Entertaining Tips
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Entertaining: Stress-proofing the Holidays

Elect a CPO and delegate
By Joe Kiedinger
Published: November 1, 2007
The holiday season: A time for family togetherness. But if your vision of the festivities involves a multi-family, multi-child, multi-pet, multiheadache get-together that does not evoke a Norman Rockwell painting, perhaps you’ll want to try some things we do at our cabin. Most everyone has a style when it comes to planning gatherings, but these tips have really worked well for us.

First of all we elect a Chief Party Organizer (CPO). Usually whoever hosts the gathering should be designated CPO, but your family may choose another individual.

Most importantly – the CPO needs to delegate! By delegating duties, every family member is involved, and there is a sense of fairness. This is the seventh year my wife and I are hosting our annual family gathering, and we have always been co-CPOs. However, the first couple of years were a mess! Once we delegated responsibilities, things dramatically changed.

For starters, all family members at the gathering – including children over the age of four – have specific jobs. I write out the jobs (separating jobs for children and jobs for adults) on slips of paper, fold them and place them in a jar for a random drawing when family guests arrive. Some jobs may include: prepare the water pitcher, grill that night’s meal, set the table, make the gravy, do the dishes (even though we use a lot of paper to make it easy), prepare the vegetables, bring in wood for the fireplace or prepare the bonfire. For a gathering of several days, each day will have tasks, which need to be delegated out. We found this to be a fun way to get everyone participating. Plus, guests feel they are contributing to the overall event.

Next, to ensure that all goes smoothly, we plan the following five main components ahead of time.

Sleeping Arrangements

If your gathering involves overnight stays, you need to determine where everyone will lay his or her head at the end of the day.

Remember, the adults may want to stay up a little later and strike up a hot game of gin rummy. Having a detailed plan of sleeping arrangements gets the kids to bed faster. So first, take inventory of the children, their ages and gender. We put all the kids between the ages of 2 to 8 in a designated bedroom. Like most cabin owners, we have limited space; therefore, we literally remove the bed from one of our guest bedrooms and line up sleeping bags on the floor. It becomes one central location the kids can all gather for story time and prayers. The children under two years of age bed down in their parent's room.


This category took us a while to master, but we came up with this plan. Depending upon how many meals and how many people your gathering includes, set a monetary amount to collect per family. For our gatherings, which usually include seven families totaling 27 people for the entire weekend, we collect $30 per family to go towards the general meal fund. The CPO uses this money to purchase all items necessary for the meals. Guests are asked to bring snacks – to be shared throughout the weekend – as well as simple desserts, like brownies and cookies. They are also responsible for their own beverages. When it comes to drinks, everyone has their favorites. So why fight it? Let them bring their own.

We coordinate preparation of the meals in the following manner: For dinner, the person who drew that night’s grilling duties out of the hat is in charge of the grilling. And others who have drawn side dish preparation tasks for that night are responsible for that meal’s side dishes. All the desserts that have been brought by the guests are then put out. Each morning, we – co-CPOs and immediate family – provide a continental breakfast for everyone. And lunch consists of a sandwich bar that the CPO lays out.

But I also prepare my CPO’s special lunch on one day. I wake up early and prepare a Dutch oven outside, using charcoal and a tripod. I cook a full 27-pound turkey outside in this Dutch oven, which takes about three and a half hours. The turkey is so moist, we pull the meat off the bone and make hot sandwiches. There are plenty of leftovers, as well.


We have children at our gathering who are over 9 years old, and we have children who are toddlers. It’s important that a certain number of age appropriate activities are planned to help the children – as well as their moms and dads – get through the day without the “what can we do now?” blues that can sometimes strike. Before the gathering, delegate two or three parents to plan and actually set up activities and organized games for all of the children. Some activities we have done over the years are:

Scavenger Hunt: Indoor or outdoor game.
Group the kids into two teams. Provide an identical list to each team consisting of objects that each team must find. The winning team is the one that finds all the items the quickest. Some items we have included on our lists are: old birds nest (for a winter game), leaves, sticks, a mitten, rope, spoon and charcoal. Just be creative.

King of the Forest: Outdoor game – when ample room is available.
Badges with animal names are pre-made out of paper and yarn. The animals are from smallest to largest on the food chain. “Life cards” are also pre-made out of paper. The kids choose an animal badge at random and tie it to their wrist or clothing. Each child carries with them three life cards. To play – for example: Five children have the animal badges of mouse, rabbit, badger, bobcat and human. The human can eat/tag any of the animals below him, the bobcat can eat/tag any animal except the human, the badger can eat/tag the rabbit or the mouse, and the rabbit and the mouse want to hide and not get tagged at all. A child who is tagged can turn in a life card to continue playing. Once all of a child’s life cards have been redeemed, they are out of the game upon being tagged again. The game ends when the majority of participants run out of life cards. There really are no winners, but the kids learn an important lesson on what it’s like to be an animal in the wild.

Make sure everyone has an opportunity to be the mouse or a rabbit! Then, of course, there are the traditional games most of us grew up with like: Kick the Can, Ghost in the Graveyard and Seven Steps around the Cabin.

For the smaller children, plan crafts using nature – such as leaf coloring. Place a piece of paper over a leaf and, using a crayon, shade over it so the leaf impression remains. Also, puzzles, coloring books and modeling clay like Play-Doh can add hours of fun for the little ones. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to plan everything. We tell the kids of all ages: prepare to have some downtime. Videos can be an easy way for children to sit down and just chill for an hour or two. We have downtime from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., which is just enough time to get the grilling done and have adult time for talking about the day’s events.

Waggy Tail Friends

This is completely up to you, but if you’re a canine lover like me, all dogs are welcome! Other pets are welcome too, as long as guests bring their pets’ cages and food. And as each animal may eat a different brand or type of food, it’s a good idea to have community water dishes but scheduled eating times. We learned that the hard way one year, when our dog was sick for a week after eating other animals’ food.

It’s important to be upfront with the rules of the cabin. We make it clear that all dog owners must bring a chain or leash just in case Barky is uncomfortable with the new surroundings and might get lost. Our cabin is in a “dogs roam free” row of property owners, so we encourage the freedom that several acres allow. However, dogs that are uncomfortable with children and other dogs should be left at home. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but the kids always come first. Also, be aware of any guests that may be allergic or have a phobia of animals. Their needs must be met, as well, for a relaxing event. Also, it’s best to corral the animals when it’s mealtime.

Having Fun

Lastly, HAVE FUN! Your guests will enjoy themselves if they see you having a good time. I’ve learned how to be the CPO and to delegate. Once the delegations are over, we simply have fun. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you will be during your holiday gathering. Don’t set your sights on your gathering being perfect like a Norman Rockwell painting. Be flexible and remember why we get together in the first place – to spend time with people we love and the people who love us. Happy Holidays!

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