More often than not, I think we end up stressing ourselves to the core around the holidays. The cooking, the gift giving – we love it and we despise it all at once. I’ve learned a lot about entertaining through the years, and I wanted to share some tips that have made my life all the more simple. The holidays are a time to spend with loved ones and make memories. We should all be doing just that!
Plan In Advance
The biggest factor to planning any holiday event – from a large party with everyone you know to a small family gathering – is planning in advance. We plan our late December events at Thanksgiving. This includes anything from the menu to how the table will look – it’s very important to have a pre-set vision for your party, so you aren’t running around like a crazy person the day before. After all, with the work you’ll be putting into the preparations, you should be able to sit back and enjoy yourself as much as your guests! Pre-planning will cut down on your stress levels tremendously.
Another big question that may have you stumped is how to serve your food. Some people prefer the casualness of buffet-style, while others cherish a more formal sit down meal. Why not consider a mixture of both? I like for people to get their own food, which prevents the awkwardness of passing dishes or having a server, which can feel so formal that it prevents your guests from relaxing. When guests have a choice of what they can scoop onto their plates, they’re going to enjoy your food that much more! Plus, you can have a lot of fun with the way you choose to display your buffet as well. It can be as casual or fancy as you like :)
What can get awkward with a buffet style is that people aren’t sure where to sit – they may even feel like they need to stand, which is never fun if you’re eating anything heavier than appetizers. This is where having a beautiful table for your guests comes into play. I always do assigned seats with place cards – that way, no one has to wonder where they will sit, and you can seat guests according to chemistry. Aunt Mildred doesn’t have to worry about getting “stuck” next to Uncle Ted, and people who came in small groups can all sit together without asking others to move down a seat. There’s also something about your guests seeing their name near their setting that makes the meal more personalized and special. And by the way, if you’re wondering how many people to invite, my philosophy is, the more, the merrier!
Holiday Party Must-Haves
Beyond pre-planning and seating, prioritize your top must-haves. There are three things I always have that “make” my holiday gathering: Good wine, good friends, and Gravad Lax. You might be thinking Grava-whatta? My family has Scandinavian roots, so we serve a traditional salmon appetizer. It’s just something I look forward to every holiday season, and something our guests have come to cherish as well. Think about your own holiday traditions, and if you don’t have any, it’s never too late!
As far as attire goes, I encourage you to keep it casual. We’re a very relaxed and carefree family. My feeling is , when attire gets too formal, people are just uncomfortable. And it goes beyond wearing clothes that you can’t eat a decent meal in. When people are too dressed up, it often prevents them from relaxing. Depending on the outfit, you have to sit a certain way, keep your legs at a certain angle, etc. We’ve all been in that situation and it isn’t fun! So I say, keep it causal. Here in Florida, that means flip flops or ballet flats – these are far more comfortable in the warm weather. And don’t forget about planning your event based on the weather – in Florida, some of our most beautiful weather is around the holidays, so our goal is to be outside.
PS: If you’ve been invited somewhere else, and you aren’t sure what the attire is, think black pants with the Courtney wedge, and a fun, festive short with great accessories. You just can’t go wrong :)
Gift giving can be tricky. In my family, we’ve cut down on some of that stress by choosing one person only – through a drawing. Our limit is 500 dollars, which makes it very easy to get your chosen person exactly what they wanted. It’s become increasingly difficult to find great gifts for everyone in your family under 20 dollars. So why not agree to spend your holiday budget on just one person? Just be sure to agree on a budget that’s comfortable for everyone.
Another thing my family focuses on is stockings. We all buy a few things for each others’ stockings, and I cannot tell you how much fun we have! When I think of what Christmas means to me, I always think of our stocking events. We’ve created some fun traditions with the stockings too. My dad, as an example, goes out every year and buys random trinkets for our flip flops. It’s so fun because we wait in anticipation to see what he’s come up with for the year. It’s just such a great moment to share with him.
Some people freak out about how to handle gifts with those outside of their family. They scour the stores looking for inexpensive finds in case someone shows up at their home with a small gift. Honestly, I spend zero time worrying about this. We forget when we’re hosting that often times, someone wants to bring you something as a token of gratitude for extending an invitation to them. Just thank them and enjoy your gift, but focus more on the meaning behind the gift and the time you’re spending together. If you’re really concerned and cannot bear the thought of giving nothing in return, keep a few extra bottles of wine on hand, with some ribbon tied around them. Or consider talking with your friends and agreeing to a “no exchange” policy. My friends just know that exchanging with them is not important to me – I’d rather spend quality time with them. Isn’t that what’s more important?
Just remember, plan in advance, so you can relax. That includes the menu, the table setting, the music, and even your actual food. Keep it casual. And my last tip: Choose recipes that can be cooked in advanced and simply warmed up, so you aren’t trying to entertain guests while simultaneously glazing a ham. Enjoy…and don’t forget your camera! xoxo