A busy and excited host whose stress is palpable without being oppressive actually creates a fun energy. A lively home that’s warm and inviting with beautiful smells and crashing pots and pans assures people’s voices will rise, their stories will become bolder, and cups refilled more frequently. And, there’s fun to be found in successfully executing objectively challenging and stressful situations, like fitting 25 people in a studio apartment, or planning a last-minute menu for eight two hours before everyone arrives, or trying a recipe you’ve never even tasted.
In contrast, a “stress-free” host, who buys all their food premade, meticulously ticks every item off a list, polishes their flatware two weeks in advance, and only makes one kind of cocktail in a pitcher conjures an image of a perfectly coiffed 1950s housewife in a waist-cinching dress with impeccable lipstick, casually carving a flawless browned roast while her husband sits at the head of the table. This ideal doesn’t exactly exude an air of effortlessness. This kind of host is excessively orderly and their desire for perfection is itself actually anxiety-inducing, which is the last thing a stress-free host should want for their guests. And what guests think is ultimately the whole reason why you’re hosting in the first place.
Hosting is, in some part, an appeal to our own vanity. We want guests to compliment our recipes and tell us how cool our dogs are and that our homes are nice. We want friends to wake up the next morning and think about how great the party was. We want them to be excited the next time they get an invitation from us, knowing that they’re going to have an experience they wouldn’t have elsewhere. We want to revel in the sense of accomplishment we feel from this grown-up performance.
We should strive to take care of our guests, to make sure they feel that they are special and that we’re not cutting corners in order to soothe our own unease. The better goal of hosting this holiday season, and all other times of the year, is to not try to be less stressed, but to try to be the best host you can be, however is right for you and the people you invite. Stress is a pretty universally maligned state-of-being presently, but it isn't useful to dwell on something wholly inescapable. A little healthy anxiety is not so hard to govern -- and it makes parties much more worthwhile.