Be Secretly Incredible at Hosting
Not the food or decor parts, but the human part of hosting
While Pinterest and Instagram dazzle with holiday tablescapes, matching family pajamas, and perfectly wrapped presents — the reality of home for the holidays is often an experience focused more on navigating complex emotions than pure aesthetics.
Families gather around the table and so do their past pains, current conflicts, and strange ways of (not) talking about all of it. Every family falls somewhere on the spectrum of these complexities, from the extreme (see season 2, episode 6 of The Bear) to a mostly healthy, occasionally awkward family dinner.
While I am not here to offer advice on how to deal with psychological olympics in the family kitchen, I think I have some tactful suggestions for making a holiday a little more magical despite them. (As a middle school teacher, I have developed a Ms. Frizzle meets drill sergeant method of creating fun & whimsy despite awkward tension and eye rolls).
While we aren’t always able to change our family dynamic over one holiday (or decades lol), many people still want to be present and be with their loved ones despite all of it. Maybe you even want to enter the season with an EXTRA dose of love. Sometimes having a good plan is what love looks like.
If you are hosting in any capacity, or just want to come to the event with some ideas in your back pocket — I’ve created this resource just for you. It includes ideas for new traditions, something everyone (or at least almost everyone) will enjoy, and ideas for bringing joy inside your home despite hard circumstances.
What to Do:
Dinner is over and it’s getting quiet. Or maybe the designated chefs are in the kitchen and the rest of the group needs something to do other than watch the news. Here are some joy-filled ideas for in-between times.
Family Kahoot! Any student in the family will know how to fire up a Kahoot and host a trivia competition. Everyone just needs a phone! Find a free Christmas Kahoot, like this holiday movie trivia one, and make it a competition.
If you’ve got some extroverts in the family, turn the downtime into a karaoke competition. This Youtube channel has a karaoke version of popular Christmas songs. Throw in a prize and see who comes alive behind the mic. P.S. Wal Mart has an amazing JBL karaoke machine on a major sale right now, if you are the kind of singing family where that investment makes sense.
Purchase a surplus of cocktail supplies and make a Chrsitmas-themed craft cocktail (or mocktail!) competition. Make someone like Grandpa the judge and allow each family member to try their hand and creating something behind the bar. Grab some small cups and make a sample serving for each family member.
Try out Minute-to-Win-It Christmas games with this source full of ideas.
Christmas movie bingo is a fun, relaxing option. Keep everyone locked into the movie by printing bingo cards (I think marshmallows as chips would be really fun, by the way). There is even a Hallmark version of a bingo card! There are more general ones for any movie and specific ones for specific movies.
What to Watch:
If all your family is in town and some movie nights are ahead, I have some suggestions for ideas beyond traditional holiday movies if you would like to branch out!
For the grown-ups in the family who still want things relatively family-friendly (maybe some language in these, but nothing that you would be horrified to watch next to your mom):
Barbie (just tell your dad it’s a Will Ferell comedy)
A Quiet Place (spooky option)
Baby Driver (more heavy language in this one)
Game Night (more heavy language in this one)
What to Make:
Make after-dinner candy cane lattes:
Milk of Choice
Sweetened Condensed Milk
1. In an electric kettle, heat your water to 195°F.
2. Using a scale, weigh out 3g of Winter Wonder and scoop into an infuser.
3. Add 6oz (by weight) of hot water to the infuser. Allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes.
4. While the tea is steeping, warm up a mixture of 5 tablespoons of Sweetened Condensed Milk and 5 tablespoons of regular (or your favorite alternative) milk. For the most enjoyable experience - froth up the milk until it’s fluffy!
5. When the tea is done steeping, pour tea into your favorite Christmas mug, and discard the leaves.
6. Fill the rest of the mug with the frothed milk.
7. Crush up candy cane, and add on top!
Make holiday punch
Make any Alison Roman recipe ever
What to Play:
We are a board game family. So here are some suggestions Connor and I have for your fam!
Avalon — this is our new game for the holiday. Haven’t tried it yet, but thought you may want to try it out with us if you are so bold. Will keep you posted.
Catan — this one seems to intensely resonate with some families. So maybe yours is a Catan family, you just don’t know it yet.
