Photo: Shutterstock / Kamil Macniak
If you spend more time stressing out during your holiday soiree than enjoying time with your guests, it’s time to take a different approach to party planning. Believe it or not, there is an easy way to go about executing your holiday party to-do list for all your hosting duties—from meal prep to decorating to cleanup time—and we’ve summed it up for you in an easy-to-follow list of do’s and don’ts.
1. DO plan a budget. Yes, even small, intimate get-togethers need a budget. This will allow you to consciously spend what your finances allow instead of going overboard.
2. DON’T feel bad about asking guests to bring a dish. More often than not, guests don’t mind bringing their favorite holiday dish for others to enjoy—especially since they don’t have the pressure of hosting the party themselves.
3. DO choose a holiday theme. Break out the ugly Christmas sweaters. Decorate everything in red and green. No matter what theme you decide to choose, go all out!
4. DON’T forget to play music. The only thing worse than forced small talk is awkward silence. Always keep background music on, whether it’s a holiday playlist on your iPod or a Christmas station on Pandora.
5. DO get a headcount. Make it a point that guests RSVP by a certain date. An estimated headcount lets you know how much room, food and other essential elements you’ll need to run a smooth gathering.
6. DON’T underestimate a planned cooking schedule. Having more dishes to prepare than kitchen appliances to cook them with is the norm for a lot of hosts. Take a tip from seasoned cooks, and pop each dish in at a planned time so it will be hot and ready to serve.
7. DO display store-bought and handmade decor. While some holiday decorations are hard to replicate, putting out DIY decor will give the party a personal touch. Plus, it’ll give the kids something to do while you get ready for the big day.
8. DON’T set out place cards. Assigned seating can be convenient, but it limits conversations—and the chance for new and old friends to connect.
9. DO serve dinner buffet-style. Guests will be able to help themselves to seconds (and thirds), and you won’t need to worry about playing waitress: It’s a win-win.
10. DON’T attempt to do all the meal prep yourself. Even though you should complete whatever meal prepping can be done in advance, recruit someone to help with the behind-the-scenes cooking in the kitchen. ‘Tis the season for helping one another, after all!
11. DO organize a handful of games to play. Whether it’s a Christmas twist on a classic like Pictionary, or a few different board games that you leave out for guests, always have some games at the ready to keep people entertained.
12. DON’T make a new recipe the day of the party. This isn’t the time to try that new recipe you pinned on Pinterest. There’s simply no time for trial and error when it comes to holiday hosting.
13. DO make a grocery store run at least a week beforehand. Getting your grocery shopping done early means you’ll be able to cook, bake, decorate and set up ahead of time. It also gives you a little wiggle room if you forget anything.
14. DON’T wait to clean your home until the day before. Please. Just don’t do it.
15. DO set up a self-serve bar area. If you don’t have a bar in your home, create a makeshift one. Leave out various glasses, spirits and premade Christmas cocktails and mocktails so everyone can enjoy and refill as they wish.
16. DON’T pass up the opportunity to make festive food. Speaking of Christmas-themed drinks, be sure to include festive items on your party’s menu, like guacamole appetizers that look like Christmas trees.
17. DO organize a holiday cookie exchange. It’s less expensive and much simpler than a gift exchange. And guests will be excited to show off their very own holiday cookie recipes.
18. DON’T allow guests to leave without leftovers. Leave out disposable containers and bags so family and friends can grab and go on their way—assuming you have enough left over to share.
19. DO offer party keepsakes to thank guests for coming. Individually wrapped edible ornaments are an easy and delicious way to show loved ones you’re glad they came.
20. DON’T drive yourself crazy trying to make the party perfect. Remember to enjoy yourself, be in the moment and have fun.
