The family is getting together for the Holidays – at your house. For the first time. Lucky you! All these years you’ve managed to plead one reason or another why you couldn’t host the “do,” but you’re out of excuses, nowhere to go, so it’s time to grin and bear it. And we’re not just talking your immediate in-laws, we’re talking cousins, aunts and uncles, grand-this and that’s, nieces and nephews, the works.

You’re in a complete tizzy, trying to remember what it was that Uncle Morty simply hates to eat, and is Great Aunt June allergic to peanuts or cashews or was it strawberries? And what on earth are you going to find for them to do after dinner? They won’t all join the boys’ club and settle in for whatever game is on. The last time you had a large gathering at your house was for your son’s tenth birthday: you hired a clown who did magic tricks. That worked just fine for the kids, but you doubt a bunch of stodgy adults are going to find scarves appearing out of a sleeve all that entertaining.

And of course there’s your house. You look at it with Grandma Parson’s eyes and cringe. But what can you do when your house is home to 2 adults who both work full time, 2 adolescent sons and a 12 year old daughter rapidly going on 40? Oh, the family’s gonna loathe it! They’re going to think you’re a miserable housekeeper, that you have foul taste, and on and on it goes, as your mind races towards hosting perfection your gut knows you’ll never attain.

You groan! It should be a time of celebration, it should be a time of rejoicing, it should be a time of enjoying everybody getting together, it should . . . Heaven only knows what else. You collapse on a mountain of shoulds.

Which of course is the first thing that has to go. If you are to survive this gathering, and more than that, if you are to enjoy and revel in a delightful get-together, things are going to have to change. The shoulds are out, the “it can be so-s” are in. How?

First of all, recognize your purpose in this get-together. It’s not to out-perform a swank restaurant. It’s to provide a comfortable setting for your family to socialize in, to remember their value to each other, to re-connect in positive ways. If some family members look at your home with less than approving eyes, so what? They don’t have to live there. Let it go. You don’t have to serve a dinner that will miraculously consist only of dishes pleasing every one there. You can serve a variety of dishes buffet-style and let people pick what they want (people love buffets for that very reason!). You don’t have to create seating arrangements that assure the best possible conversation matches occur. You can designate a table for the under-12 set and let everyone else settle into where it pleases them, or just plain let adults and kids mix and mingle where they like. Sworn enemies aren’t likely to sit side by side, but if they do – so be it! If they start to get into it, you can compliment them on wanting to get to know each other better and thus defuse the situation.
As to entertainment, you’re not a cruise ship director. You don’t have to provide a show for your guests to gawk at.

Instead, provide an opportunity for them to connect, to express the family that you are. For example, call around to all your guests a week ahead, and ask each to come to the gathering with a snapshot, or souvenir or book or poem that’s particularly meaningful to them (yes, the kids too!). After the meal, as you all gather in the living room, have each take turns and talk about what makes that item special to them. What is the story behind it? Ask questions and encourage others to ask questions.

Take a Polaroid of each special item, and make a collage of those Polaroids, perhaps including bits of ribbon or leaves, or whatever else could be interspersed as decorations, even as you all sit there together, everyone pitching in. Take a photo of the collage itself, with the family members grouped around it, and distribute a photo to each of them.

In other words, let your Holiday family gathering be about appreciating what is of value to each of you, about valuing the time you share together, this wonderful moment where your lives intersect, rather than being about putting on a perfect “show.” Better your family should go home with a warm satisfied inner glow, than impressed by your hosting skills! The glow lasts a lot longer.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent books is "The Power of Appreciation in Business (MindLab Publishing, 2005). For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives--at work, at home and in relationships. Dr. Noelle welcomes your comments via email ( You can visit Dr. Noelle anytime at or