The holiday season is upon us. For those hosting a party for friends or Christmas dinner, there is a lot to organize before your event. It’s best to categorize what needs to be done and set a timeline to stay organized. Basically, there are four elements for which you need to plan – decorating, menu planning, drinks, and entertainment. This is a good time to repurpose items. Do a little prep work everyday to keep things under control. If it seems overwhelming, invite friends over to help you and offer them a take-out lunch for their efforts. Ready, set, go…
This could be as simple as putting up a tree and setting the table, or lighting, garland, tablescaping, poinsettias, knickknacks, candles, and more. Choose a color theme, such as traditional red and green, or winter white and gold. Partially set your table ahead to add to the holiday decor. Place a festive tablecloth on the table and possibly a runner, possibly add cloth placements or chargers, and fold cloth napkins. Optionally, add place cards on pinecones, ornaments, three inverted canny canes glue or tied together, or just use tent-folded seasonal paper. The centerpiece could be small poinsettias, a small wreath around a pillar candle, or a floral arrangement. Another colorful centerpiece would be a clear vase or glass tumblers with Epsom or Kosher salt or sugar poured in at the bottom, followed by cranberries and topped with feathery evergreens, i.e. false cypress.
Go traditional, or think oust side the box – either way, use seasonal vegetables. McCaffrey’s, ShopRite, and Wegmans have catering departments if you need help with side dishes or the entire meal. There are shops like D’Angelo Italian Market, and Olives Catering and restaurants, such as Main Street Fine Catering that can help you manage your time in the kitchen. Local caterers, e.g. Emily’s Cafe, Chez Alice, IQuisine, and Tina Cucina can also prepare the food for you if you don’t want to cook. You can also consider just ordering appetizers and desserts, or the side dishes to alleviate some of the work. Try to offer food that you did not eat on Thanksgiving day. Prepare seasonal side dishes such as Swiss chard, kale, Brussels sprouts, baby spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, or parsnips as part of your menu. Consider offering a soup, such as roasted butternut squash, sweet potato and carrot, or cream of parsnip. Alternatives to turkey or ham are roast beef, surf and turf, personal Cornish game hens, salmon en croûte, or rack of lamb. Vegetarians and vegans could eat Gardein’s Holiday Roast or Field Roast’s Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute. Dessert could be a pumpkin cheesecake, chai creme brûlée, or pecan pie bars.
Champagne is always a nice way to greet your guests, but cava, proseco, or sparkling cider for the non-drinkers is a nice alternative. If you are serving hors d’oeuvres, Martha Stewart has some festive cocktails to offer with them. Have wine and/or beer during the main course, coffee or tea with dessert. If you prefer wine, here are some pairings to consider. Cordials by the fireplace or in a comfortable living space is a nice way to end the day. Capital Corn & Confections has a delicious Pumpkin Spice popcorn that would be great on the table to nibble on during cordials. If you have cigar smokers, have a fire pit or outdoor standing heater and seating set up outside, and offer cigars and scotch or their drink of choice.
Hosting Christmas usually involves an afternoon or evening of listening to and/or singing Christmas carols. Try to have music playing in each room where you will be entertaining. My favorite holiday albums are:
- Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song
- Big Crosby – White Christmas
- Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas
- Martha Stewart Living Music – Jazz for the Holidays
- Kenny G – The Greatest Holiday Classics
- Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 1
Besides playing music and chatting or watching a holiday movie, you could plan a couple of activities to liven things up a bit.
- Christmas Crackers – These gifts are popular in the UK. Pull the wrapping paper around a cardboard tube and it opens with a “pop”. Inside there’s a riddle, paper crown, and tiny toy. They can be purchased in many places locally, or it can be a DIY project with or without the cracker snap. Watch this video to learn how to make them.
- Holiday Crossword Puzzle or Word Search – Create your own and make copies for each guest, or buy them. The first to complete it correctly could win a prize.
- Just Dance 2016 on any Game Console – Gather a group to compete. Award the player with the “best” dance moves or highest points. Or go for a classic – Michael Jackson – The Experience.
- Karaoke – Sing Christmas carols or pop music.
- Liquor Grab – Buy sample bottles of various liquor and number them. Corresponding numbers are put in a bowl and each participant pulls one out and takes home the matching bottle.
- Raffle – Depending on your budget, prizes could be: Amazon Echo, Bose SoundSport earphones, Roku Stick or Chromecast, Kindle Fire 7″ Tablet, Lush Golden Wonder gift, Anker PowerCore+ Mini portable charger, Teavana Organic Imperial Matcha Singles: 10-Pack, or an iTunes gift card.
- Right-Left Christmas Stories – Everyone sits or stands in a circle and passes small wrapped “Secret Santa” gifts left, right, across, or skip according to the cue words used in a story read by a volunteer who should have a designated gift. Once the story is over, you get to open the gift you have in your hand.
- Roast Chestnuts on Open Fire – With a knife, score an “X” or a long straight line on the flat side of the chestnuts, soak them in (optionally salted) cool water for 30 – 45 minutes, then place in a campfire popcorn popper and roast in fireplace for about 15 minutes. Once down, place them in a towel-lines bowl and cover for 15 minutes and peel while they’re still warm.
- Secret Santa – You know the drill.
- White Elephant Exchange – This could be the opportunity to re-gift while having fun.