Up Next: Learn how to host an unforgettable Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve
1 / 80Taste of Home
Baked Ham with Pineapple
I first learned the technique for cooking pineapple ham for a themed dinner my husband and I hosted. Since it is widely known as the symbol of hospitality, pineapple was the star ingredient on our menu and on this lovely baked ham. —JoAnn Fox, Johnson City, Tennessee Go to Recipe
Peppery Roast Beef
With its spicy coating and creamy horseradish sauce, this tender roast is sure to be the star of any meal, whether it’s a sit-down dinner or serve-yourself potluck.—Maureen Brand, Somers, IowaGo to Recipe End the meal with these impressive Christmas dessert ideas.
Green Bean Bundles
I found this recipe in a rural newspaper years ago and have made it often. The bean bundles are excellent with chicken or beef. Sometimes I’ll arrange them around a mound of wild rice to make an appetizing side dish. —Virginia Stadler, Nokesville, VirginiaGo to Recipe
Duck with Orange Hazelnut Stuffing
For more than half a century, this elegant entree has graced my family’s holiday table. The zesty stuffing with its nice nutty crunch complements the slices of moist duck, while the hint of orange in the gravy sets it apart.Go to RecipeTaste of Home
Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Vegetables
I appreciate this recipe because it includes a side dish of roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and carrots, giving me one less dish to think about!
—Janet Tucker, Bellevue, OhioGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Pretty Duchess Potatoes
Comfort-food flavor comes in attractive packages that are just the right size! This recipe is a favorite for Christmas dinners or as part of a Thanksgiving menu. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
Roasted Sage Turkey with Vegetable Gravy
There’s no prep like home-style when roasting the big bird. Instead of sage stuffing with turkey, fill this bird with fresh sage and thyme sprigs for the same delicious flavors. —Beth Jacobson, Milwaukee, WisconsinGo to Recipe Don’t miss the best Christmas recipes from every state.
Pomegranate-Hazelnut Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I converted many people to Brussels sprouts with this recipe, and it has since become my most requested dish. The richness of the hazelnuts and the sweetness of pomegranate and orange elevate the sprouts to a new level. —Melanie Stevenson, Reading, PennsylvaniaGo to Recipe
Spiral Ham with Cranberry Glaze
The sweet, tangy glaze that complements this ham looks so pretty, and the cranberry flavor pairs well with the meat. It’s been a tradition in my home for as long as I can remember. —Pattie Prescott, Manchester, New HampshireGo to Recipe
Hasselback Butternut Squash
Squash makes the perfect holiday side dish, especially when it’s Hasselback butternut squash! The thin slits cut into each half allow the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar and ground chipotle mixture to get in every single nook and cranny. This is one side that everyone at your holiday table will be excited to gobble up! —Colleen Delawder, Herndon, VirginiaGo to Recipe
Pomegranate Short Ribs
I like drizzling the short rib’s pomegranate molasses sauce on top of simple roasted vegetables. It’s a bit tangy and a bit sweet, and adds a nice depth of flavor to sweet and savory dishes alike. Pomegranate molasses can be found in Whole Foods, in specialty food stores or online. —Shannon Sarna, South Orange, New JerseyGo to Recipe
Elegant Green Beans
Mushrooms and water chestnuts give new life to ordinary green bean casserole. Every time I make it for friends, I’m asked to share the recipe. —Linda Poe, Sandstone, MinnesotaGo to Recipe
Even during the holidays, my husband wouldn’t eat turkey…until I tried this recipe. Now, he loves it! The sweet and spicy turkey glaze gives the bird a wonderful flavor. —Mary Smolka, Spring Grove, IllinoisGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Crown Roast with Apricot Dressing
