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Holiday gatherings: Stay sane while you entertain

By Kaylene Morrill Wheeler

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 2:35 p.m. MST

Pulling off a large holiday gathering successfully includes planning and a preparation along with being mindful of allergies and those you invite.

Photo illustration by Heather Tuttle, Deseret News

As Thanksgiving approaches, many are beginning to think about family gatherings and, of course, lots and lots of food.

Some are practiced in the art of Thanksgiving preparation, but it’s still foreign territory for others. Either way, hosting a holiday meal involves effort and time. Here are some tips to help make the day less stressful and more enjoyable for those involved.

Plan for early arrivers

There are bound to be last-minute things to do Thanksgiving Day, so when a well-intended person shows up early, it leaves the host struggling to prepare food and entertain at the same time. To avoid this juggling act, plan activities for guests to enjoy while they wait to eat.

Emily Carlson, party planner and creator of Haute Hostess, has several ideas for keeping people busy Thanksgiving Day. If children are present, Carlson suggests involving them in activities that will help get the dinner table ready.

“This year I bought a table runner from Pottery Barn Kids and it’s made out of craft paper,” she said. “It has owls, leaves and trees, and it runs the full length of the table and (kids) can color it.”

For the adults, Carlson’s family typically sets out a large glass jar on the dessert table with a stack of white cards.

“As people come in you can ask them to fill out cards with things that they’re thankful for, or memories of past Thanksgivings, and sort of fill up this jar,” Carlson said. “Then, as the dessert hour comes around, we would pull out (the cards) and be reading them later in the day.”

Carlson’s family also puts out lots of games for people to play and photo albums of past family gatherings to look at, but if all else fails, the old standbys work fine.

“I feel like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and football are sort of a tradition that most families adhere to — at least mine does,” she said.

Don’t do it all yourself

Even for those supercooks out there, tackling everything involved with Thanksgiving alone is a recipe for a very tiring day.

Sydney Cline, who has years of experience cooking for crowds through catering, church and family activities, said Thanksgiving is the perfect time to delegate assignments to others. Even those who don’t like to cook can contribute.

“If you have a 22-year-old boy who’s being invited and is expected to bring something, that’s perfect,” she said. “Have him bring the ice cream that goes with the homemade pies. Have him bring the 7UP that goes in the punch.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables are also easy options for those who don’t like to cook to bring. If guests who can cook volunteer, however, it might be good to give them a choice as to what they bring to dinner. As Cline says, if they’re great with breads, then let them do the breads.

But it is also important to be cautious when delegating assignments because there is always the possibility someone might not show up, leaving you short-handed.

“You wouldn’t want to have no ice cream,” Cline said. “But if you have two people assigned ice cream, and one doesn’t come, you’re good. If it’s paper goods and things like that, I would only assign that to somebody that I know is absolutely responsible.”

To avoid stressing and wondering if guests will show up with their assignments, Cline recommends having guests drop off their assignments a day or even a week ahead of time. That way, the host doesn’t have to worry about those small details the day of the gathering.

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