This is arguably the biggest entertaining challenge of them all.

By Deanna deBara
December 05, 2019
M_a_y_a / Getty Images

Navigating the landscape of family holiday parties is rarely easy. Come the end of the year, there are likely several on the lineup—throw in your spouse's family, as well, and that number doubles. But before you can decide which family events to attend, you first need to determine who is responsible for hosting each one. Ahead, we explore how to approach this process—and, most notably, how to express that you are not hosting an event, should your clan expect you to.

Related: Tasks You Can Complete Now to Prepare for a Season of Holiday Entertaining

Communication and compromise are key.

Here's a common dilemma: You had your heart set on hosting your entire family for Christmas, but your sister is already telling everyone that she's having everyone over to her house for the holiday this year. In that situation, the best way to determine who hosts what is through compromise. "See if there's a happy medium that you can reach," says Bonnie Tsai, etiquette expert and founder of the consulting agency Beyond Etiquette. Perhaps you have the whole family over to open presents on Christmas morning, then everyone heads to your sister's for crown roast. To prevent future conflict, communicate your desire to host the holiday the following year—she gets this one, but the next is all yours.

Consider co-hosting.

If splitting the holiday between two households doesn't work, offer to "co-host" the event and share hosting duties (so, your mother-in-law gets to host the first night of Hanukkah at her home, but you get to make your famous latkes for the whole family). Taking this approach to holiday parties won't only help settle any family disputes, but it can also make the experience a lot easier for everyone involved. "Planning to host is a lot of work," says Tsai, "so it could be a shared effort—and if it's well communicated, then I think that eases the stress if it were just a single person hosting."

It's okay to bow out.

If you've hosted holiday parties in the past, your family might expect that trend to continue. But what happens if you can't (or don't want to) host this year? "A big part is being honest but letting them down gently," says Tsai. Give your family as much notice as possible and, if you feel comfortable, share your reasoning (communicate if things are too hectic at work, for example). It's also completely appropriate to just say, "It's not going to work out this year." Offer to contribute to your family holiday party in other ways—prepare a side dish or your best dessert—and let the new host know that you're happy to share your secrets. While your family might be initially be disappointed, try not to stress too much—they'll get over it. "If they're really family and they're supportive of you as family should be, they'll understand," says Tsai.

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