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'Twas The Night Before Christmas party

While moms and dads are rushing around with the December 25th deadline looming, kids count the days and minutes until Santa's arrival. For many, it seems like Christmas will never come. Help your children pass the time by planning a special party. Kimberly Lainson has details.

Ready for St. Nick?
Just before Santa makes his Christmas Eve delivery, let the children have a party of their own to help ease the tension of waiting for his arrival. Let them help make the invitations and help prepare the food. Due to the hectic holiday season, mail or hand-deliver party invitations a bit earlier than usual. Your guests will need enough time to get the party date on their parents' calendars.

Get someone to play "Santa." Suggest ahead of time that he tell a story or two about his favorite Christmas adventures after he has chatted with each child. Don't forget to have your camera and film ready to snap lots of pictures at this party. Be sure to get a picture of each child on Santa's lap or take a group picture with Santa as the center of attention. You can then send one copy to each child in attendance at your party.

Creative invitations
You don't have to break your budget to have great attention-grabbing invitations. The ones for this party look great and yet are reasonably priced and easy enough for the children to make. Start with St. Nick stationary and envelopes. Using a versatile and reusable "It's a Party" rubber stamp and an ink pad, the children can print their own invitations. Have them practice on scratch paper. Seal each envelope with a Christmas sticker.

Activities include the stories and talking with Santa and a gift exchange.

Gift exchange
Have each child bring a small gift costing no more than $5. Or encourage children to be creative and bring a handmade gift. Be sure they make them generic so either a boy or girl will be happy with it. Have them bring it wrapped. Then when it is time for the exchange -- place all gifts in the middle of the room and have all the children form a circle around the gifts.

Each child will take a turn picking one gift. If you are really adventurous, let the first child pick a gift and open it. Then the second child can either take a gift or take the first child's gift. If they take the first child's gift, then the first child chooses another gift and opens it. Then it is the third persons turn. The third person can then choose a gift, or take one from the first two children. Continue until all children have a gift.

Then take one last turn around the room, and let them choose gifts from each other until all have had a second chance to take the gift they want. A gift cannot be stolen more than once by each person.

'Twas the night before...
Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring... except for the mouse trying to get a hold of these delectable treats.

Elf Confetti Dip
Ingredients:
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 2 oz. jar diced pimiento drained
2 tablespoons firmly chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients. Cover and chill up to two days, or serve immediately with assorted fresh vegetables.

Makes about 1-1/4 cups.

Reindeer Nibbles
Ingredients:
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups regular oats, uncooked
1 cup unsalted peanuts
1-1/2 cups raisins

Directions:
1. Combine first three ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thoroughly heated (do not boil). Stir in vanilla.

2. Spread oats in a lightly greased 15x10x1 inch jellyroll pan. Pour peanut butter mixture over oats; stir to coat evenly.

3. Bake at 300 degrees F for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in peanuts. Turn oven off, and cool in oven 1-1/2 hours with door closed, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove from oven; stir in raisins.

Makes 8 cups.

Snowy Pretzels
Ingredients:
1 cup ready-to-spread vanilla frosting
1 (10-oz.) bag large pretzel twists

Directions:
1. Place frosting in a 2-cup glass-measuring cup; microwave at HIGH 30 to 45 seconds, or until frosting melts, stirring once.

2. Dip half of each pretzel into frosting, allowing excess to drip. Place on wax paper; let dry two hours or until no longer sticky. Serve same day.

Makes two dozen.

Santa Claus Milk
Ingredients:
4 cups milk
1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon
3 to 4 whole cloves
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold milk
Ground nutmeg

Directions:
1. Combine first three ingredients in a saucepan; cook over medium heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Heat thoroughly but do not boil).

2. Remove and discard cinnamon and cloves. Combine sugar and cornstarch; add 2 tablespoons cold milk, stirring mixture until smooth.

3. Add cold milk mixing constantly.

4. Cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Ladle into mugs, and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Makes four servings.

Santa's Hat
Ingredients:
1/2 gallon cherry-vanilla ice cream
1 33.8 oz. bottle of ginger ale
1 8.75 oz. can refrigerated instant whipped cream
Red decorator sugar crystals
8 long-stemmed maraschino cherries

Directions:
1. Spoon one-cup ice cream into each of eight glasses or mugs; pour 1/2 cup ginger ale over each. Top each with whipped cream, sugar crystals, and a cherry.

Makes eight servings.

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