Avoid a Fa La La Fail
A successful holiday party is a great way to reconnect and celebrate with friends and family. But it can be stressful. Don’t let that stop you. These rules will help guarantee your success.
The holiday season can be stressful for many, especially those who like to play host for their family/friend gatherings. Although it has its perks when you’re the final decision maker on who attends, when and where the party will be and what food will be keeping visitors satisfied, pulling off a seamless holiday party isn’t as easy as it looks.
No one wants to be the host who forgot something, ran around frantically trying to keep everything organized, whose Christmas lights burnt out halfway through the party or the one who ran out of plates and dinner rolls just in time for the meal.
There is a method to throwing a great holiday gathering though, and it comes down to the numbers, food, activities, decorations and overall preparedness.
Luckily our mothers and grandmothers before us have passed down the trials and errors they faced, and even luckier for you, we’ve got just a few more checkpoints to help keep you on point and ready for any obstacle the holiday season could throw at you.
Whether you’re an experienced holiday shindigger or getting ready to break in your home by hosting your first family Christmas party completely on your own, have no fear, because the party planners are here.
Make a List and Check It Twice
The key to throwing any sort of flawless get-together starts days (sometimes weeks) ahead of time with one very important planning device that never seems to get the credit it deserves — the list. Buy a planner and jot down tasks to take care of ahead of time on the day that they are needed, even if it’s a week ahead; you can never start planning too early.
Start with your reminders to take note of — finish wrapping all presents the week of; go to the store and thaw out the turkey days ahead of time; call the bakery two days ahead; remind mom to prepare and bring her famous stuffing; and have household cleaning day (get the children moving on this one). Then go through bullet points of what you need to purchase from the store. Make a guesstimate of how many guests you will be having and always add a few more heads for good measure (and a couple more for that uncle who’s always on his way for seconds by the time you sit down).
Don’t forget to include all dishes with each ingredient needed and drinks, as well as plastic cutlery, plates, cups and silverware, trash bags, extra paper towels, toilet paper and any last-minute decorations.
Call on Your Team of Advisors
The potluck is a holiday tradition; so don’t be afraid to ask for help. The great thing about family is that they’re kind of obligated. People love helping each other out during the holidays, especially when it involves showing off their favorite dishes and secret recipes. Ask each family member or friend to bring either one dish, stuffing, green bean casserole, and so on, or an appetizer to put out while the main dishes are cooking. And don’t forget to ask grandma to make her famous pecan pie that you’ve been dreaming of since last Christmas. Strike off the items being brought from your list and save yourself hours of work in the meantime.
There will be a list of friends/family members who don’t do much cooking and probably won’t want to prepare a dish that everyone is going to eat. These guests are just as helpful though, because they can add to the side necessities. Ask someone to bring extra plates, napkins and cups, and give one or two people the task of providing drinks; this will save you time, money and most of all, a load of last-minute stress that you’ll definitely want to avoid.
Get the (Cheese) Ball Rolling
One of the biggest mistakes people make when throwing any sort of gathering is waiting until the last minute to make the food. Although most of the main dishes like the meats, potatoes and bread are best served fresh from the oven or stove, many of them can be prepared for cooking the day ahead. Get all your foods that’ll need an extended cooking time ready for the oven or grill and wrapped in foil the night before; then all you have to do is wake up at 5 a.m. to throw your 23-pound turkey in the oven to slow-cook for 10 hours.
Along with getting foods marinating and ready to cook, this is also when you should prepare your appetizers like cheese balls, spinach dip, ham rolls, bacon-wrapped jalapenos, meatballs, mini-links, cream cheese-filled celery, veggie trays, fruit trays, cheese trays, meat trays and even more trays of all your other favorite potluck hors d’oeuvres.
If you’re planning on providing all the desserts, you’ll want to start on these perhaps days in advance. Either make or order from your local bakery enough dessert for a crowd. And finally, don’t forget to get the drinks chilling far before your guests arrive — the hot cocoa may be flowing, but no one wants a warm beer making their stomach rumble before the big meal.
Stock, Stock and Stock Some More
Make sure to have backups of all the foods and drinks that tend to run out fast. Stock up on the crackers and soda, and make a large punch bowl of hot cocoa for the children. And be sure to have a surplus of alcohol for the adults (think 12 guests = six bottles of wine or two cases of beer); then set up a stocked bar for the adults where guests can make their own spiked eggnog or White Russian to sip on. And don’t forget to stock up on napkins and plastic cutlery and silverware so that you’re not doing dishes for days when the Solo cups run out.
Set the Ambiance and Celebrate
This is your time to go all-out on the decorations. Deck the halls and light up the tree; go crazy with tinsel and mariposas, and maybe even hide a few mistletoes around the house; lay down your most festive table cloths and set up centerpieces of antique ornaments; and put the Christmas carols on repeat and light up the peppermint candles to get the ambiance blazing. And do go overboard with the lights, both in and outside of your house.
Be sure to have a living/social room that is right for mingling and opening gifts. Arrange your furniture in a circular design with extra chairs and more ready to be unfolded in case. Have a side area or room designated for the children to go wild while the adults chatter and do the same for the tables with separate kid and adult seating.
One idea to keep people entertained is to have a photo booth with holiday props like Santa beards, elf hats, snowflake glasses, and more, and have some fun taking goofy pictures that will last a lifetime. Be sure to prepare other activities as well — both for the children and adults — like a gingerbread building competition that everyone can enjoy. Divide your party into groups and have graham crackers, icing, sprinkles, marshmallows and candy galore for decorating, along with small cardboard boxes, straws and pretzels for foundation. Then set the children up with holiday trivia and Pictionary to keep them busy while the adults partake in less-appropriate games like Dirty Santa.
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