As the holidays approach, so will the parties! Whether hosting a party or looking forward to attending them, that time between Thanksgiving (which is also the second day of Hanukkah this year) and New Year’s Day truly
is the most wonderful time of the year.
Schedules fill up fast, though, so if you want to throw a party, don’t delay in choosing a date. Perhaps you will host a potluck the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving or invite friends over for a Sunday-afternoon soiree – and don’t forget about the week between Christmas and New Year’s when
there’s an unexpected lull in the action.
Where to begin?
Once you have selected a date, start with a game plan, just like the pros. Break your whole party into a well-run timeline. From guest lists to invitations – shopping and decorating – each detail should be carefully planned.
Whether you are planning an intimate dinner party or a holiday open house for 50 – decide what kind of tone you want to set and then define your color palette. When it comes to decorating for your holiday party, choose items that reflect the way you actually live. For instance, if you have a tone-on-tone, neutral, modern interior, you might not want to decorate with loud shades of green and red.
Consider breaking away from the typical colors and use winter whites and creams with gold or silver accents. Combine fun, artsy pieces you have collected with the china and vintage pieces that you love, making your party personal – uniquely you. You can also add ambiance with an eclectic collection of mismatched tapers, column candles and votive candles. Mixing it up with lighting and candles will combine reflections from various surfaces to produce a uniform – or ambient – illumination which is very effective and pretty.
For other decorating ideas, as well as online party-planning tools pore over websites like www.hgtv.com and www.eVite.com. Bonus: those sites also offer party planning checklists which can be downloaded and printed for free.
Plan the mood
Set the mood before the first guest arrives. Fill a baking pan halfway with water and cinnamon; then put it in the oven on a low heat and let the aromatic smell of cinnamon fill the house. Plug in holiday lights and have seasonal music playing softly in the background. And, of course, keep a fire burning in the fireplace to add to the cozy holiday mood.
No matter what kind of party you are planning, serving your fare buffet-style is a great way to lighten the load. For large party food spreads, set dishes at different levels so the table feels less crowded and guests can easily see every dish. When serving a large amount of party food, make smaller and lighter dishes. Arrange silverware and rolled-up linen napkins at the end of the buffet so guests aren’t juggling too many things as they go through the line.
Plan the seating
Many parties this time of year are reception-type parties or open houses, but the gracious host will want to make his or her guests’ comfort a top priority, even if you have to borrow chairs or benches from your friends. If you don’t have a large area in which to seat everyone, then perhaps arrange small seating areas separate from one another – these are often more intimate and cozy anyway.
Plan the Food and Beverages
If your party is a seated dinner, know when you’re going to serve it and make that clear to your guests. The main course could be a traditional turkey or ham – or opt instead for an Italian entrée. But remember to offer an option for vegetarians, dieters and fussy eaters!
Heavy hors d’oeuvres are always popular but estimating how much you will need can be a challenge. A good rule of thumb is planning about 6-8 servings per person. And no matter how pretty you display them, veggies are nice but they will not fly off the table. Some things – country ham mini biscuits, shrimp, crab and asiago cheese dip – will fly off the table and so you will want to have ample portions on hand.
For other ideas, visit www.pinterest.com for suggestions about food and creative ways to display your holiday fare. This site is a treasure trove of information and ideas – from “Merry Cherry Christmas” drinks to appetizers that are fashioned after holiday wreaths.
In terms of drinks, a good rule of thumb is a quart of liquor, one bottle of mixer or three bottles of wine for every eight guests. If you buy too much, no worries - you can use the left-overs at your next party. There are websites galore, but www.eVite.com, in particular, has beverage calculators to help you to estimate food and drink needs.
To keep things from getting too congested around the buffet, consider setting up a separate beverage station where guests can pour and replenish their own drinks. Step away from the cocktail shakers and whip up a batch of self-serve cocktails – perhaps a winter sangria or spiked sparkling cider. There are many fun non-alcoholic options too, like cranberry sparklers – so pretty and festive. Simply combine three ounces of white cranberry juice with three ounces of sparkling water. Stir in two tablespoons of pureed blackberries, garnish with a mint spring and voila!
Speaking of signature beverages, maybe finish on a comfy note and offer guests a spicy after-dinner eggnog garnished with shipped cream, cinnamon, and nutmeg – and served with cookies on a silver tray?
Beyond the Food
It’s also important to plan for logistical issues beyond food and drink. For instance, is your party is kid-friendly? Hire a teen to help entertain the kids. Don’t have sufficient parking on your street or neighborhood to accommodate the cars? Consider asking your neighbor if you can borrow a driveway.
You can also keep your stress level down by hosting a holiday potluck gathering. Decorate your home, selects the evening’s playlist and then lay out sumptuous main dishes. Invite your guests to bring their favorite beverages and their own signature holiday dishes.
Make it easy by preparing a list of what you will need. If a guest has a signature dish you’d like them to bring, don’t hesitate to ask! If you are hosting a large group, it might make sense to assign dishes. You could divide up your needs alphabetically and have people bring a dish that is assigned by the first letter of their last name. (For example, letters A-H bring a side dish and letters I-N bring an appetizer or dessert, etc.).
Be specific, though. If you ask for “salad,” you could end up with three pasta salads. So suggest fruit salad, pasta salad, or green salad to eliminate duplicates.
Just remember, throwing a holiday party ought not to mean toil and trouble for the hosts. Some people are in their element entertaining – from decorating to personally whipping up each item on the menu. Others would just as soon bring in outside help. Maybe you would prefer a combination of the two.
If cooking is a hobby but the planning and organization of a party can be the most overwhelming part for you, there are events professionals you can call upon to help you get organized and then the legwork and food prep is up to you. Some events planners can be hired by the hour if you don’t want to pay for full-service.
Maybe you like to plan and decorate – but prefer to leave the food planning and preparation to those who cook well (e.g., caterers!). Remember, it’s not about proving yourself in the kitchen. Bringing in a caterer is not a sign of weakness. It’s about living within your comfort zone and having fun.
If your gathering is going to be really large in scope, you could hire an events planning professional to oversee everything from planning to execution and cleanup – or you might decide to just bring in a caterer to do food and beverages. Depending up on the size of your home, budget and guest list, you might consider hosting your party somewhere other than your home. Taking your party elsewhere or hiring a professional will cost a bit more, but you’ll be comfortable knowing that every detail will be taken care of.
In the end, just remember that the goal isn’t to impress – it’s to celebrate the season with those who are special to you and yours.