Holiday entertaining made easy
Experienced hostesses agree: Planning is the key to successful holiday entertaining with a minimum of stress.
Whether you're expecting a few close family members or the whole tribe, you can make it memorable -- without losing your sanity -- by keeping these tips in mind.
Keep it simple
For holiday menus, savvy entertainer Renia Barrentine recommends heavy hors d'oeuvres rather than a sit-down dinner at informal gatherings. For overnight guests, she often prepares breakfast and
dinner casseroles a few days ahead and freezes them. Whatever the menu, be sure to consider the special dietary needs of vegans, vegetarians, diabetics and those who are allergic to certain foods.
For the truly entertaining-challenged, check out the wonderful selection of shrimp cocktail platters, pastas and cold-cut trays at your local supermarket or warehouse club deli.
Nancy Rushing, preschool teacher and mother of two, swears by delegating, especially if you're expecting a mob. Let Aunt Linda bring her signature smashed potatoes, and ask Mom to prepare her famous crab and artichoke dip. Chances are, they'll be flattered -- and you'll have that much less to do. Those who don't cook can contribute ice, plastic cups, wine or liquor.
Speaking of refreshing adult beverages, be sure to stock the bar ahead of time -- and don't forget plenty of ice. Drinks like Bloody Marys, Brandy Alexanders and spiked eggnog can be premixed -- without ice -- and stored in pitchers in the fridge. Keep wine and beer accessible from an ice bucket or cooler, and remember to provide non-alcoholic drinks for your designated drivers and teetotalers.
Go for easy elegance
If it's an intimate or formal gathering, you can break out the china, crystal, tablecloth, placemats, floral centerpieces and cloth napkins. But for a casual buffet or cocktail party, consider plastic plates and paper napkins. Attractive yet sturdy disposable plates and napkins in coordinating holiday designs are available at many department and home stores. Use everyday flatware, real glasses, fragrant candles and a simple centerpiece for a touch of elegance without the hassle of dishwashing.
Budget permitting, you also can rent glassware, china, linens, chairs, steam tables and just about anything else you need. Check the Internet or your phone book for party rentals, and be sure to
call a few weeks ahead of your event during the holiday season.
Bonus: Some vendors will even pick up and deliver supplies. And no, you don't have to wash the glasses or the dishes.
Don't let last-minute -- and over-budget -- holiday shopping add to the stress of entertaining. Mary Roehl, a grandmother, makes a list, sets a budget and begins holiday shopping in September,
wrapping as she buys. Her strategy is to find at least one personal gift and combine it with a gift card for everyone on the list.
On a final note, remember that the holidays are a magical time to enjoy family and friends. Mom Rhoda Dunwoody keeps her gatherings uncomplicated so she can enjoy her guests' company -- and they can enjoy hers as well. In her words, no one will remember if the dessert you served was homemade or came from the bakery, but they will cherish the warm feelings, shared laughter and welcoming glow of the fireplace for years to come.