Top 5 Tips For Holiday Entertaining

We’re hosting our annual Christmas cocktail party this Saturday, and I still have so much to do to get ready – like get the tree decorated! I’ve hosted this party so many times that I’m not stressed about it anymore. I’ve learned what’s important for me to take care of, and what I can let go of. With that in mind I thought I would share my top 5 tips for stress-free holiday entertaining.

1. Choose A Focal Point – Our party layout spans 3 rooms: the dining room has the food, the breakfast area has the bar, and the living room has a secondary wine/champagne bar with some snacks placed near seating. With each room having a “purpose” and a focal point it makes it easier to decorate. If you don’t have time to decorated every nook of your house just focus on sprucing up these food & drink stations by adding a tablecloth in a festive color, displaying ornaments in a bowl or glass jar, and adding a little bit of fresh greenery cut from the Christmas tree, a holly bush, or an evergreen in the yard.

2. Follow my Food Formula– I’ve always followed a food formula for my cocktail parties. It’s the best way to cover all my bases and please multiple palates. Some of my proven menu items are: cocktail meatballs in sauce, shrimp cocktail, a chicken or pork based appetizer, something with spinach {cold spinach dip, baked spinach and artichoke dip, or spinach canapes}, something cheesy {a prepared cheese ball, topped cream cheese or cheese tray does the trick}, and a veggie presentation always rounds out the menu. Once you have these basics you can add in any other foods you like, but this is great for covering the meat lovers as well as the vegetarians, and is hearty enough to satisfy women and men.

It’s also a great idea to have a close friend {or two} make a food dish for you. You can assign them the recipe, or let them bring their specialty. This can be a HUGE help.

3. Get the Party Started with Cocktails – Christmas is the time we provide an open bar, and over the years I’ve observed what gets used and what doesn’t {I still have a half full bottle of Tangaray from 10 years ago. LOL}. For our crowd I stock up on bourbon, vodka, spiced rum, coconut rum, regular rum, and GOOD tequila. Mixers are both light & dark colored soda, several juices {we love to use those V8 fruit fusions}, and a few extras like triple sec or Amaretto. Round up similar items on a tray, and pour juices into pitchers. Individual sized cans or bottles of soda look better than 2 liters, plus you can save what doesn’t get opened, for later. I also like to serve a signature party punch. I’ve noticed the ladies usually go for the prepared punch while the men go for the open bar.

For the secondary bar in the living room I place bottles of white wine and champagne in an ice bucket. Some years I like to change it up and serve mini champagne bottles. It’s a novel idea for guests to carry around their own little bottle and sip it through a straw. You can buy these by the case from your grocer – just put in an order with the wine manager, and you can usually get a 10% discount for the large volume.

4. Hostess Preparation – To keep from getting overwhelmed with my To-Do list, I like to do one major cleaning chore each day the week leading up to the party. For instance, picking up the clutter on Monday, dusting on Tuesday, mopping on Wednesday, clean the bathroom on Thursday, setting up your play list on Friday, and vacuuming on Saturday.

Speaking of play list, we start out with Christmas music playing low in the background, and then change up to some lively dance music as the night goes on. I love all the standards sung by Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Fank Sinatra, as well as the newer versions by Mariah Carey and Michael Buble. Kenny G. and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack are favorites for instrumentals, and I adore the pop tunes that came out of the 80’s like Wham’s Last Christmas, and The Waitresses Christmas Wrapping. I like to set up the play list so the slower tunes play in the beginning and build up the tempo as the party grows.

5. How Sweet It Is – Holidays and baking go hand in hand. We never have as much sweets in the house as we do at Christmas time. You’ll need to have a couple of treats for your guests at the party and I like to offer 2 or 3 different mini options – tartlets, parfaits in a shot glass, and cookies or bars do the trick. Baking can be done several days ahead of time OR you can save all those treats from the cookie exchange and serve those! As I’ve said many times before, I like to serve a variety of flavors so something nutty, something chocolatey, and something white {vanilla} or fruity is a good combination.

I hope these tips will serve as a ‘quick reference’ for you and your holiday entertaining.


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