It’s difficult to determine whether the holiday stress increases every year because the shopping starts earlier, the lists get longer or the pressure to make it all look perfectly elegant is greater than last year. The time available never covers the cooking, traveling, planning, gift buying and visiting over the few weeks available, and the time to actually enjoy the time with family and friends turns into a frantic flight of holiday hassles, disorder and disappointments.  Set a different tone this year with a stress-free holiday party, and show everyone the host with the boast of best party on the block is you!

Come in, relax and enjoy: seven tips for an easy holiday party:

Expect things to be imperfect

Make your lists of food, serving dishes, centerpieces and guests to create an organized shopping routine. But accept that things go wrong sometimes. Remember that guests are coming to enjoy you, your home and the holidays and not judging your event like it’s the Olympics. Shop early and during off-hours (early morning and late night) when crowds are smaller. Don’t over-plan every tiny detail, because your guests won’t notice or appreciate things like those tiny bows on the cocktail napkins or the reindeer-shaped ice cubes. Concentrate on the bigger-budget picture when considering food, drink and decoration, and spend your entertainment cash wisely.

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Consider hiring help

Catering the entire holiday party can be very expensive, but what about one or two servers for an appetizer-and-drinks party, or a professional bartender? The experts save you time that you spend with your guests, and also help with set-up and post-party cleanup. The servers provide information about food to those guests with allergy issues, and a savvy bartender knows when a guest hits their alcohol intake limit, and needs to either hand over their glass or their car keys for the night.

Go retro with recipes, but add your own twist

Take out Grandma’s crystal punch bowl and glasses and create a non-alcoholic punch; the sight makes everyone smile and converse about childhood holidays. Make that punch your own with an ice ring; freeze a mix of fresh berries or edible flowers to keep it cold and festive. Create a variety of cereal-based snack mixes with nuts, chips, pretzels and chocolate add-ins, onion soup and sour cream dips (enhance them with the addition of fresh herbs) and a do-it-yourself ice cream and toppings table, with fresh fruit toppings, high-quality sauces and syrups and broken bits of candy bars.

Start with a clean kitchen and prep area

Clear the clutter from counters, put away all the dishes, plastic containers, mail, bills and newspapers and start with a fresh work space. Set up a separate prep table with your ingredients, lists and dishes, to maintain separation between your everyday life and the party prep. Before the party starts, empty the trash and recyclables and clear the sink; you’ll need the space for trash and dirty dishes throughout the event.

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Chill, heat and keep: proper temperature rules

Nothing ends a holiday party faster than gut-clutching guests. Chill beverages ahead of time, and you’ll use less ice during the party. Heat food to the recommended temperatures and use hot plates or burners to maintain the heat. Don’t leave food out to spoil; remove and replace uneaten food and when it doubt as to its safety, throw it out.

Let your guests bring the fun

Ask guests to bring silly, inexpensive gifts for a Secret Santa-style drawing done throughout the event. Or add an element of goodwill to your party, and auction the gifts, with money raised donated to a charity all the guests vote on at the end of the party.

Make it a melodious holiday

Food, fun, friends and family need only the addition of music for a perfect gathering. Whether it’s a digital streaming service or your dad’s old Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis albums, music enhances the holiday atmosphere and encourages a few guests to get together in harmony, forgetting what divides us and appreciating the season’s joy.