I don’t entertain on a big scale anymore but prefer more intimate gatherings, using holiday tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.
This safety net of holiday tips alleviates the anxiety I begin to feel mid-November. It’s all about the people I love and want to spend time with, not the fuss of preparations. Sorry, Martha.
1/ Plan Ahead
I review the December calendar, spend a lot of time replying no to things I don’t want to do, and focus on the most important people and events in my life. If I don’t put the Boylan Heights Art Walk or the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour on my calendar, I might forget the events that signal the start of the holidays for me! Planning also includes a lot of lists: gift giving list, party list and accompanying lists for food prep.
2/ Stock Up on Wrapping Paper, Stamps, Napkins and Other Essentials
I love the simplicity of brown kraft paper that can be used year round. I don’t embellish as much as the photo below shows, but a simple red bow and festive tag make the gift look more Christmasy than post-officey. Maybe you are one of those smart folks who stocked up on wrapping paper and cards at sales the year before. If you have the storage space, any paper items or non-perishables can be bought months in advance.
I usually have a stock of plain, red napkins, as I used to do more hosting around Valentine’s Day as well and they serve both holidays. White cocktail napkins are also a good stock item to have. Holiday postage gets picked over, so I usually try to nab those in November.
3/ Shop During Off-Peak Hours
If you must go to the dreaded mall, early morning is best. It is not a pretty picture, driving away from the mall later, watching the stress in motorists going the opposite direction. Better yet, find the local, little store in a more obscure location where parking isn’t an issue. As a Facebook meme posted this year, “Remember, big stores don’t do a little jig when they make a sale. Make someone jig this year!”
4/ Pick Up Extra Small Gifts
I have a stash of hostess gifts and gender-neutral gifts for last minute gift giving. A seasonal candle, fun tea towel or fragrant room spray make for pretty and useful gifts. And, of course, any homemade treat is always appreciated.
5/ Simple Decorations for Maximum Impact
If you don’t have time to do the full monty, just a few decorations sprinkled around the house add a festive touch. In recent years, my two youngest kids, in a nostalgic stupor, dragged boxes from the attic and placed decorations around the house. Thanks, kids, for reminding me that I used to do these things:)
6/ Plan The Holiday Menu
We host my brother and his family on Christmas day. Beef, popovers, veg, salad, Christmas goodies for dessert. I plan the menu a couple weeks ahead and try to mix it up by preparing different recipes each year. Our Christmas Eve tradition is meat pie (or French Canadian “Tortiere,” as it’s known back home) which I make ahead and freeze which leads me to….
7/ Cook Ahead and Freeze
Besides the Tortiere, there are many things that can be made ahead and frozen. Mashed potatoes. Check. Pumpkin Pie. Check. There isn’t much that can’t be frozen. And, of course, all the baked goodies….
8/ Restock Baking Supplies
I don’t keep baking ingredients around as much anymore, so this time of year I take stock on flour and other necessities. I mostly make my signature item, english toffee, and don’t worry about making mounds of cookies like I used to. My kids shamed me again one year, dragging out flour and sugar and baking some of their fav cookies. One pretty baked good on a platter is enough, in my new world order, and frankly, anything homemade is appreciated.
9/ Ready the China, Silver and Linens
If you tend toward formality, this time of year is it. My secret sauce is this. I NEVER polish silver, almost never (like four years or more). If you keep silverware or silver serving pieces behind closed, sealed doors (or even glass) and store with these silver protection strips, it does not tarnish. I swear by these. And for table linens, I try to remove quickly from the dryer and store them like this, avoiding the nasty iron at all costs. A little upfront work with proper storage saves a lot of work before hosting.
10/ Email Invites are a Thing
I’ve given up. I loved to create handmade and printed invites in the past, but people respond quickly to evites. They just do. Certain platforms such as this make it easy for all of us, hosts and guests alike.
11/ Easy Readymade Food on Hand
There is no shame in stuffing your pantry with almonds, Italian sausage, fruits, cheese and jam. You can make a helluva charcuterie plate with these readymade items at your disposal. It’s all in the presentation. And how about an amazing dessert plate as well? Fruits, store bought biscuits, even a candy cane or two? How fabulous does this look below? Your guests don’t care; food is food whether you labored twenty hours or one.
12/ Signature Cocktail
Keep a well-stocked bar and they will come. Guests can make their usuals: gin and tonic or rum and coke. But it’s nice touch to have one signature cocktail readymade in a pitcher or with easy instructions to mix-their-own. Could be as easy as Prosecco mixed with Chambord, a variation on the Kir Royale, a festive addition to the bar.
13/ To Send Holiday Cards…or Not?
This is a tradition for some and not others. I love to send a card with a family picture and my version of the awful holiday letter (usually a poem). Lately, it is a grind, so I postpone to New Year’s and make a it a post-holiday card. No pressure to get the perfect picture, pen a poem and address, stamp and seal 100+ cards by early December.
The holidays, while meant for family and friends to come together, often seem fraught with obligations and to-dos and other meaningless moments. It’s so much better if we plan ahead for time well spent, n’est ce pas?