Skip the Valium. Put down the martini. You won't need either to beat the stress of holiday entertaining -- so long as you plan ahead, stay focused, and stick to a budget. A sense of humor won't hurt, either.
"Nothing will make you more stressed than over-spending," says Linnea Johansson, food expert for Fox News' iMag, author of "Perfect Parties" and internationally renowned celebrity chef and party planner. According to Johansson, "There is a party for every budget."
A party doesn't have to consist of a full buffet or a three-course dinner, either, she says. "Cocktail parties are simple to plan and cheap. All you have to do is write on the invite that it's a cocktail party, and guests won't expect a full meal."
But if a full-course dinner is a family holiday tradition, work smart, says Emmy Award-winning home entertainment expert Christopher Lowell, author of popular entertainment guide "The Hassle-Free Host."
"If you're cooking yourself," he says, "devote an hour per day (or night) doing food prep for a week before the party. Chop, slice, marinade, etc., while you slowly put together the tablescape. This gives you time to plan the details and get all the food out of the way, leaving kitchen cleanup on the day of the party."
Lowell also recommends devising a menu "where almost everything can be served room-temperature, so serving is less critical." If you're overwhelmed at the thought of cooking everything yourself, he says, tap friends and family to prepare a dish and turn the celebration into a holiday season potluck dinner.
"Trying to make something for the first time for a big dinner without having any prior experience with it is a sure way to turn the event into a major, stressful situation for yourself," warns lifestyle expert and television personality Angelo Surmelis. "Pre-make as much as possible, heat and serve the day of the meal and don't forget to get out there and enjoy the day and your guests!"
And, Surmelis adds, "If you're going to try something new this year, make sure you've done a test run of the dish prior to finalizing your menu. Look for local ingredients and options from farmer's/holiday markets. It's a great way to make something regional -- especially if you have guests coming from out of town -- and an awesome way to support local farmers and food artisans."
Here are more stress-busting holiday entertaining tips from the experts:
--Create a to-do list and scratch things off as you go. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment as items come off the list.
--Opt for a buffet. Choose and set up the buffet area well in advance of the party. That'll give you time to create a holiday-themed focal point and decide where individual platters and other serving pieces should go.
--If it won't blast your budget, rent the glasses, china and silverware and say goodbye to post-party cleanup stress.
--Straighten up, but don't squeaky-clean your house before the party guests arrive. No one will notice the dust bunnies. One exception: the well-lit bathroom, where a visit from guests is guaranteed.
--Tight on space to chill wine or soft drinks? Put bottles in the washing machine and add ice. The melted ice will drain away.
--Keep the kids busy by letting them create a holiday mural on a floor-to-ceiling paper-lined hall wall. (Use removable tape.) Ask each adult to spend 15 minutes with the youngsters.
--Turn on the music. Start with lively holiday tunes followed by soothing instrumentals during dinner.
--Turn down the heat before guests arrive. Cooking and mingling can make room temperatures rise.
Having a sense of humor can go a long way in making the holiday celebration experience less stressful, says psychotherapist and author Dr. Tina B. Tessina. "Family or friends may squabble, food may not turn out perfect, and gifts may not go over as well as people hope. A sense of humor will help lighten up the whole thing. Think of yourself as a holiday troubleshooter, rather than a designer of perfect scenarios. Find out what's really important to your and your partner, and pare your celebration down to the important things."