I can easily conjure up the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday season: evergreen and pine, bells, lights, busy shoppers, the color red, kisses, desserts, snow and shovels. Oh yes, not to mention the smoke plumes that invade your home as your husband tries to ignite logs in your fireplace. Is that only at my house?
The holidays are strongly tied to traditions, which in turn are tied to strong and nostalgic emotions—the annual holiday party where office stories of the year are made, the annual must-be-at gathering at your Aunt’s, or the sledding or skating outings on Christmas Day. Traditions are basically made in the food we eat and the ways in which we celebrate—and there is always room for those new traditions to be mixed in with the old.
Around the holidays, you may be hosting many different types of gatherings: one with the family, one with the friends, and another with the co-workers. Here I will present three different variations of the Holiday Christmas Party, all varying slightly in the food you will present to the style of hosting, though some things will remain constant, such as the mood, which will always be FESTIVE!
What one word most comes to mind when thinking about the Holidays? FESTIVE. And what other word comes to mind when thinking of the word FESTIVE? Bright, loud, and happy! String those lights, crank up that music, put on something that makes you feel like dancing, grab a drink and start mingling!
Christmas can be one of the easiest times to decorate—simple things such as extra bulbs placed in a large glass hurricane look dramatic as a simple table centerpiece. Cut fresh branches of evergreen and assemble on the dining table with a large hurricane containing candle as a simple centerpiece. You can also use the branches of evergreen to frame the mirrors in your home. Oh yes, and not to mention that large, sparkly tree that sits in your living room, making everything look all shiny and bright and new!
A Family Gathering
The Food and Drink
If you are serving a seated meal for this gathering, you may be serving the same type of food as you had at Thanksgiving. However some families have some Holiday food rules: Turkey at Thanksgiving and Pork or Seafood at Christmas. Other meats such as venison, pork or seafood are great alternatives to the traditional turkey, and are a great way to begin a tradition of your own.
Traditional Menu—Edit the sides at your will, or add more –take a look at the sides section.
Charcuterie and Cheeses—assorted meats such as salami, mortadella, prosciutto, sopressata, and good quality smoked sausage, and ham. Serve a variety of type of cheeses, varying in color and texture, such as swiss, aged cheddar, Colby, brie, and blue.
Vegetable Platter with Sourcream Dip– Cut vegetables such as celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes (add great color too), and grape tomatoes. To make a simple dip, simply mix together a packet of ranch flavored seasoning with sour cream.
Traditional Lasagna--Lasagna or another similar pasta dish is always welcome as a first course, though it is definitely an option, as you will probably have so much food to serve for the main course! Lasagna is also a great meal to make ahead and just keep in the fridge throughout the week. I like to make this dish when I have friends or family in town. Everyone loves it, and I always make enough so that my guests can help themselves to it should they desire a mid-day snack.
Serving the meal buffet style is the best way to serve a meal if you have MANY people to serve who will not be sitting at the same table. For example, you may have a seating area in the kitchen, another in the dining area, etc. So setting up all the food in one main spot for people to serve themselves makes sense. Should everyone be seated at the same table, large or small, you can serve the meal country style, which basically means setting out the dishes or platters of food onto the table for everyone to pass around and serve themselves. A plated meal is not usually done with many people, considering the work involved, however if you have extra help, or have hired the help of a caterer, this could be an option!
If you expect to have kids at this gathering, yes, it might be nice to set up the ever-revered and quintessential “kids table”. This is a chance for you to be creative with your seating options:
- Set your child’s arts and crafts table with a nice tablecloth, and attempt to place in the same area as the adults so there can be some sort of supervision
- Set the children’s table on a large coffee table. Children may find it fun to sit on the floor on cushions and eat their meal this way
- Have an extra game table that you can just cover with a nice table cloth? Convince your husband that he never really uses that poker table he bought from Costco, anyhow, should he shudder at the prospect of spilled Shirley Temples.
Setting up a Bar
Should your family be of the type that likes to enjoy a few or many cocktails during the Holiday Season, setting up a bar is a must! This can truly be a self-serve station, OR, if you are really feeling fancy, you can hire one or two experienced bar tenders to tend to the drink needs of your guests.
Whatever you choose, ensure that you have stocked your bar with the absolute essentials:
- Vodka: Belvedere vodka is one of my favorites, but I also find that Svedka vodka is a great tasting vodka for about half the price.
- Rum: Clear Bacardi rum is a basic favorite, and goes well for any cocktail recipe which calls for rum.
- Whiskey: Jack Daniels is the whiskey that most people usually ask for by its name. Cue, “I’ll have a Jack and coke”, please.
- Gin: Although this is spirit is not as much as asked for as is vodka, it is still a basic that is good to have on hand for those gin and tonic lovers. Plus, there is hardly an expiration date that applies to spirits, so consider it an investment.
- Liquors: These liquors are most often served as after dinner accompaniments to dessert, though your guests may ask for these before the meal. Some basics to have on hand, which can be served in a rocks glass at room temperature or over a couple of ice cubes, depending on the preference of your guests:
- Amaretto di Disaronno: An almond flavored Italian liquer: sweet and smooth
- Baileys Irish Cream: A cream based liquor that is also sweet and is often added to coffee as a spike.
- Scotch: Having at least one scotch on hand for those old souls at your gathering is a good idea. It’s okay if you are not a scotch connoisseur, you can always buy the tried and true scotches.
- Garnishes: At a minimum, cut wedges of lime and lemon, and set on a plate. You can also set olives and cherries in a bowl. These are the most commonly used garnishes and are a good starting point for any bar.
For the Friends
Last year I hosted a spur of the moment party on Christmas Day night at my home with some of my closest friends. Let me set this up for you: Most of us had over-dosed, at this point, on essential family gatherings, shopping, and desserts. We needed to relax, drink a few, and to not eat any more desserts (though I’m pretty sure we still probably did). We had such a good time we decided to make it a tradition.
One option is to re-invigorate any leftovers you’ve had from any earlier family gatherings. Re-plating, and heating up the leftovers in the oven instead of the microwave, are fresh ways to present your leftovers. You can also make a couple of new appetizers such as creamy spinach dip or stuffed mushrooms. See the Appetizers for some good ideas!
For the Co-Workers
How well do you know your co-workers? This is the group that will most likely have the highest degree of variation in personalities, tastes, and preferences. It will be important to create an atmosphere that will cater to everyone. This can often be misconstrued as “benign”, or “boring”, but au contraire! Think of it as creating the “classic” holiday party: A mix of crowd pleasing appetizers, traditional holiday music, and spirits made available, though not showcased. In this world of different cultures and beliefs, the concept of offering sprits but not showcasing it is due attention.
There is a good chance that others may have brought a dish to share at the party. Thank the person and make an arrangement to include the dish on the table along with the rest of the offerings. Ensure to ask the person if there is any special way that you should serve the dish. You never know: he or she may say that it should be heated for 10 minutes before serving, or that they need a spoon or fork added to the dish for serving purposes.
Make a couple of good, pleasing appetizers. Any mix of any will work—see my appetizers. Try to have a mix of dips, bready apps, and meats. A good meat and cheese tray, a couple of dips, and savory pastries, along with fresh fruit and desserts is always good.
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