I have been making crown roasts for many years but was only satisfied with the results when I combined a few recipes to come up with this guest-pleasing version. It’s beautifully roasted with an apricot glaze and a nicely browned stuffing. —Isabell Cooper, Cambridge, Nova ScotiaGo to Recipe
Eggnog Sweet Potato Bake
I love eggnog so I am always looking for new ways to use it. When I added it to mashed sweet potatoes I knew I had a winner. You can make this the night before and refrigerate it unbaked; the next day, let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.—Katie Wollgast, Florissant, MissouriGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Slow-Cooker Lamb Chops
These slow cooker lamb chops are, without a doubt, the lamb dish we like best. I usually simmer them on low for hours. The aroma is irresistible, and they come out so tender, they practically melt in your mouth! —Sandy McKenzie, Braham, MinnesotaGo to Recipe
Juicy Herb-Roasted Turkey
Add wonderful flavor to your big dinner with this juicy herb-roasted turkey. Make sure you use the drippings for a delicious gravy! —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Greendale, WisconsinGo to Recipe
Roasted Apple Salad with Spicy Maple-Cider Vinaigrette
We bought loads of apples and needed to use them. To help the flavors come alive, I roasted the apples and tossed them with a sweet dressing. —Janice Elder, Charlotte, North CarolinaGo to Recipe
Standing Rib Roast
Want to learn how to cook rib roast? This standing rib roast recipe is practically foolproof. Treat your family to tender slices of standing rib roast or use the seasoning blend on a different beef roast for a hearty, delicious main dish. I love to prepare this recipe for special occasions. —Lucy Meyring, Walden, ColoradoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Bacon and Broccoli Salad
You’ll want to serve this family-friendly broccoli salad with bacon year-round. The broccoli gets a big-time flavor boost from bacon, toasted pecans, dried berries and a mayo dressing. —Cindi Read, Hendersonville, TennesseeGo to Recipe
Baked Ham with Honey-Chipotle Glaze
Your Easter celebration will be so simple to orchestrate with this sweet, smoky ham recipe at your fingertips. It feeds a crowd and the baked ham glaze tastes fantastic. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
Granny’s Apple Scalloped Potatoes
This scalloped potatoes with apples dish is delicious with breaded baked pork chops, which you could cook at the same time in another cast-iron pan. We are retired and it’s just the two of us, but you could easily double the recipe. —Shirley Rickis, The Villages, FloridaGo to Recipe
Holiday Herb-Cheese Rolls
These low-fat hot rolls are flavored with garlic, dill and cheese—they’re yummy even without butter! Or stuff with your favorite fixings for mini sandwiches.
—NANCY BOYD, MIDLOTHIAN, VIRGINIAGo to RecipeTaste of Home
California Roast Lamb
This recipe is very easy to make and requires little attention. It goes well with any rice dish, and it’s perfect for just about any occasion.Go to Recipe
Butternut Squash Custard
My husband first tasted this comforting casserole more than 10 years ago when he was still my fiance. Having enjoyed it so much, he said I needed to offer it at every Thanksgiving dinner. I was happy to oblige!—Maura Calusdian, Londonderry, New HampshireGo to Recipe
Apple & Herb Roasted Turkey
My daughter loves to help me make this moist apple turkey. Her job is to hand Mommy the ingredients—if she doesn’t eat them first! —Kimberly Jackson, Gay, GeorgiaGo to Recipe
Four-Cheese Sausage Rigatoni
To make this twist on traditional baked pasta, we start with creamy goat cheese and build from there with mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheese. —Teresa Ralston, New Albany, OhioGo to Recipe
Herb-Crusted Prime Rib
Prime rib always makes an impression on a holiday dinner table. But it’s actually easy to prepare. This roast is wonderfully flavored with a prime rib rub featuring lots of fresh herbs. —Jennifer Dennis, Alhambra, CaliforniaGo to Recipe Learn how to cook prime rib with this step-by-step guide from our Test Kitchen.
