries from gift bags or plastic pumpkins (being careful to use flameless tea lights)--the possibilities are endless.


Plan, Plan, Plan

Some people can wing their way into a perfect gathering. Most unplanned holiday gatherings come with a guest no one wants at their party: stress. Failure to plan is also a surefire way to break your budget. By beginning to strategize as early as possible, you can save time, effort, and money.


Ask yourself:

.   How much can you afford to spend?

.   How many guests can you comfortably accommodate?

.   How much time will you have to prepare?

.   Will anyone assist you with preparation or cleanup?

.   Will guests be traveling to attend?

.   Will anyone need a place to stay?

.   How soon, and by what method, will you send invitations?


Knowing the answers to these questions will put you on the right track to a successful party. Another useful tool is to create a social media page, such as on Facebook, to invite and remind your guests, and with which to receive instant RSVPs. This way, you can announce the menu and any changed plans, and all guest will know who is attending.


Make a backup plan

No party happens without a glitch. This is especially true if you plan your party for an outdoor space. Where will you go if it rains? What do we do if the neighbor's dog barks incessantly? You need answers to these questions. You also need to know what you will do if your oven stops working or the turkey burns. What will you do if the person bringing the potatoes cancels at the last minute?  So many things can go wrong, but if you plan, you will likely be okay.


Ask For Help

Just because you decide to host a party does not mean you are responsible for doing all the work. It is quite acceptable to ask guests to bring a dish or a drink. If you are hosting a large group, you might even assemble teams: one to bring food and one to help with cleanup, perhaps.  Your gathering should be enjoyable for you, too. Remember, the most successful people are those who can delegate and ask for help.


There is no party like one with happy guests and a happy host, but you do not need to be professional to host the part of your dreams. With some careful planning, your holiday gathering can be successful and memorable for all involved. Moreover, your nightmare scenarios can become dreamscapes fit for the photo album.