Unless you entertain all the time, hosting a get-together can be intimidating. The good news about having an open house around the holidays is that some of the hard stuff has already been taken care of for you. People know what to expect, so you don't have to come up with a complicated, creative theme, and laying on the glitz will almost never look tacky. It's the holidays, and a few decorations and an open heart are sure to put people in a festive mood.

Casual Entertaining

Because there's no specific time for dining and other activities, an open house is a casual approach to having people over. The control you lose by not keeping everything on a strict timetable allows you more latitude in what you serve and how you orchestrate your gathering. The dynamics can change quickly, too, depending on the personalities of the people visiting at any given time. If you're paying attention, observing these changes and interactions can be half the fun of the party.

Consider Your Guests

Casual doesn't mean chaotic. If you want your guests to love your open house, then they should be your first priority:

  • Choose an early date for your open house to avoid holiday scheduling conflicts.
  • If "the more the merrier" is your credo, fine, but if you want to strategize your menu, beverage list, parking and entertainment, ask people to R.S.V.P.
  • Whether you send an invitation in the mail, put together an e-mail list or hand out fliers, make sure to keep a record of everyone you've invited and get the word out six to eight weeks before the big day [source: Collins].
  • Be clear about the time frame during which you'll be entertaining, too, like from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, and provide clear directions to your home. If you'll be serving a meal, let people know so they won't make other plans.
  • Include something for everyone on the guest list. If children will be included in your get-together, have some kid-friendly entertainment and munchies available. Expect a few picky eaters, and if you're serving some of your indulgent holiday favorites, offer a few low-calorie and sugar-free options, too.

Have a Plan

From a logistical standpoint, having guests coming and going over a period of hours takes some planning. Always have someone on door duty ready to welcome newcomers. Set aside a location for coats and any hostess gifts you may be receiving. Make high-traffic areas, like bathrooms, easy to find and use by eliminating unnecessary clutter. This might also be a good time to put your delicate breakables, like great aunt Edna's crystal vase, out of the way. Decorating for an open house by displaying your treasured belongings will show your home and taste to advantage, but accidents happen, so be forewarned.

Think About Food

If you keep it simple, food doesn't have to be a hassle. An open house is an invitation to mix and mingle, so that means moving around. To suit the flow of your party and keep traffic jams to a minimum, place refreshments in a number of areas, and if you're having a buffet, keep the space as open as possible. Providing additional seating is a good idea, too.

When selecting a menu, give extra points to items you or others can make ahead. From nuts to colorful platters of crudités, if you serve no-fuss foods, people can munch and chat more easily. It's tempting to try and outdo yourself with a fancy menu, but for these occasions, usually less is more.

Remember, the term "holiday cheer" isn't a misnomer, and even if your punch tastes watery and your pretzels are a little stale, your enthusiasm will go a long way toward making your open house a success.