My family always makes an effort to get together over the holidays, which is not an easy feat considering we live all across the country. When we do manage to pull it off, it’s a pretty big event, with tons of kids and lots of travel involved. This year, I somehow convinced the whole clan to fly to California for a big Thanksgiving gathering. It was my first time hosting such a large group, and I was excited and a bit nervous. Much to my husband’s dismay, I LOVE to plan, so I took to the task like an event planner. Needless to say, between working, kids and life, finding time to prepare for this was not easy. I learned a lot along the way, and thought I could pass along a few ideas to save you some time and stress.
1) Plan, plan, plan. This was honestly the fun part for me, because it tapped into my “type A” personality. Making lists is a favorite pastime of mine, so as soon as I knew people were coming, I started making lots of them. Lists of clothes, food, car seats, linens… I even made a spreadsheet of when family was arriving and into what airport, who was renting a car, etc. It was probably a little obsessive but also very satisfying. I kept the lists on my phone so that I could update them on the go.
2) Prepare easy meals and delegate. We knew we wanted to cook most of our traditional holiday favorites on Thanksgiving day (which is a lot of work!), so we planned for simple meals the rest of the week to encourage quality time together outside of the kitchen. Furthermore, we delegated each family couple to take a turn “hosting” a dinner, which prevented any one person (aka me!) from shouldering all the responsibility of meal prep. Our family got really into this and had a lot of fun preparing their meal.
3) Invest in Plastic ware. I know this isn’t very environmentally friendly, but I was having nightmares about running the dishwasher three times a day to keep up with everyone. So I bought a Costco-size supply of paper plates, utensils, and solo cups. Super classy, I know! I also brought sharpies so people could label their cups. It made clean up a lot easier, too.
4) Buy as much as you can beforehand. Since I’d made my list of meals ahead of time, I had a good idea of what we’d be needing from the store. So I made a big Costco and grocery store trip the day before everyone arrived. This way we had enough food to get through the first few days without a big grocery run, and it made for less of a burden on everyone else. Having a fairly well-stocked kitchen-including kids’ favorite snacks and adults’ favorite drinks- was much appreciated by people who had been traveling all day.
5) Provide toiletries: The week prior, I collected body wash, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste and put some in each bathroom of the house. This way families could avoid checking a bag and save room in their suitcases for more important things.
6) Be mindful of the ages of your guests. My grandmother was brave enough to make the six-hour flight from Florida, and I knew she would be tired and also isn’t fond of stairs these days. So I arranged to have a special sleeping nook created for her on the main floor. This way she had a quiet place to retreat to if she needed a break, and could go to bed without having to climb stairs to get there.
7) Bring age-appropriate crafts for the kids. The holiday season also overlaps with the rainy season, which means it is likely the family will be spending at least some time indoors. So I planned ahead (is there a theme here?) and collected lots of fun crafts for the kids to do on the rainy days, including paints, coloring books, construction paper, markers and glue, and some fun games as well. This was a great way to encourage some quieter activities in the afternoons.
8) Last and not least, plan a little “Me Time” for yourself after everyone leaves. This could be as simple as a pedicure or a hair cut, but rewarding yourself with a little downtime will help you feel rejuvenated after a lot of hard work.
Happy planning and Happy Holidays!