Honey-Mustard Brussels Sprouts Salad
Even if you dislike Brussels sprouts salad, you will love this dish. The dressing is truly tasty, and it pairs so nicely with the apples, grapes and walnuts. You can also add whatever cheese, nuts or fruit you prefer. —Sheila Sturrock, Coldwater, OntarioGo to Recipe
Mediterranean Rack of Lamb
It’s elegant. It’s special. And it will have your guests thinking you went all out. They don’t have to know how simple it is. —Susan Nilsson, Sterling, VirginiaGo to Recipe
Traditional Holiday Stuffing
Sausage and sage add a gourmet taste to this stuffing. It’s perfect for large family gatherings, but you can also save some for later. —Lorraine Brauckhoff, Zolfo Springs, FloridaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Holiday Baked Ham
Nothing is better at the holidays than a delicious ham baking in the oven. The preserves mixture will be sure to please all of your guests.—American Dairy Assoc, Stacy Duffy, Chicago, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Grandma’s Rosemary Dinner Rolls
My grandma (I called her Baba) made these in her coal oven. How she regulated the temperature is beyond me! She always made extra rolls for the neighbors to bake in their own ovens. At lunchtime, my mom and aunts delivered the formed rolls. —Charlotte Hendershot, Hudson, PennsylvaniaGo to Recipe
Warm Tasty Greens with Garlic
My farm box had too many greens, so I had to use them up. This tasty idea uses kale, tomatoes and garlic in a dish that quickly disappears. —Martha Neth, Aurora, ColoradoGo to Recipe
Sweet Potato & Chipotle Casserole
Sweet potato marshmallow casserole is old-school. My sweet potatoes with a streusel topping is a blockbuster. Everyone who tries it gives it two thumbs up. —Diana Malach, Vancouver, WashingtonGo to Recipe
Holiday Green Bean Casserole
Try this green bean casserole and you’ll never go back to the old stuff. — Laura Fall-Sutton, Buhl, IdahoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Cranberry-Orange Roast Ducklings
I came up with this recipe few years ago. The first time I served it, there wasn’t a speck of food left on the platter and I knew I had a winning recipe.
—Gloria Warczak, Cedarburg, WisconsinGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Stilton, Bacon & Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Bold, savory flavor from bacon, Stilton cheese and fresh garlic take mashed potatoes to a whole new level. This side dish is so rich and satisfying, it could be eaten as an entree! —Jamie Brown-Miller, Napa, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Creamed Spinach with Parmesan
Cooked spinach makes a perfect accompaniment to many entrees, especially salmon.—Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
Seafood-Stuffed Salmon Fillets
You could get stuffed salmon from a big-box store, but my fillets are loaded with flavor from crab, cream cheese and savory herbs. We love them. —Mary Cokenour, Monticello, UtahGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Christmas White Chili
Dreaming of a white Christmas? Try this chili decked with red and green veggies! —Catherine Nickelson, Scandia, MinnesotaGo to Recipe
Grilled Cauliflower Wedges
This side is incredibly easy, yet is packed with flavor and looks like a dish from a five-star restaurant. The grill leaves the cauliflower cooked but crisp, and the red pepper flakes add bite. —Carmel Hall, San Francisco, CaliforniaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Crunchy Spinach Casserole
Our holidays would not be the same without this family tradition. My mother made it every Thanksgiving when I was growing up; now I make it every Christmas as well, and my children and grandchildren absolutely love it! We triple the recipe because the kids can’t get enough. —Sharon Scaletta, Johnstown, PennsylvaniaGo to Recipe
Holiday Crown Pork Roast
Crown roast makes a regal Christmas dinner. Flavored with rosemary, sage and thyme, it’s elegant and simple, a real blessing during the hectic holidays. —Lisa Speer, Palm Beach, FloridaGo to Recipe
Pomegranate-Glazed Green Beans
Green beans are a popular vegetable in our house. They get a nice zing from this slightly tangy glaze featuring fruit juices, vinegar, maple syrup and seasonings.—Geraldine Saucier, Albuquerque, New MexicoGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Pork Tenderloins with Wild Rice
