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For first-time holiday hosts, preparation is key.

The torch has been passed. The reins have been handed over. The holidays are here, and this year, they're happening at your house. But before you start to stress, know that a bit of planning is all it takes to make your first holiday meal a success. After deciding on your menu, try incorporating these tips that will put you straight into your family's holiday party hall of fame.

Holiday Family Cutting Turkey
Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

1. Set the table two days before.

You may need to dine on the couch for a few nights leading up to the big day, but setting the table early helps you identify shortages in cutlery, dishes, glassware, and chairs with enough time to run out for some fill-in pieces before guests begin to arrive. Were you planning to keep all the serving dishes on the table throughout the meal? Early setting will tell you if that's doable or if you'll need to add a side table or set up a buffet. Also smart: If you're stressed about dishwasher space, pick up some pretty disposable plates. Your table will still look sleek and clean-up will be a breeze.

2. Don't ditch every tradition.

It's understandable to want to create new traditions of your own around the holidays, but carrying over some of your family's longstanding practices — like the pre-dessert stroll around the neighborhood or the youngest cousin bringing homemade place cards — will make loved ones feel important and valued even though they're no longer running the day. Plus, asking your aunt to make the sweet potato casserole she makes every year is one less dish you need to worry about turning out yourself.

3. Two words: Freeze and reheat.

As much as you want your food to go straight from raw to the stove and into the bellies of your loved ones, you only have so many burners to work with. To avoid running out of room and dishes not being done on time, cook as much as you can a week or two beforehand and freeze it. Soups, potato casseroles, veggie dishes, and even pumpkin and corn bread can be frozen, pulled out to thaw in the morning, and set on a burner or in the oven alongside the bird or roast to reheat before dinner.

4. Go light on the appetizers.

A wide variety of finger foods certainly makes for an impressive-looking spread, but it's not necessary when the holiday feast is the focus of your party. To keep from spoiling your guests' appetites and take some pressure off yourself, opt for a store-bought veggie platter or some simple crackers and dips. (You can stir the dips up a day or two before so the flavor is best but you're not stressed.) It will be enough to hold them over until it's time to dig in to the meal.

5. For drinks, think classics.

If there's one area of your party where scratch-made isn't vital, it's the bar. A few bottles of red wine, a couple bottles of white, and perhaps some seasonal beers are sure to keep your guests happy. But if you do want to offer a homemade beverage, try something you can make a big batch of, like spiced hot cider or warm eggnog. You can serve it out of a slow cooker and let guests add rum or whiskey as they'd like.

6. Ask about dietary restrictions.

While enjoying the company of friends and family is the most important part of the holidays, chowing down is a close second. To make sure everyone can do so, check with your guests ahead of time to see if anyone has food allergies or other dietary restrictions that you need to accommodate with an extra dish or two. Plus, there's a good chance that your gluten-free cousin will appreciate being asked and offer to bring her own side, which is another task checked off your list!

7. Stock the restrooms.

It's key not to forget that when folks are eating and drinking their fill, they'll likely need to use the restroom a time or two. First, decide if you want some bathrooms to be off limits to guests, then make sure those you want your guests to use are stocked with extra rolls of toilet paper, fresh soap and towels, and perhaps a festive candle or air freshening spray to keep things smelling clean. And it can't hurt to have the plunger toilet-side to avoid awkward conversations with guests asking where you keep it.

8. Be ready for spills.

The holidays are messy! If there are items in your home that would be ruined by stains, stash them away from revelers for the day. Spray-on water repellent like Scotchgard can be used on tablecloths, carpets, and rugs a few days before the party. Keep an extra roll of paper towels handy to sop up spills on tile or wood floors and have a few back-up wine and water glasses on stand-by in case a glass goes down along with its contents. Being ready will keep small messes from disrupting the day.