6 Tips for Making Holiday Plans Go Smoothly

Last updated: November 2014

Hosting parties, having houseguests and gathering my loved ones at the dinner table bring me great joy. They’re all also tremendously difficult for someone with chronic migraine. With much practice, I’ve figured out some ways to make the process as smooth and with as few migraine attacks as possible. It takes a lot of planning, but the great outcome has always proven worth the effort.

Here are some suggestions, which I illustrate using examples from last Thanksgiving, when I had three guests for the weekend and hosted Thanksgiving dinner. They could apply to any holiday gathering or party.

1. Start planning far in advance: I began thinking about Thanksgiving a month before my guests arrived. I figured out who would do airport runs and where everyone would sleep. I came up with a general idea of what we'd eat for Thanksgiving dinner and what other food to have on hand. I thought about fun activities, good food in town and websites friends could consult for ideas to entertain themselves.

2. Recruit helpers (and give them good guidance): Two of our guests love to cook and my husband is a willing helper when given a specific task. But if I’m the only one who knows how things are supposed to go together and I’m unable to articulate my vision because I have a migraine, everyone feels frenzied. That's the opposite of the holiday spirit I’m going for. The remaining tips have suggestions for how to give guidance to helpers even if you’re stuck in bed.

3. Make lists and more lists: I make pages of lists – the Thanksgiving menu, a grocery list, items I need to order early from the farmers’ market, household tasks, errands to run… Early on, they’re organized by category; in the last week, I organize them by each day’s tasks. Also in the last week’s lists, I include a lot of detail (which farmers’ market to go to and its hours, names and addresses of certain errands) in case someone needs to take over. I also make a list of all those ideas of how guests can entertain themselves in town so they can have a fun day. This saves me from worrying about my friends getting bored.

4. Print out recipes ahead of time and make notes: What prep can be done in advance and which day does it need to be done? Which part of the recipe will be done Thanksgiving day or the day before? How long does it take to make the recipe and what temperature does it need to be baked at? Should it go in the oven at the same time as another item? I make copious notes so my guests can take over if I’m in bed.

5. Start cleaning at least a week in advance: Spreading cleaning tasks out over time keeps the chore from being overwhelming or physically exhausting and ensures enough time that everything gets clean. Sometimes a new layer of dust settles over the furniture before friends arrive, but it’s cleaner than if I hadn’t done it at all. In addition to basic cleaning, I  make the guest beds and set out anything they might need (towels, Kleenex, toiletries, etc.). High priority tasks come at the beginning of the week because cleaning stops once my guests arrive. Being together and having fun are more important than having dust-free bookshelves. (It’s taken many years to let go of the belief that my house has to be perfect for guests; what a relief to have that huge psychological burden lifted.)

6. Prep as much food as possible ahead of time and label it: One of my lists is of which day I’ll make what part of each dish. Usually that’s chopping in advance, but sometimes it means cooking part or all of the dish a day or two ahead. Labeling the containers in the fridge and making notes on the recipe about which items are already prepared give helpers good guidance.

Using all these tips last year make holidays fun, low-stress celebrations. It keeps me from fretting about a migraine coming on and derailing preparation and plans. When I lost several days in the week before Thanksgiving to migraines, I focused on taking care of myself instead of worrying about everything I wasn’t getting done. My friends had so much fun that they’re coming again this year.

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