In-home wine tasting
This is ideal for six to 12 people. You can invite more, but bear in mind that you'll need multiple glasses per person. Decide what varietals to taste -- the holidays are perfect for full-bodied reds and/or sparkling wines -- and ask each guest to contribute one bottle. Have sparkling water on hand for palate cleansing between tastes, and serve cheese, crackers and fruit.
Mad Men holiday bash
Ask guests to dress 60s-style: Sheath dresses, pearls and white gloves for ladies; suits, skinny ties and fedoras for gentlemen. Serve canapés, and check out the attic or flea market for a frilly hostess apron and vintage serving pieces. Don't forget the ashtrays and candy cigarettes. Set up a full bar or feature a few Mad Men-inspired classics like the Old Fashioned, Dry Martini or Mai Tai. Play Christmas music by Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis.
Bubbly and sweet
This typically works best in the evening after dinner. Buy or make an assortment of desserts or set up a dipping station with fruit, shortbread cookies and sauces. Chill some champagne or sparkling wine. Break out the china, crystal and silver for this simple menu.
New Year's brunch
Let the amateurs overdo it on New Year's Eve while you host a sophisticated, hangover-optional New Year's Day celebration. If you're feeling domestic, make quiche from scratch. If not, buy pre-mixed quiche filling, pour into frozen crusts and add crabmeat, artichoke hearts, broccoli, ham or tuna. On the side, serve a tossed salad, fruit and muffins. Round out the menu with tea, coffee, juices, Bloody Marys and champagne for toasting!
Progressive dinner and caroling party
With each course served at a different home, this get-together is minimum work and maximum fun. Ideally, you all live in the same subdivision, apartment or condo complex, so your children are friends and everyone can walk from one course to the next. Add a seasonal flair by singing carols at each stop. Plan on: Appetizers; soup, salad or pasta; kid-friendly main course; and dessert and coffee. To keep costs in line for the family hosting the main course, guests can bring their own beverages.
Cookie decorating party
Turn on the holiday lights for this mother-daughter activity. Buy or make enough plain sugar cookies so everyone can eat some and still take some home. Set out tins of frosting, Popsicle sticks for spreading and toppings such as colored sprinkles, cinnamon candies and gumdrops. Buy bakery boxes to take the cookies home. Supply colorful ribbon to tie around the boxes. Serve cookies (duh!), hot chocolate and cider.
This is a fun outdoor activity, especially around a bonfire. You'll need pinecones, string or wire, peanut butter and birdseed. Let the kids coat the cones in peanut butter, roll them in birdseed, press the mixture deep into the pinecone and attach the string or wire. Serve hot chocolate, and let the kids toast marshmallows.
Whether you have fourth-graders or college girls, slumber parties are perennial crowd-pleasers. Young kids can make reindeer antlers by taping cut-out hand silhouettes onto headbands or jingle-bell necklaces with red and green beads and jingle bells. Older girls can burn a souvenir CD of pictures from the event. Wind down with a DVD of Home Alone, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story or other favorite. Make dinner easy: Popcorn, soda and takeout pizza. Serve a simple breakfast of waffles, muffins, fruit, milk and juice.
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