Making the Holiday Gathering Easier

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If you’re not ready to hand over holiday hosting duties to your adult kids but feel like doing it all is nearly doing you in, you have options to make the gathering easier.

Delegating should be your first step.

“You don’t have to do everything yourself,” said Triciajean Jones, director of the Ontario County Office for the Aging.

Jones suggested that instead of doing all the planning yourself, perhaps one of your adult children could handle aspects of the gathering, such as selecting the date and choosing the theme. Another could organize music and entertainment. You don’t have to do all the cooking, either.

“Assign appetizer to your daughter-in-law and desserts to your son,” Jones offered as examples. “Or if someone has a dish that they’re good at making, ask that they bring it.”

Don’t feel like you need to have a big to-do for entertainment. Lay on a low table for the kids butcher paper and markers. Leave out simple games like Jenga and puzzles. Play a family-friendly movie nearby to keep the little ones busy so grown-ups can visit. Assign a teenaged grandchild to oversee the tots so their parents get some time off.

“It’s a lot about bringing back the simpler things before technology took over everything,” Jones said.

Planning and cooking a full, sit-down dinner — even with help — can result in a lot of work and clean-up efforts. Instead, Debra Kostiw, certified master dementia strategist, Alzheimer’s and dementia educator based in Henrietta, suggested alternatives.

“You could prepare your event and say, ‘I know you want to spend time with others so let’s make it easier,’” she said. “Instead of a ham or turkey dinner, do a brunch or breakfast.”

Kostiw is also author of “Forget Me Not: The #1 Alzheimer’s and Dementia Guide for Professional and Family Caregivers.”

It’s OK to have some or all of the food catered. Your adult children will likely have their own traditional meal at their homes. It’s fine to have something more casual, with an open house format. Your adult children and grandchildren can feel free to come and go between a two-hour span, for example, and help themselves to a buffet and visit a while.

“It’s easier and there are fewer items,” Kostiw said. “You don’t have to be as formal in dinnerware. For brunch, you could order a breakfast pizza or make an egg casserole. You could have fancy doughnuts and Danishes from a local bakery. There are ways to adapt the meal so it’s not much work and trouble on one house.”

Pick up sub sandwich platters and chips to lay out a casual lunch. Or soups and fancy breads and crackers. Disposable place settings in holiday colors and prints can offer a festive touch without requiring hours of clean-up.

The open house format also limits contact among any family members who do not get along well, since they can leave without making a big scene by leaving in the middle of dinner. It also helps families with young children who need to visit two sets of parents, step-families and four sets of grandparents within a short holiday timeframe.

Kostiw said that with her family, it became clear that hosting a sit-down meal wasn’t working anymore.

“We picked a night where everyone was free and went out to a Chinese restaurant,” she said. “We ordered several dishes and shared everything. Before we even left, we were talking about doing it next year.”

Don’t assume everyone wants the Normal Rockwell-esque turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

“We may not even know what others want until we talk about it,” Kostiw said.

It can also help to have a “designated angel” — as Kostiw puts it — to keep an eye on frail elders in the group to make sure they’re included in conversation, shielded from overly exuberant youngsters and provided with what they want to eat and drink. Navigating a large, boisterous crowd can be intimidating. The designated angel should be ready to take the senior home when they’re ready to go.

“Be conscious that the older adult parents can be fatigued or depressed,” said Lauren Goetz, owner of Everyday Hands, an errand and personal services provider in Rochester. “Be aware the holidays aren’t what they used to be. Don’t have so much pressure on them. Be open to embracing new traditions.”

Decorating can be a difficult tradition to give up. However, Goetz advises “quality over quantity,” she said. “Pick your favorites and things that can be easily put up and down.”

If ladders are too tough to navigate safely, enlist someone else to outline the roof with lights or brighten your home with lights in the windows and on a front door wreath. Light nets are easier to toss over a small shrub than winding lights around the boughs.

“Choose things that aren’t going to be in the way,” Goetz added. “You want to be aware of taking up space.”

Crowding the floor may increase tripping hazards.

Instead of going all-out decorating, you could also rent a facility. A church fellowship hall, lodge, enclosed park facility or hotel or restaurant meeting space can make your gathering easier as it’s already decked out. Plus, the space is set up for hosting groups and will be simpler to clean up.