Party On

Tips for holiday hoedowns


I am not a hostess who requires everything to be perfect. As long as the toilets are clean, the house is free of clutter and the lighting is just right, I’m good to go. That said, in the past few years I’ve scaled back on holiday entertaining for the sake of my own sanity.

Instead of throwing anything-goes New Year’s Eve parties, for example, I’ve hosted intimate cocktail gatherings where people can show off their fancy getups, nibble appetizers, sip wine or spirits and get their glow on before heading back out into the winter night.

What I’m trying to say is that throwing—and attending—parties during the “most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, it shouldn’t hurt at all.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the 20-plus years I’ve been hosting parties is that I like to have a good time, too. This means getting as much done as I can in advance, so that when the hordes start flowing through the door, I can step away from the stove and join them for a glass of wine.

If I’m still cooking when guests start showing up, I make sure there are appetizers available on the butcher block in the kitchen so that I can freely converse with those who’ve taken time out of their busy lives to step through my doors. Conversely, when dinner’s over or the party is winding to a close, I don’t make it a priority to get the dishes done in record time. If you’re a guest in my house, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do so, either (although a little help never hurts). If festivities continue into the wee hours, I make sure the perishables are put away, and save the rest for morning.

I’ve come to realize that preparing for parties in stages is a good idea, too. If I know I’m throwing a dinner party on a Friday, I’ll do the grocery shopping at least a couple days early, clean what I need to beforehand and, for the holidays in particular, wrap up the decorating well in advance.

Since it’s an incredibly hectic time of the year, it also helps to make sure those on your guest list are aware of what’s going on. For the Freaky Friday Holiday Party I’m hosting this weekend, I eschewed my usual Facebook invite and instead called everyone personally to let them know I’d like them to be there. It took longer, sure, but now I know exactly who’s coming and can set the table accordingly. And for those who can’t make it, I was able to wish them a “Merry Christmas” and let them know I was thinking of them.

I’m no Martha Stewart, but I do have a couple simple decorating rules. If someone shows up with a bag of chips a plastic tub of salsa, it takes less than a minute to find more attractive and sturdy vessels for them, and make the transfer.  I’m also not a fan of paper plates, plastic cutlery and keg cups. I know it’s not possible for everyone, but I keep extra silverware, dishes and glasses on hand for entertaining, and it saves on donations to the land fill (plus, it just looks better).

I’m also a fan of the aforementioned proper party lighting. Candlelight makes everyone look better, and people are more likely to sneak a kiss under the mistletoe if they’re not doing it under fluorescent bulbs. (Christmas lights and decorations are an added bones.)

Finally, if I could impart one more bit of advice to burgeoning hostesses, it would be to not take themselves too seriously. If someone breaks a wineglass or drops the tray of mushroom appetizers you spent an hour making, it’s best to shrug, clean up the mess and get on with party. The damage has been done, and getting visibly annoyed about it isn’t going to do anyone any good.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few important lessons, but learning to entertain in an ongoing process, and one every host or hostess has to figure out for themselves.

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