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preparing for holiday entertaining


You just scraped the last of the jack o' lantern off the front porch step, and it's already time to plan the Thanksgiving menu.

Then you'll be thrust into full holiday madness.

What's a temporally-challenged hostess to do?

OK. Take some deep breaths, and let's get organized. You've got six weeks to get your act together.

Preparing for holiday entertaining involves little more than fine-tuning a few little pesky details now, and seasonal entertaining will be a piece of cake.

Preparing for Holiday Entertaining: Cleaning the Partyware 

Got guests coming for Thanksgiving dinner? Or for the first night of Hanukkah? Maybe you're having a holiday cocktail party. 

Don't wait till the guests RSVP to begin preparing for holiday entertaining.

Here are things you can do ahead so you can be cool, calm, and collected when you open the door.

Your partyware - brass, copper, pewter, silver, and stainless steel - each requires special care to look their best on your festive table. First, however, you'll need to know a few basics.

Rinse your pieces under warm running water and use a mild soap such as dishwashing liquid to remove surface dirt. Resist the urge to submerge. 

Less is more with these precious metals! Wear gloves to protect your hands from the metal polish and the metal from fingerprints.

Cotton is best, but rubber works as long as you wash a new pair first. (Any sulfur that remains on the gloves could tarnish the silver.) Always test a small area first to make sure the polish is compatible with your piece before tackling the entirety.

Follow the directions carefully! Finally, polish the utensils dry with a clean, lint-free rag such as an old T-shirt or well-worn towel.

Here's how to restore the lovely finish of special pieces:

Brass. Place the tarnished brass item in a pot, pan, or plastic container. Cover it with ketchup, Tabasco sauce, or Worcestershire sauce. (Seriously!)

If you don't have these ingredients, try vinegar or lemon juice, both of which have the acidity to remove oxidation or tarnish. Allow the brass to sit for two hours.

Then scrub it with mild dishwashing liquid and a soft fingernail brush or toothbrush under cold running water. Dry the brass with a smooth, lint-free cloth. To retard future tarnish, rub the brass with a cloth moistened with olive oil.

Copper. Wash copper with soap and warm water, and polish it with a commercial copper polish following the label's directions.

Or make your own polish by moistening salt with vinegar or lemon juice to make a paste for a bright finish, or a paste of rotten-stone (decomposed limestone that is used in powder form as a polishing material) and olive oil for a dull finish.

Here's an important tip: Never use your copper utensils or pans with copper interiors to store acidic foods such as fruits, salad dressings, tomatoes, or anything containing vinegar. Toxic compounds can form if acidic food is cooked, stored, or served in copper containers.

Pewter. Rubbing alcohol will get rid of most of this metal's grime. And it's a cinch to care for: It's supposed to look aged! The only major caveat for this very thin metal: Avoid serving acidic foods on your pewter, because they eat away the metal.

Silver. Place a clean cotton tube sock on your polishing hand. Dampen the sock slightly under cold running water. Squeeze a pearl-size drop of toothpaste on your "gloved" fingertip.

Apply the toothpaste to the silver using up-and-down rather than circular strokes until the tarnish is gone.

Use a twisted bit of rag or a toothbrush to get between silverware tines and other tight spaces. Rinse the silver thoroughly and polish it dry with the clean, dry side of the sock.

Store silverware in an airtight plastic bag or a chest lined with tarnish-resistant flannel. Avoid serving sulfur-containing foods such as mayonnaise and eggs from your silver platters - they'll cause tarnishing.

Stainless steel. This material is aptly named, thankfully. It resists stains, but it can retain oily fingerprints. You can throw these items (or even gently place them) into your dishwasher.

If marks persist, wash stainless steel silverware by hand with phosphate-free dishwashing liquid to remove stains, or use club soda to remove streaks or heat stains.

Clean Holiday China and Crystal

Save time by popping the holiday china and crystal in the dishwasher several days or weeks before the big event.

Then you don't have to worry about spots and dust when you're setting the table.

Did I say "dishwasher"? I sure did.

Most modern china and crystal is dishwasher safe - as long as you load carefully so that pieces don't clank against each other.

If you have any reservations about their safety, test wash one piece before filling the racks. Hand wash heirlooms and pieces trimmed in gold or silver.

Clean Holiday Linens

Inspect, clean, and iron your festive tablecloths, runners, napkins, and placemats.


Plan or order your centerpiece for your dining room table as well as other floral arrangements. (Idea: Drape leftover Halloween pumpkins with autumn leaves and spray paint the whole thing gold for an effortless, elegant centerpiece.)

Make Room in the Coat Closet

Empty your coat closet so it can contain all your guests' coats. Position a coat rack or wicker bins where guests can leave purses, umbrellas, gloves, etc.

Prepare the Fireplace

Clean the hearth, fireplace screen or door, and tools. Have wood and matches at the ready.

Adjust Your Floor Plan for Holiday Traffic

Your regular floor plan may not accommodate a host of people. Move furniture so to create intimate conversation areas as well as good traffic flow. Set up the bar in the living room or den to keep people out of the kitchen.

Prepare the Powder Room

Prepare the powder room. Make sure the guest bathroom is sparkling clean and put out new towels and soaps. Do not put lighted candles in the bathroom if there will be children running around. 

Declutter Your Home

Go through your home and remove nonessentials from every surface. Put them in a box in the attic until after the holidays. 

This action serves many purposes: It removes delicate items that visitors might inadvertently break. It clears surfaces for drinks. It clears surfaces for holiday decorations. And finally, you might decide you can live without that junk and get rid of it for good.

Wow! The house is looking great. Your holiday season is off to a good start!

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› Preparing for Holiday Entertaining