Apricots say sweet things to earthy herbs in this gravy-licious meal. Remember this recipe—it’s worthy of a weekend celebration. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
White Seafood Lasagna
We make lasagna with shrimp and scallops as part of the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. Every bite delivers a tasty “jewel” from the sea. —Joe Colamonico, North Charleston, South CarolinaGo to Recipe Also make sure to check out these 80 Italian Christmas Dinner Foods.Taste of Home
Broccoli with Garlic, Bacon & Parmesan
My approach to this broccoli is to cook it slowly in the seasonings so the garlic blends with smoky bacon. A few simple ingredients make ordinary broccoli irresistible. —Erin Chilcoat, Central Islip, New YorkGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Glazed Cornish Hens
If you’re looking to add a touch of elegance to your holiday dinner table, we suggest these Cornish game hens topped with a sweet apricot glaze. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, WisconsinGo to Recipe
Italian Herb-Crusted Pork Loin
I like to change things up during the holidays with pork loin recipes that incorporate my favorite herbs and veggies. This showpiece dish really dazzles my family. —Kim Palmer, Kingston, GeorgiaGo to Recipe
Creamy Broccoli with Cashews
The sour cream sauce in this broccoli casserole makes it a little different from the usual, and the cashews lend a nice crunch. It’s great with a variety of entrees. —Karen Ann Bland, Gove City, KansasGo to Recipe
Christmas Day Chicken
I’ve been fixing this delicious chicken for Christmas dinner for over 10 years. It’s convenient since you refrigerate it overnight, then simply coat with crumbs and bake. It comes out crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. —Marcia Larson, Batavia, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Roasted Citrus & Herb Turkey
Thanksgiving has never been the same since I tried this recipe. I have made it for the past three years, and it never fails to impress both in presentation and taste. This is a true showstopper! —Nancy M. Niemerg, Dieterich, IllinoisGo to Recipe
Twice-Baked Cheddar Potato Casserole
Bacon, cheddar and sour cream turn ordinary potatoes into an extraordinary twice baked potato casserole. It’s one of our family’s beloved standards for the holidays. —Kyle Cox, Scottsdale, ArizonaGo to Recipe
Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry-Orange Relish
I like how grilled pork and fruit bring out the best in each other. If you have leftover relish, break out the tortilla chips! —Cindy Esposito, Bloomfield, New JerseyGo to Recipe
Merry Berry Salad
Dried cranberries, crunchy apple chunks and toasted almonds dress up this crisp green salad. It’s drizzled with a sweet-tart dressing that’s a snap to blend. —Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Santa Deviled Eggs
I love creating special deviled eggs for parties. These little Santas are easier to make than they look, and everyone raves over them. —Crystal Schlueter, Northglenn, ColoradoGo to Recipe Also check out our southern Christmas dinner menu ideas.
Apricot Ginger Mustard-Glazed Ham
Although I usually buy spiral-sliced hams, I decided to do a home-baked ham with a gingery glaze. This is how you do special-occasion dining. —Ally Phillips, Murrells Inlet, South CarolinaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Citrus & Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
This recipe will make you love turkey again. Brining with lemon, rosemary and orange juice makes it so moist and flavorful. It’s the star attraction at our table. —Fay Moreland, Wichita Falls, TexasGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Here’s a delightfully different salad that balances the earthy flavor of beets with the natural sweetness of berries. If you prefer, substitute crumbled feta for the goat cheese. —Amy Lyons, Mounds View, MinnesotaGo to Recipe
Peppercorn Beef Top Loin Roast
A red wine sauce complements the brown sugar rub on the roast in this inviting entree. You can’t go wrong with this down-home dish!—Taste of Home Test KitchenGo to Recipe
In the kitchen, my husband and I like to use classic ingredients in new ways. I came up with this lasagna one day and haven’t made another type since. We love it! —Charlotte Gehle, Brownstown, MichiganGo to Recipe
Roasted Acorn Squash & Brussels Sprouts
I love creating dishes with few ingredients and easy steps, like squash with Brussels sprouts. Maple syrup adds a slight sweetness, and pecans give it a toasty crunch. —Angela LeMoine, Howell, New JerseyGo to Recipe
