I know it can be stressful to host Thanksgiving or Christmas day or really hosting anything in your house.  Planning the menu, cleaning the house, preparing the feast, decorating, blah blah blah.  It can be overwhelming, and frankly half of the stress is unnecessary if you ask me.

Most of the stress is self-imposed and comes from a desire to impress our guests with perfect food, a squeaky clean house, and magazine worthy holiday decorations.  If you love to do these things and they just really make you tick, I’m not going to tell you to stop.  Some people truly have a gift and talent for these things, but if they cause you anxiety, I say forget it!  Forget trying to impress your guests, and instead focus on spending time with them and just lightening up to have a good time.  Who cares if the meal isn’t perfect?  Who cares if you burnt the rolls?  It’s not the end of the world.  Scrape off the top, slather them with butter, and laugh about it with your friends and family.

Give yourself a stinkin’ break.  Your guests are there (hopefully) because they like being with you, not because they are expecting pristine entertainment.  The heart of hospitality and opening your home is opening a piece of your heart to another and serving them.  Guests want to be with the real you, not the “magazine you”.

My encouragement to you this year is to lighten up, open your heart, show the real you, stress less, and laugh more.  Have a thankful heart, grateful to the Lord to even be able to spend time with loved ones around a big table.  I promise you that if you lighten up and just have fun, you might just have the best Thanksgiving and Christmas yet, even if the turkey was dry, your windows had fingerprints all over them, and your decorations were not Martha Stewart worthy.

Here’s my best tips for how to host a low stress holiday that focuses on hospitality instead of impressive entertainment.

Consider a potluck meal:

In my family, we don’t expect the host to do everything.  Why would we?  They are opening their home.  Why should we have them provide all the food as well?  The host takes care of the main dish and one or two other things.  The rest is brought by other people.  If everyone brings one thing, it is much less a burden on one individual.  Why not share the responsibility to allow more visiting with each other.  If all your time as the host is spent in the kitchen, you have completely missed out on the day interacting with guests.  If a potluck meal is not a possibility, I recommend keeping the meal simple without requiring lots of hands on time.

Forget the fancy decor.

Unless you love a big beautiful tablescape, forgo it.  Truthfully, it might be impressive, but it’s not going to do anything to further relationships and make others feel comfortable.  My family is not fancy.  We don’t do place cards, centerpieces, or fancy place settings.  Most of the time we do forks that can be thrown into the dishwasher, disposable plates, and sit around card tables if we can’t fit around he big family table.  This may be a little too unrefined for you, but it works for our family.  We have never felt like we were missing out without the fancy things.  It actually puts me at ease, knowing that my toddler won’t break a special breakable item.

Do as much as you can the day before.

If you do as much as you can the day before, it makes the day go by much smoother and you don’t have to be stuck in kitchen all day.  Vegetables can be chopped ahead of time, pies baked, casseroles assembled, salad dressing made, cranberry salads made, etc.  If it can be done ahead of time, do it.  You won’t be sorry for the free time to spend with family and friends.

Fake a semi-clean house and forget the rest.

I know you don’t want to open your home if you can’t even sit on the couch, but I promise you that a semi-clean house will be just fine.  Make your house comfortable and pleasant, but perfection is unnecessary.  Un-clutter the living room.  Throw the stuff in closets if you have to.  Lock the bedroom doors if they are too much of a disaster.  Do a quick clean of the bathroom sink and toilet and put out a fresh towel.  Keep the kitchen sink filled with hot soapy water so you can quickly clean as you go and take advantage of your dishwasher if you have one.  Get your kids involved to pick up the clutter and do a fast clean sweep.  Other than that, call it a day and forget about the rest.  No one will be inspecting the fingerprints or a little dust here and there.  Afterall, your guests know that you live in your house just like they live in theirs.  Your hospitality is not measured by the white glove test.

Keep entertainment simple.

You don’t have to have elaborate crafts for the kids or planned activities to throw a great gathering.  Foster a comfortable environment and fun will naturally happen.  I usually have playing cards or board games available if anyone wants to play.  We encourage children and teens to run around and play or go outside to play basketball or run around in the yard.  In my dad’s family, you never know what we will end up doing for entertainment.  We’ve been known to watch the kids perform their latest talent, watch wrestling matches from our teenagers, sing, and other crazy things.  In my mom’s family, we sit around and laugh and talk about the wildest things and then at the end of the day, my aunt plays the piano while we all sing Christmas songs.  We laugh when we mess up and forget the words or when the piano octave is too high for us to sing.  Ask good questions.  Be genuinely interested in the other person.  Laugh.  Have fun.  Enjoy the company of your family and friends.

I’d love to hear from you!  Do you have any relaxed hospitality tips or a story to share with us?  Even your favorite holiday memory would be so wonderful to hear.