This Year Stuff the Turkey, Not the Guests

As the holiday season shifts into high gear, here’s a plea for a different kind of moderation: let’s all hear it (softly please) for moderate hosting. Moderate hosting means fighting the urge to measure your success as a host by the amount of food, alcohol, and sociability your guests consume. It means not pressing the matter when a guest turns down an alcoholic drink, or a second helping of pie, or a third pass under the mistletoe, and keeping in mind the golden rule of being a great host: always make your guests feel comfortable.

Years ago I facilitated a therapy group for women addressing their alcohol addiction. Participants committed to abstain from alcohol for the eight-week duration of the program. Although alcohol abuse is not an issue for me, I decided to support the women’s commitment by also refraining from alcohol use for the length of the group. That turned out to be more challenging than I’d anticipated. I thought having an alcohol-free life for eight weeks would be straightforward; if I chose not to seek out alcohol, alcohol wouldn’t seek me out. Instead I found abstaining from alcohol also required active—and often persistent—turning down of alcoholic offerings made by active, persistent, and no doubt well-intentioned hosts.

Similarly, the abundance of food we’re surrounded by during the holidays won’t have the same meanings for everyone. Many of the men and women I work with struggle to establish normal relationships with food, one free from fear, panic, self-loathing, and loss of control. For these people, taking the underlying stress of the holiday season, combining it with omnipresent desserts, breads, and carbo-feasts, and stirring in a host who says, “these are my specialty, you have to try one,” is a recipe for disaster.

A word on behalf of the introverted among us. I grew up in a Greek household, where family seemed to include anyone who knows someone who knew your mother’s second cousin, and the party didn’t start until someone broke plates. As a painfully shy kid, family holiday gatherings, with their obligatory New Year’s hug and three kisses with relatives I hadn’t seen in a year, felt more like trials to endure than celebrations to  enjoy.

Here are my tips for being the host or hostess with the most this holiday season:

  • Have plenty of festive and attractive non-alcoholic drink options available.
  • Don’t question, cajole, implore, or otherwise stress out a guest who turns down a drink.
  • Have some fruit or other light dessert options available.
  • Don’t press food onto your guests or treat a refusal as a personal affront.
  • Don’t pressure your guests to behave more socially than they want to; if you make a comfortable and accepting environment for your guests, they’ll find their own zone (and if that’s alone under the coats reading Twilight, at least you’ve given them the space to be themselves).

© Copyright 2008 by Lee Kotsalis-Thulin. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rene


    December 24th, 2008 at 5:20 AM

    Why is it that so many of us allow the holiday season to totally stress us out? The holidays are supposed to be about family and friends and love, not the tension that so many of us allow to permeate the atmosphere. We are having a very low key holiday season this year but in years past have had a lot more entertaining to do. But I have never let it all get to me. These are the things and times that I enjoy and look forward to most in the world and I will never let my spirits be dampened at Christmas. the season should be about so much more than that. Here’s wishing everyone a joyful and stress free holiday season this year and best to you in the new year!

  • Kylie


    December 25th, 2008 at 1:17 PM

    Holidays for some reason are sometimes stressful. I find my self getting stressed when I am trying to cook everything all at once…. I come from a family that don’t really like alcohol or the thought of it in the house, which I on the other hand, like to have a drink while I am cooking. I think it’s a good idea to have something different for guests who’s not into the drinking.

  • tudy


    December 25th, 2008 at 1:19 PM

    Some of us are on diets and trying to watch what and how much we eat. I applaud anyone who hosts a holiday dinner and lets the individual decided on their own when they have had enough, not when WE think they have had enough.

  • Liza


    December 26th, 2008 at 5:05 AM

    I have some lost about fifty pounds this past year but had this fear that the holidays would be my downfall. At work clients were always bringing baked goods and the dinner parties felt like they would sabotage all of my efforts. I tried to remian strong and did so most of the time but I did encounter a few instances where I did feel the pressure from others to indulge. I just wish that everyone could just fill his or her own glass and not constantly remind me or think that they are reminding me of what I am missing by not having that one drink or monster brownie.

  • Lee Kotsalis-Thulin

    Lee Kotsalis-Thulin

    December 26th, 2008 at 2:22 PM

    Congratulations Liza, that’s a significant amount of weight to release! In my experience, it’s enough of a challenge to differentiate all the voices in my own head when it comes to deciding what and when and how much to eat — am I eating because I’m hungry, or because I’m bored, or because it’s there, or because everyone else is eating, or because it smells/looks good, or because I’ve hit that ‘what the hell’ point etc. etc. For me, adding others’ voices, perceived pressure, or alcohol to that mix just jumbles it further.

  • Risa


    December 27th, 2008 at 11:31 AM

    There was one year where a hostess kept literally shoving things in my face and by the end of the party I was ready to shove her against the wall. I wish that more people could take no for an answer when it comes to refusing food and drink. If I want something then I am a big girl and I can get it for myself.

  • Joanne


    December 28th, 2008 at 11:48 AM

    I am so bad. I want to be a good hostess so I feel that if someone is without food or drink in hand that it is my job to bring that to them.

  • Erica


    December 29th, 2008 at 2:47 AM

    I loved reading this one. I was in rehab 2 years ago because of a drinking habit in college which all started around the festive season. I stopped socialising a lot as I realised that it was the major cause of temptation. I got married 4 months ago and I had a house party for relatives and close friends. I did exactly this. The only booze in the house was punch and fresh home made wine. That’s all and in limited proportions.

  • Michael


    December 29th, 2008 at 2:49 AM

    I hated going to my cousin’s place this christmas. It was booze booze booze and end of the day it felt like a local pub. We had it all drunken brawls, the police knocking on our door and the worst hangover in my life. I would never do that again.

  • Mark


    December 30th, 2008 at 12:31 AM

    I am a diabetic from childhood and most festival food is out of bounds. Some of my friends have now started keeping me in mind when they plan their menu.

  • Shannon


    January 2nd, 2009 at 5:28 AM

    I experienced this same thing at a new year’s eve party the other night even though I rarely drink at all. I suppose this is the season of bringing outt he worst in your host, because if your hand is empty someone is always trying to fill it with something alcohol based. maybe all of this will end now that the new year has begun and for the most part the partying is through for a while.

  • Leslie M

    Leslie M

    January 3rd, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    Gracious host or not I think there are times when you have to be a little more in tune with your guests and their needs and shoving food at them all night long is not the way to do this. How about some pleasant connversation instead?

  • Christine


    November 23rd, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    As a creative design and celebration therapist (art therapy…finding your joy) I find the remarks above concerning in their hostility, frightening comment about pushing a hostess against the wall, and a self absorbed disrespect for a generous well meaning host who kindly felt to include your name in her invite list in trust and goodwill. Back up here and let us do a reality check on the spirit of good will, giving and celebrating life, family and friendship. It’s not always about our own feelings, it is mindful to honor the true innocent intent of others to try to see others happy in the only way they know. The beauty and magic of graciousness is the spiritual power of gentle empathy and understanding of others, honoring your own needs without vilifying and judging another who means you no harm I get you, I was raised in gloriously over the top Italian and Latino festive parties similar to your Greek parties. Growing up and meeting those with no families, no history of parties, love, I fell on my knees to thank my family. Graciousness is called the balm of heaven.

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