Having a bad day right before your holiday party? Here’s how to fix it
Duster and clutter
Problem:Your guests will start to arrive in less than an hour, and your house still isn’t ready for prime time. How can you finish cleaning with so little time left?
Solution:Two words: speed cleaning. The first rule of speed cleaning is no wasted motion or unnecessary tasks, so focus on the big things and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Start by removing clutter from all surfaces. If you know where things belong, put them there, but don’t sort and don’t hesitate. With your guests practically walking up the front steps, it’s perfectly OK to put everything that qualifies as clutter into a room you aren’t using for the party, and then just close the door.
Dust from top to bottom so that everything drifts downward, do a quick pass with the vacuum cleaner, and then check the bathroom you plan to let guests use to make sure it’s clean and has fresh towels and toilet paper in place.
Problem: The turkey is in the oven, the fridge is full of snacks and hors d'oeuvres, the holiday music is queued up on the stereo and . . . the power goes out.
Solution: Don’t panic. Call the power company to find out how long the power is likely to be out, light some of the candles you keep for emergencies and place them around the rooms you plan to use, and then light or build a fire in the fireplace for heat (if you have a gas fireplace, you’ll have to light it manually because the automatic start switch requires electricity).
Explain the situation to guests as they arrive, and invite them to give you a hand. Serve finger food and beverages first, and keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible to keep the inside temperature down. Pull the cover off the gas grill (if you have one), fire it up, and get ready for a winter barbecue. Cut up the turkey, place the pieces on the grill, and take the same approach with potatoes, vegetables and other foods if possible.
The power outage may have deprived you of recorded music, but there’s nothing to stop you and your guests from making your own. If you have musical instruments, use them. If not, organize an impromptu a cappella caroling party right there in your candlelit living room—or go into the dark streets and share those songs of joy with your neighbors.
Problem: Your guests are about to arrive when you suddenly knock over a bottle and spill red wine on your white shirt. Now what?
Solution: The best strategy for this kind of problem is to be prepared before it happens. Wear an apron during last-minute preparations, and have a second outfit ready so you can change quickly if the need arises. Ideally, choose one that coordinates well with your first choice; if the damage is limited you may not need a full change of clothes. Another good strategy is to keep stain remover on hand. With a small spill, you may be able to do a quick repair job. Depending on where the stain is located, perhaps you can cover it with a blazer.
If all else fails, just put on a smile, tell your guests what happened, and let your unexpected holiday decoration be a conversation starter.
Problem: Your spouse comes down with a last-minute illness on the day of your holiday party. It’s too late to cancel. What do you do?
Solution: Put your sick partner to bed with appropriate medications, plenty of books and DVDs, a good supply of liquids and orders to sleep as much as possible. If the problem isn’t stomach flu or some other gastrointestinal ailment, promise to bring up some chicken soup or a dinner plate once the party is under way and you can break free.
After everyone arrives, explain the situation and enlist one of your most capable guests to stand in for your spouse as co-host. As a special treat for your partner, find a notebook or some blank recipe cards and have each guest write a short note of cheer and consolation.
Problem:When your holiday dinner guests arrive, you find that a couple of them have brought you a surprise—some guests of their own that you weren’t expecting.
Solution:Be gracious and welcome your unexpected guests, let your other guests know what’s going on, and make this sudden twist part of the fun by enlisting everyone’s help in finding solutions to the overcrowding.
If there are too many people or there’s too little room to just squeeze some extra chairs around the table, then go to Plan B. Turn dinner into a buffet, arranging the food on both sides of the table and placing the chairs in strategic locations around the living room so that people can easily find seats and converse once they have filled their plates.
Problem:Your party is a big success. Everyone loves the company and the food. Especially the food. In fact, they love it so much that it seems the party has hardly begun when the platters you so carefully prepared start looking pretty bare.
Solution:It’s never easy to calculate how much food you’ll need to satisfy a hungry holiday crowd. Plan ahead and do your best to have plenty of food prepared, but make sure you have backup in case you run short.
Along with whatever you’re planning to serve, stock up on cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, fruit and nuts, and other emergency supplies you can bring out if you need them, or save for another day if you don’t. It’s also a good idea to know in advance where the closest 24-hour grocery is located, just in case you end up needing something you didn’t think to buy in advance.
Problem:You’ve planned a great holiday party and invited some of the most interesting people you know. And now that all your guests have arrived, the room is . . . silent. No one is talking or, perhaps worse, they’re only talking to the one or two people they already know.
Solution:Conversational lulls are an inevitable byproduct of any holiday party, but if your guests seem overly quiet, inhibited or bad at small talk, don’t be afraid to jump in with an ice breaker or two. We’re not talking about party games, but there’s nothing wrong with the host offering some direction to help get the good times rolling.
The one thing all of your guests have in common is you. Ask everyone in the room to tell a brief story about when and how they met you, and then maybe identify anyone else in the room they already know. Chances are these recitations will lead to a few laughs and some spontaneous conversation, but if things still seem slow after everyone has taken their turn, then take charge again and ask each person in the room to introduce someone they know to someone they don’t, and to share three things they like or admire about the person they’re introducing. That should get people talking.
Problem:You’ve been trying so hard to host the perfect holiday party, and now something has gone wrong and everything will be ruined.
Solution:It’s easy to go negative when the unexpected happens, but life is full of surprises and not all of them are going to make you happy initially. Keep in mind that your friends and family members have all had their share of mishaps as well. Turn things around and ask how you would feel if someone you cared about was having the same problem that is now threatening to turn your party into a nightmare. You’d want to help, right? So will they.
When problems occur, don’t try to handle them alone. Be honest with your guests and ask for their help. The best and most memorable parties are the ones where something unexpected happens and guests feel special. Nothing accomplishes that quite so well as a near calamity that you and your friends avert by working together. So relax, take things as they come, and have a great holiday.