familyholidaysUS (11/23/2013) - Gatherings with friends and family are a big part of the holiday season. Many people travel during the holidays to spend time with distant relatives, but those same people often want to gather with those loved ones who live nearby as well. Thus an abundance of gatherings comes in December, when office parties, dinners with family and festivities with friends have a way of dominating the last five weeks of the year.

All of those gatherings translate to a lot of holiday hosting, and hosts can easily feel overwhelmed as they try to juggle hosting duties with everything else that comes along during this time of year. The following are a few steps holiday hosts can take to make hosting a lot less hectic and a lot more fun.

* Enlist help. Just because a holiday party is at your home does not mean others can't pitch in or will be unwilling to help. If you plan to decorate for the party, invite a friend over to assist. When hosting a holiday dinner party, ask guests to bring certain items to save you some work. Ask one guest to bring some dessert, saving you the time it takes to visit the local bakery or bake your own desserts, and ask others to provide side dishes. This drastically reduces the time it will take you to shop for groceries and cook the meal, leaving you more time to spend with friends and family, both during the party and in the days leading up to the festivities.

* Plan well in advance. The earlier you begin planning the party, the less stress you're likely to feel as a host. Certain items for the party, like decorations and certain snacks and beverages, have no expiration dates, so buy such items well in advance of the party. This leads to one less task to tackle in the weeks and days leading up to the party. Planning early also affords you ample time coordinate with guests and decide who will be responsible for certain party tasks. Planning a party at the last minute can be stressful, so if you know you will be handling hosting duties this holiday season, start preparing for the party as soon as possible.

* Hire a cleaning service. One of the more difficult parts of holiday hosting is cleaning the house before guests arrive. A thorough house cleaning can take up a substantial amount of time, which tends to be hard to come by during the holiday season. To avoid a late night cleaning session or the need to spend a valuable weekend afternoon hard at work around the house, hire a cleaning service to come and clean your house in the days before the party. Such services can clean your home in a fraction of the time it might take you to do so on your own, and this removes one of the more time-consuming and arduous tasks from your to-do list.

* Have a theme for the party. Holiday hosts may worry about how to entertain their guests throughout the party. A theme party makes it easier to entertain guests, who can show up decked out in holiday pajamas or sweaters or bring along a favorite unique compilation of holiday songs for a sing-along. Such themes set a tone for the party right away and often make it easier for guests to unwind immediately. Seek suggestions for a theme from your guests to make the party even more fun.

* Pass the buck. Hosting a holiday dinner party? Consider passing the hosting duties on to a local restaurant, especially if your friends and family members are on board with the idea. If your schedule is especially hectic this holiday season, then move the party from your home to a local restaurant, where the staff can worry about accommodating your guests and you can simply relax and have a good time with your loved ones. When choosing a restaurant, look for one with a menu that features something for everyone. Entree selections should include a pasta dish, a beef dish, a seafood dish, a poultry dish, and vegetarian fare.

Holiday hosting is meant to be fun, but hosts often find themselves scrambling to prepare for the party as it draws closer. Planning early, seeking help and input from your guests and delegating certain tasks can help ensure hosts have as festive a time as their friends and family members.

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