If you're like me, you will be hosting at least one holiday get together of some sort over the next couple of months (we're on deck to host 3 so far--all with significant numbers). Here are my favorite strategies for making this as low stress as possible.
1. KISS: Yep. Keep It Simple no matter what. Your food offerings don't need to be the absolute best and most amazing your guests have ever seen and/or eaten. Your decorations don't need to be the latest Martha Stewart creation or an amazing bounty of natural goodness. Most guests just appreciate the warmth of a loving home and good, basic food at this time of year--especially if you're hosting folks for one of the big days who can't make it to their own family's homes (i.e Thanksgiving or Christmas Day).
2. Routine: Starting TODAY, if you don't have good routines in place for keeping your home picked up, put routine in your life. We just started a new one last night: 7 minute dash downstairs to pick up as much as possible followed by a 5 minute dash in bedrooms. Each kid is given a laundry basket downstairs and given a specific thing to collect and put back (shoes, clothes, and toys-that-belong-upstairs). This doesn't get everything, but hopefully it will help us keep clutter to a dull roar. I clean up my kitchen every night--completely. Enough kitchen "stuff" accumulates this time of year as baking begins in earnest; stay on top of it.
3. Shop Ahead: pick out your favorite holiday treats and beverages and buy those supplies now. I like to keep hot tea selections, coffee, hot chocolate mix, and chai concentrate on hand. I also make at least one batch of wassail, so I start looking now for those ingredients as well. I know I'll be making several batches of shortbread, at least one batch of gingersnaps, at least one batch of haystacks, and a few other goodies. So I start accumulating those ingredients as well (butter freezes nicely!). I've already bought pecans for my Sweet Spice Pecans. Make sure you're also thinking about containers for gifts you plan to send to your child's teachers, your pastor, and other people in your life. Stores like Dollar Tree start stocking inexpensive tins, but they can sell out as the season progresses.
4. POTLUCK! I've yet to host a gathering where I actually provided all the food. The past couple of years, I've adopted this strategy: I provide all drinks and paper products and the guests end up bringing the food. (I don't use this approach when I'm hosting one of the big days' main meals; this is for holiday parties and the like.) Most guests are happy to bring something to contribute. We often do appetizer parties--folks bring heavy hors d'oevres and desserts, and there is plenty to eat.