Rummikub — obviously, everyone is going to like this one. Easy.
Everdell — this one is a little more complex, but you get to be forest animals and it is beautiful. Will be loved by your board-gaming crowd.
Idiot — you just need some decks of cards for this one. Super playable and easy to explain.
Jackbox.tv — fire up your phones and have a blast playing Jackbox games.
Moose Master — a family-friendly card game that will actually make you laugh incredibly hard.
The Art of Gathering is one of my favorite books about hosting. The author persuaded me to not “just chill” when hosting and never invite people over to “just chill.” There is a whole chapter about the kindness it is to have plans for your guests to participate in. Even if the plans are laid back and simple, it is still worth having them rather than making a guest guess what they should be doing. You should read the book for sure if this provokes any type of feeling in you — it’s incredible!
Having activities to participate in helps guide conversation (especially if conversations in your family end up explosive or hurtful), helps build unity rather than everyone staring at their phones, helps connect relatives in some way, and gives purpose to idle times.
So if you want to have the kindness of some structure and activities — here are simple ideas to prepare ahead of time for your guests to have an even better time.
Print out crossword puzzles. Your grandparents, even, will love this. Find some Christmas puzzles of varying difficulty and have some pencils out with them. This helps guide the conversation and idle hands.
Generally — leave things out for your guests to engage with. Ideas: a puzzle, decks of cards, DIY hot chocolate or drink bar, photo books/interesting art books/magazines, word searches, have a Christmas movie already playing when they come over (not the news, please!), holiday mad libs, gingerbread houses, cookie decorating supplies.
Play music — having background tunes will keep positive feelings in the environment and even cause some family to hum along. Nothing is worse than having your hands covered in chicken from cooking and trying to find a playlist two minutes before the doorbell rings. No worries — I found some good ones for you.
Go wild and set up a Christmas scavenger hunt in your house for the big kids.
Crayola has printable coloring sheets for the kiddos!
You will never satisfy everyone, but it’s not personal — it’s just some sort of projection
Family is hard for most people
Holidays are a hard time for a lot of people — it’s not just you
It’s okay to make new traditions
You can still make things feel magical, even if you aren’t a kid anymore (and that’s important to do)
A note to our supporters:
For our supporting subscribers, I just want to thank you earnestly for your support this year of this Substack dream. We started in February and had one consistent goal — to have fun making things. I have two full-time jobs right now, and juggling the schedule to write consistently has been difficult. I also often find myself comparing my growth here to others — looping in and out of delusional discouragement based on what I fear others perceive me as. I write something, love it, and then a week later see other’s successes and feel desolate. It’s unhealthy, and I sense it. I often sit next to Connor and express that frustration — I feel discouraged and I hate to even admit it — and he brings me back to the core of doing all of it.
This is for the very serious business of bringing back the fun of creativity. Substack is not another machine to feed me numbers (that I would take too seriously), but an experiment where I can show up as the kid who used to write blogs and make word art for the internet and LOVE IT even though not one person saw it (well, my mom did).
I always find myself longing to do it…and do more of it…so I’m making it a large priority to pour out — creatively and uninhibited — here on Substack in 2024. I sense all sorts of colors, whimsy, and ideas I pushed out of the way a long time ago (i.e. fear) are bubbling to the surface. And I am working hard to keep the heartbeat of my efforts on the actual joy of creating, rather than believing the lie that this too must be a place where I must somehow make six figures or something ridiculous. That all fruitful enjoyments must be for making income to replace other income. It’s exhausting, do you feel that too?
So I am fighting for making for the sake of making.
I have BIG goals for 2024 and am so excited to invest more of myself into Feeling! Magazine and my art once again after years of focusing on many other endeavors and keeping my personal work on a lower level.
All to say…THANK YOU! For reading, subscribing, sharing, commenting, encouraging, supporting, and caring at all. I love you.
Here is a Christmas gift for YOU (it’s a good one!):
Use the code “LOVEYOU” for $14 off your order from my new website! You can get any two prints you’d like for FREE and print them out. I put all of my holiday art up there today if you’d like some decor for your hosting and Christmas parties :)
The code will expire on January 1 — happy shopping!
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