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A Holiday Reminder to Help Your Hosts With Domestic Labor—It Isn’t a Day Off for Them

Shutterstock image of dirty dishes in a dishwasher, representing domestic labor

For many people, the winter holidays are either approaching or already here. We’ve all seen the memes and viral videos that poke fun at (mostly) moms getting the house ready for the holidays, and I’ve had my share of giggles at them, but the truth is that this stereotype exists because domestic labor is exhausting and stressful. Everybody else is getting ready for a massive party where the cooking’s already been done for them, but the host is planning for an all-day, 35-guest stress fest where the magic of the holidays is completely dependent on their work.

It’s no wonder they act a little strung out.

Domestic labor, as feminism often emphasizes, is labor. That means that, while Christmas might be a work holiday for you, it’s not a holiday for whoever’s hosting the party. It’s just another day of work—but this time with more people to please, cook for, and look after. So one of the easiest ways to alleviate the host’s stress, and to live your feminism while still enjoying yourself, is to help with that domestic labor.

Now, I recognize that some hosts can be difficult to help, and there are some elements you can’t change. My mom and dad, for instance, both seriously love to cook, give each other elaborate pots for their birthdays, and are out-of-control aggressive in the kitchen. They do not want anyone coming near the main dishes who isn’t them, so they’re difficult to help out in that way. I know that me making the turkey is not going to happen. My grandmother, similarly, wouldn’t let any of her grown, adult children help cook at Christmas until she literally couldn’t lift her left arm. I know that people can—thanks to internalizing patriarchal pressures about needing to be a super-mom or something, or because their kitchen is their kingdom – often refuse help. (And to be fair to them, there’s a reason why “too many cooks in the kitchen” became a phrase.)

But while cooking is the most obvious way you can help, there are some other options which might be an easier sell. All of these suggestions are, of course, dependent on your relationship to the host, your own mental and physical health, and the logistics of the celebration. But I think they’re a good start for small ways you can consider to make the holidays more enjoyable and equal for everyone.

  • Help clean the house the day or night before the party. We’ve all seen our parent(s) when they’re on on one of those “Company’s coming!” tears through the house, so you can alleviate that stress by volunteering to do some of that cleaning for them. It takes one thing off their list, and it gives them more time for preparation.
  • Help buy supplies the day or night before the party. Hosts always need extra toilet paper, napkins, folding chairs, salt and pepper, etc. Volunteer to bring those by the day before, so they don’t have to worry about running out.
  • Handle the drinks and booze. This basically comes down to a grocery store run, so even the most possessive domestic martyrs will usually let you take this one, even if they insist on making the list themselves.
  • Split cooking the side dishes. If everyone brings a side dish, not only will you have a feast, but your host won’t have to time everything in a frenzy.
  • Wash dishes afterwards. Honestly, everyone who gets a meal cooked for them should be on dish duty afterwards, and I can’t handle people who don’t at least offer to. Even if it’s just loading the dishwasher, because your host has one, this is still very helpful. It means they can relax afterwards, and it means they won’t have a crateful of crusty dishes to wash tomorrow morning. This is especially important to do if you’re a dude; at every family party of mine, there’s always a gaggle of aunts and nieces at the sink after dinner, and like two dudes. If you are not above benefiting from domestic labor, you are not above performing it. Also, by washing the dishes publicly, you’re helping to normalize it for your younger male relatives.
  • Bring a dessert. This is pretty standard practice, but I also personally like to ask the host what they like to have for dessert, so that I can make something for them. The host usually has to plan their dishes around the preferences of the guests, so I like to bring a “Fuck it, this is for you” dessert where no one else’s preferences matter.
  • Come back the next morning and help clean the house. Usually, certain dishes won’t get washed the night of, either because they have to soak or because they’re so greasy that no one is going to wash them while wearing their party clothes. So there’s almost always an unavoidable Round Two of dishwashing that you can help out with – and that’s without even getting into the cleaning the rest of the house will need. If you are the child of the host, this is usually a super-easy one to sell your parents on, because they are weak and wiped out after hosting. If you’re staying with them, it’s even easier, because you can just beat them to waking up and start scrubbing. Too late to stop me now, mom!

Those are some of the suggestions that have worked for me in the past, but what are yours? How do you pitch in for your holiday hosts?

(Featured image via Shutterstock)

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