Mary Giuliani—caterer to the likes of Oprah and Stella McCartney, and pal to our gal Rach—answers your entertaining questions so you can host like a pro in any circumstances, even a pandemic.

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table setting with dishes and post-its
Pull out the dishware, tack on some Post-its, and save yourself.
| Credit: Christopher Testani

What a difference a year makes. Is anyone else struggling with the fact that you're just getting used to socializing again with your pants on and now you're expected to entertain...your in-laws!? Ah, the "holidaze" are here again, and this year, with no Zoom screens to hide behind, it feels more exciting—and more daunting. If the idea of cooking the perfect turkey, decorating the tree, or going out on New Year's Eve has you filled with anxiety, then have no fear: Mary is here! And if I may be so bold, I'd like to grant you permission to not make everything the best ever this holiday season. I want to tell you that it's fine for everything to be just, well, fine. 

If last year taught us anything (aside from the fact that feta can actually melt), it's that the time spent with those you love matters most—more than the decorations you hang, the food you cook, the stuff you buy. We knew it already. But approximately 99 percent of us had partially (or completely) lost sight of that. So this holiday season, instead of worrying about whether your mashed potatoes have an airy peak or your tree is so pretty it could be in a window at Macy's (a wonderful place to buy my frozen hors d'oeuvres, Love, Mary, by the way), let's abandon the idea of perfection, shrug off the pressure to "impress your guests," and focus on the things that show love while losing the things that cause stress. 

Now, take off those hard pants, heat up a tray of Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese (in my opinion, the best), turn Netflix back on, and read my holiday-by-holiday guide for how to do the very least so you can spend the very most time with the people you love.

Thanksgiving

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

If you're hosting, this is absolutely the year to put all those amateur party planners and newly ordained home cooks to work. Take on what you enjoy doing and let your guests bring the rest. Why? Because they want to. Aunt Bea makes the best stuffing? Well, then, let her. She's going to make it in her kitchen and bring it to yours for a quick reheat and you are not going to feel weird about it.

Take Servingware Inventory

If you haven't seen your platters in a while, dust them off and do a "meal rehearsal"—lay out everything and decide what you'll need. Pair serving forks and spoons with plates and bowls, and stick notes with "turkey" and "cranberry sauce" onto each. This eliminates last-minute guessing because no one's good at eyeballing volume under pressure.

Buy the Pie

If you don't love to bake, don't! You can order amazing desserts online, or pick some up at your favorite bakery. If you do love to bake, instead of four pies, two will be fine this year. Assemble storebought toppings like ice cream, caramel or chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. You put them out and your guests serve themselves.

Banish the Formal Table

If you feel like a U.N. ambassador trying work out a peaceful seating plan, skip the place cards this year and let your guests sit anywhere they want to. Or—radical idea here—you don't have to set a table at all. You just need chairs and surfaces to eat on. It's not up to you to make sure your guests agree politically or COVID-ly, so eliminate the table and give everyone permission to spread out.

Don't Forget the Leftovers

The real way to your guests' hearts? Make sure you get some boxes and bags for them to take stuff home, or just pull out all those plastic to-go containers from your lockdown takeout. Bonus: That's less food you'll have to find room for in the fridge.

Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Diwali/etc.

Just Desserts

If you're not up to hosting a full meal, invite loved ones for dessert and drinks only. You can bake or display store-bought goodies, pop the Prosecco, and have a party. More time with your guests, less time in the kitchen.

Set Up a Less-Is-More Bar

The holidays are not the time to pull out your entire dusty liquor bottle collection. (And yes, liquor goes bad, so maybe Kondo that stuff? I digress.) Keep your offerings simple. All you need is red and white wine, a specialty cocktail, sodas, and ice.

Or Pre-Batch Your Drinks

Take those pitchers and punchbowls out. It's safe to drink with the (vaccinated) people you love, and batching is easy and pretty.

New Year's Eve

Skip It!

You do not have to go out, even if you're now allowed to. If staying home in your pajamas is your ultimate New Year's Eve, do it! After the year we all had, a dance party for two with someone you love may be all you need. Only this year, it's by choice!

My Hangover Cure

Angostura bitters
Pour a glass of this, put on a cold compress, and lie down. You've earned it. We all have.
| Credit: Christopher Testani

Of all the remedies I've tried (and trust me, there have been many), nothing works better than a simple glass of bitters and soda. I love Angostura bitters, which have a great history. The company was started by a doctor who produced medical tinctures to alleviate stomach ailments. There are a lot of flavorful bitters available today, but Angostura remains my favorite.

  • Club soda
  • Bitters
  • Fresh fruit wedges

Pour a glass of club soda over ice. Add 5 to 6 dashes of bitters. You can also add fresh fruit wedges to make you feel like you're doing something healthy.

This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2021 issue. Get the magazine here