You survived Thanksgiving, but if it was at a friend or family member’s house, that was pretty easy. But that’s behind us. Now you have a whole new collection of holidays—and holiday gatherings—to consider. No matter what you believe, there’s probably something for you to celebrate in December: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, winter solstice, and New Year’s Eve top the list. Lucky for you, we have prepared this holiday prep guide to help keep you focused and on task.

Holiday Prep Basics

The biggest thing to remember to get through the holidays without too much stress is to have a game plan. Granted, things can—and likely will!—change, but if you have a plan, you’re less likely to forget specifics and freak out when directions turn. After all, organization minimizes stress!

Start your list now. What will you be doing? Where are you going? When are you hosting? During the busy month of December, your calendar will quickly become your best friend, so put it through its paces.

Manage Invitations Early

Since December is so full of not only holidays but holiday get-togethers, you want to get on people’s radars early. Already, some people’s calendars are filling up with family dinners, holiday parades, and corporate functions. If you haven’t gotten your invitations out by Thanksgiving, you should aim for the first of December. Give your guests ample time to work you in or let you know they’re not coming. That will also help your holiday prep go smoother.

There are many ways to invite guests to your gathering. Online resources such as Facebook events and Evite are widely used, but don’t rely solely on those. Some people aren’t avid social media users, while others have never heard of Evite. In addition to your standard technology, use some good old-fashioned methods, such as mailed invitations and a phone call. You can also meet in the middle and email invitations to guests. Just cover your bases.

Plan Your Approach

There are all kinds of parties you can host, from a formal, sit-down dinner to a casual, open-house-style potluck. There’s no right or wrong way to have a holiday party, but you will want to be sure you have an approach in mind. And you’ll want to communicate that to your guests. There’s nothing more embarrassing than to have a guest arrive to a black-tie event in jeans with a dish to pass.

While considering the type of party you’ll host, also think about the activities you’ll have. Will there be a gift exchange? Games? Holiday movies playing from a projector in the backyard? And will children be welcome or is this just for the adults? If you’re going to have kids at the party, a smart investment is a bouncer or jumper so they can be contained and active.

Stick to Your Budget

Party planning can get expensive quickly. Give yourself a reasonable budget and keep track of your costs. If you’ll provide alcohol, that can be the bulk of your spend, but you could always spread it out by buying a couple of bottles on each shopping trip. Of course, most guests are willing to grab a bottle of wine, leaving you to supply water and soda, which will significantly cut costs.

Don’t assume that appetizers vs. a meal will be less expensive. Or that cooking yourself is cheaper than a caterer. You might be surprised at what you can get for what budget, so keep your options open until you’ve done your research.

Day-of Holiday Prep List

Once you open the doors on your holiday party, you still have plenty to do. There are lots of day-of holiday prep items, including things you might not have considered. Is there extra toilet paper in the bathrooms, for example?

One of the biggest stalemates of a party is that not everyone knows everyone else. And many aren’t going to go out of their way to connect with new people. It’s good to have a plan to introduce people to each other, whether you do that or you put a spouse or friend in charge of that. Also, activities that encourage interaction are a big plus. When people are chatting, drinking, and enjoying the festivities, you’ll have yourself a successful party!

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