NEW YORK - With a little planning, a little help and a lot of resolve, holiday entertaining doesn't have to mean you're too stressed out to enjoy your own party.
Michelle Morton, a professional organizer and busy mom of three in Raleigh, N.C., said it's all about attitude.
"This is not the time to perfect being 'perfect,'" she said. "This is all about surviving with a smile on your face and at the end of the day making sure you enjoy it as well. If it doesn't make you happy, and you're doing it out of obligation, then cross it off your list."
In this recent photo, Carly Serepetti checks out the decorated Christmas trees on display in downstate Dearborn. With a little planning, a little help and a lot of resolve, holiday entertaining doesn't have to mean you're too stressed out to enjoy your own party. (AP photo)
If you're a go for hosting, try these tips for maintaining your sanity:
CHOOSING THE MENU: Mary Giuliani, a high-end caterer and event planner in Manhattan, does 60 to 75 parties from Dec. 1 to Dec. 22 each year. "'Mad Men' and all the '50s and '60s retro stuff is chic again," she said. "That means potlucks are cool. Plus these days, everybody wants to be a celebrity chef."
But, she cautions, know your crowd. "If you're certain your guests won't enjoy showing off their favorite casserole or the latest recipe they found online, don't do it."
Try a dessert party or serve mac-and-cheese with toppings instead, suggests Giuliani, with one signature drink as opposed to an open bar.
Giuliani calls her go-to party drink served by the pitcher the White Christmas, consisting of white cranberry juice - to avoid tough stains - vodka and pomegranate seeds at the bottom for a bit of extra flavor and holiday color.
MAKE LISTS: Morton has found success breaking to-do lists into categories and prioritizing each task, then syncing the tasks with her electronic calendar. "I feel much better when I write things out," she said. "When I walk around with it all in my head I can't think, I can't focus, I can't sleep."
Don't head off to the market without a list, and plan to shop well in advance, Birnbaum adds. Fresh ingredients will stay that way purchased two days ahead.
And don't forget to designate help. Putting on a party alone is foolhardy. Birnbaum said ask yourself a few key questions when planning, like who will set the table while you're finishing off the meal? How much time do you need to shower and dress? Have your help arrive at least several hours in advance.
HOME DECOR: Whipping the house into shape for a party is always stressful. Giuliani suggests stocking up on votive candles to "give a little warmth without going crazy," especially if you forgot to leave time to buy and arrange flowers.
Dana Bowen, executive editor of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, said avoid buying decorations intended solely for the holidays.
"Look around your backyard for pine cones or tree branches and turn them into centerpieces," she suggests.
Aimee Beatty, the in-house stylist for Pier 1 Imports, said focus when decorating on high-traffic areas.
"Simple additions, such as garland to an entryway, adorning a table setting with ornament place card holders or perhaps adding beautiful embroidered pillows to the living room sofa can set the tone for the holidays," she said.
At the table, especially if you're on a budget, get funky with a mix of vintage from thrift stores or flea markets, Bowen said.
"Vintage china and silverware is a great idea, and you can get it for pennies."
Loulie Walker, an event planner for the rich and famous in Manhattan, is also a mix-and-match fan. "For tableware, take an anything goes approach, such as family heirloom china next to big-box store plates, and mixing up linens and glassware," she said.
HOLIDAY WINE: Wine pairings are fun, but they're not everything. Giuliani said choose one wine for holiday hosting and buy it by the case to save money. Kathy Bertone, who wrote "The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host; Becoming the Perfect Guest," notes hosts can count on visitors showing up with plenty of wine, anyway.
Ken Forte, president of the Harlem Wine Gallery, a small wine shop-art gallery in Harlem, said assume most of your guests will drink one to three glasses. Don't succumb to pressure to buy outside your price range and don't sweat the glassware.
RECOVERY: Don't pour the open champagne down the drain once everybody leaves, says Kristin Fraser Cotte, CEO and founder of The Grapeseed Co., an eco-friendly line of "vinotherapy" spa and skin care products. Take a well-deserved soak in it instead.
Combine half a cup of Epsom salt and one cup of powdered milk in a bowl, then add one cup of champagne, she said. Warm one teaspoon of honey in the microwave for 30 seconds, adding it to the mixture. Pour into running bath water, throw in some rose petals and relax.
"When you soak in hot water, that opens your pores," Fraser Cotte said. "The Epsom salt is great for detoxifying, cleansing and relaxing sore, tight muscles. The champagne helps to detoxify the skin. The carbon dioxide, or bubbles, in sparkling wine aids in tightening and constricting pores. It gives the Epsom salt a little boost."