Garlic Herbed Beef Tenderloin
You don’t need much seasoning to add flavor to this beef tenderloin recipe. The mild blending of rosemary, basil and garlic does the trick. —Ruth Andrewson, Leavenworth, WashingtonGo to Recipe
Sausage and Cornbread Dressing
At our house, we add sausage and a little steak sauce to this cornbread dressing for a meal that warms cold winter nights. —Mandy Nall, Montgomery, AlabamaGo to Recipe
Holiday Brussels Sprouts
Make Brussels sprouts special with peas, celery and, of course, bacon. The recipe doubles easily if needed. —Jodie Beckman, Council Bluffs, IowaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
New England Lamb Bake
This dish is hearty and perfect for warming up on a chilly winter evening. The aroma is almost as delightful as the dish itself. —Frank Grady, Fort Kent, MaineGo to Recipe
Honey Whole Wheat Pan Rolls
With their pleasant wheat flavor and a honey of a glaze, these rolls impress my guests. Every time I take them to potluck dinners, I come home with an empty pan. —Nancye Thompson, Paducah, KentuckyGo to Recipe
Classic Beef Wellingtons
Perfect for holidays, this beef wellington is also impressively easy. Find ready-made puff pastry sheets in the frozen food section. —Kerry Dingwall, Ponte Vedra, FloridaGo to Recipe
Triple Mash with Horseradish Bread Crumbs
Why settle for traditional mashed potatoes when you can enjoy three times the flavor? Combine spuds with rutabaga and parsnips, along with the zip of horseradish, for a tasty treat. —Lily Julow, Lawrenceville, GeorgiaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Crown Roast of Pork with Mushroom Dressing
It looks so elegant that everyone thinks I spent a lot of time on this roast. But it’s actually so easy! The biggest challenge is to remember to order the crown roast from the meat department ahead of time. —Betty Claycomb, Alverton, PennsylvaniaGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Savory Roasted Carrots with Mushrooms
You’ll need only 10 minutes to get these savory veggies ready for the oven. Then just stir them a few times during roasting, and you’re done. It’s a busy cook’s dream!—Pam Corder, Monroe, LouisianaGo to Recipe
Perfect Winter Salad
This is my most-requested salad recipe. Serve it as side salad along with your holiday meal, or enjoy it for lunch the next day with cubed turkey or chicken on top. —DeNae Shewmake, Burnsville, MinnesotaGo to Recipe
Curried Acorn Squash Soup
Here is an easy acorn squash soup that highlights the sweet flavor of the squash. The curry powder gives it a unique taste. —Marilou Robinson, Portland, OregonGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Golden Apricot-Glazed Turkey Breast
Basted with a simple glaze, this wonderfully moist and tender turkey bakes to a lovely golden brown. Make it the centerpiece of your holiday table; guests will be glad you did. —Greg Fontenot, The Woodlands, TexasGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Cutting the carrots lengthwise makes this dish look extra pretty. For a little more elegance and color, garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme or parsley. —Deirdre Cox, Kansas City, MissouriGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Salt-Encrusted Prime Rib
Restaurants have nothing on this recipe. For a true meat lover, it’s very easy and the results are beyond belief. —Roger Bowlds, Bakersfield, CaliforniaGo to Recipe
Bacon and Fontina Stuffed Mushrooms
What’s better than lots of bacon and cheese in a mushroom cap? Yum! They’ll be a hit with your guests, too. —Tammy Rex, New Tripoli, PennsylvaniaGo to Recipe
Easy & Elegant Tenderloin Roast
I love the simplicity of this easy beef tenderloin recipe. Olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper—just add the tenderloin and pop it in the oven. In an hour or so you’ve got an impressive main dish to feed a crowd. This leaves you with more time to visit with family and less time fussing in the kitchen. —Mary Kandell, Huron, OhioGo to RecipeTaste of Home
Seasoned Ribeye Roast
This is a very special and savory way to prepare a boneless beef rib roast. Gravy made from the drippings is exceptional. You can also use a ribeye roast with excellent results. — Evelyn Gebhardt, Kasilof, AlaskaGo to Recipe Up Next: Put your air fryer to good use this holiday season with our air-fryer Christmas recipes. ⓘ