Martha Beck Rescues You from Holiday Houseguest Hell
Undecorate Before You Decorate
Before you do any party preparation whatsoever, consider each object in your home, asking yourself: "If someone broke, dirtied, lost, or stole that, would I be devastated?" Decide, clearly and explicitly, if the joy of sharing something is worth more to you than keeping it in perfect condition. If the answer is no, take that object off the shelf. It's going into quarantine. If you do decide to share a prized object, adjust your mind-set accordingly: Remember, people are more important than things. Usually.
This process has two felicitous aspects. It kicks off your holiday decorating by leaving space for festive ornamentation. (Your trimmings needn't be pricey. Evergreen sprigs, sparkly lights, and brown-bag luminaries make for enchanting décor, Bergdorf's be damned.) Undecorating also helps you accept that guests might damage something, but connecting intimately with loved ones is worth the risk.
If you still can't relax, you can escape.
Establish a Sanctum Sanctorum
Meaning "holy of holies," sanctum sanctorum refers to the center of a temple or church, accessible only to a chosen few. Your sanctum sanctorum might be your master bedroom, or a bathroom, which works well because if you disappear into it for hours, most people won't want to know why. Make sure the room has a lock, then fill it with everything you removed during the undecorating process. Don't forget the most valuable thing of all: nothing.
When Roman troops plundered the Jewish temple's sanctum sanctorum, they thought it would contain jewels, delicacies, and the latest in combat technology, not yet available in stores. Instead, they found something that truly shocked them: emptiness. The Jewish concept of God isn't a three-dimensional object; it is a force beyond material form, a no-thing that is the ground for everything. Learn from this. At the center of your sanctum sanctorum, leave space for a little bit of nothing: nothing to do, nothing to remember, nothing to buy or wrap or give or cook or dust. Slip away to this space to rediscover your holy self during the holy days, especially when your visitors are raising holy hell.
So that's it. Once you've immunized yourself against social anxiety, undecorated, and created your sanctum sanctorum, you can throw yourself into the festive joys of holiday entertaining. Knowing your heart and home are protected, mail those invitations and park yourself under the mistletoe. It's up to you whether you offer guests your mouth or your cheek.
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