Successful people do one special thing that other people don’t do in their planning -- they begin with the end in mind. They think about what makes the holidays special, and the answer is always “getting together with people.”

After all, during the holiday season, there are always “plenty of things to do and places to go” to get ready: shopping malls, on-line stores, and grocery shopping. But you can turn the tedious chores into fun times if you invite your favorite people over for a special event. Sure, you’ll get together with family. But once you get your holiday planning into a working routine you just might be able to reach out and gather some other people together for a memorable event. It could be a neighborhood party, a cookie exchange, office party, or an open house combining all three.

Beginning with the end in mind keeps you focused on your plan, helps you to eliminate any details that don’t add to the desired feel and communicates purpose and value to your guests. The holidays are all about taking time to honor the people we love and are thankful for throughout the year.

Where Do I Find the Time?

I never thought I had the time to squeeze in an entertaining event until I attended one simple, amazing event. My new acquaintance, Ann Rahilly, had invited us to an open house on the first Sunday in December. That took preparation to kick off the season so early. What was also so unusual was that just the summer before, Ann’s husband, who had been a doctor, was riding around the neighborhood in a Moped for relaxation, when he was killed by an oncoming car driven by an elderly lady. What a loss of husband, doctor, and friend.

So why did Ann host an open house in the midst of grieving through her first holiday without her husband? “I wanted my three girls (grade school and junior high) to connect with people and reach out to others. We baked lots of cookies together (which was a bonding experience) and we listed everyone who was meaningful to us. My family lives in Australia, so this get together was particularly important to us since we didn’t have family here for the holidays."

Ann and her daughters issued the open house invitation in one-hour time slots: neighbors from 2:00 to 3:00 PM, husband’s work friends from 3:00 - 4:00 PM, and 4:00 - 5:00 PM for church friends. The mood was pleasant, the fare was tasteful, and the party was meaningful. No superficial display of holiday one-upmanship or showing off. Just a genuine gathering that said, "You’re special to us, and we’re glad you came."

I learned that with a vision and a little planning, there was room to break out of the gift shopping, card sending, and house-decorating cycle and gather people together.

Where Do I Begin?

One of the best ways to begin is to think of groups of people who would enjoy being together. They could be:

1. Neighbors you say hello to but never have time to visit
2. A reunion of people you traveled with this year on a cruise or overseas
3. Coworkers from the office who could use some holiday cheer
4. Your small group at church or your support group
5. Walking partners you see often but with whom you don't usually socialize
6. Single parents and their kids who you see at school or sporting events
7. Business vendors you deal with during the year
8. Your best friends
9. Your family, both immediate and extended.
10. Other ______________________________________________________

Think about doing the event once, invite another person in the group to plan it with you, and get help from others to pull it off. Do the part you do best – food, invitations, or program – and let the others put their best efforts forward too. Everyone will enjoy contributing something they do easily, once you share the vision with them.