My favorite thing about the holiday season is family and friends. I love get togethers and socials and parties. At the same time, the thought creates feelings of serious anxiety for all the energy required for the preparation and hosting. Over the years I have gone from the insanely super hostess to the more relaxed hostess.
The “Perfect” Gathering
There was a time in my life where I felt that the 1950’s version of a social gathering was what was required. Immaculately clean house with cherubic children and the perfect menu. As the hostess I would cook for days making pies, cookies, dips and bread. Vegetables would be individually washed and cut into perfectly beautiful bite sized pieces. Trays were put together so they looked colorful and inviting. The buffet table was covered in my best linens with matching napkins. The good dishes were set out with the matching flatware and glassware. Beautifully subtle decorations were carefully arranged around the buffet table. As I greet my guests I am immaculately dressed with my makeup and hair done.
The reality was that this “perfect” gathering never happened. Oh, I cooked and cleaned for days, but with active and inventive children immaculate was not an option. Most times my pies, cakes and other treats had the tell-tale signs of little fingers. My buffet table looked nice, but the decorations were lacking. I was still getting dressed (and bandaging damaged or burned fingers) as my guests arrived and were greeted politely and enthusiastically by my children. Each arrival was announced by children yelling down the hall toward my room.
While I did enjoy these parties, I was usually so tired and stressed I could not relax and enjoy myself. After all the guests had left I would survey the dirty dishes, left-over food and children asleep in the hall (so they could watch the party). I would put the food away and stack the dishes to be washed in the morning. After tucking my children into their beds, I would fall into my bed exhausted and ready to cry. Needless to say we did not have very many parties.
The Best Parties
These are the gatherings that are simple and relaxed. If you can understand and accept that things are going to go wrong and there is no need to panic, get upset or stressed you can have one of these parties. If you can keep it simple and go with the flow you can quickly get a reputation for throwing the best parties.
While I love putting up decorations and have enough to decorate most of our neighborhood single-handedly, I don’t like taking it down. It usually takes more time to take decorations down and put them away than it did to put them up in the first place. You also don’t want to have so many decorations that there is no place for your guests.
Elegance does not mean cluttered or fancy. With a little creativity and not a lot of effort You can create a look of simple elegance. Dining and buffet tables don’t need a lot of “stuff” to make them look perfect.
- You don’t want your center pieces to take over the dining table. They should be small and unobtrusive. No taller than your tallest glass so that your guests can see each other.
- If you want decorations on your buffet table, use the food. Put condiments in pretty bowls and add garnish to your trays. Remember, the focus of the buffet is the food and less you have to get knocked over the better.
While I love to cook and bake I don’t always have the time or energy. I used to feel guilty when I “cheated” and bought ready-made trays or food. Now I just remind myself that I am doing this to enjoy time with friends and family which I cannot do if I am too tired or stressed.
A buffet is always best if you are having a large gathering. While making “traditional” favorites is nice starting new traditions can be fun. If you make great rolls, fabulous! Make the rolls and buy a meat and cheese tray. If you have a favorite dip recipe, make it. Buy a vegetable tray. Make a salad or two to dress up your table.
If you really want to have a sit-down dinner try to keep the group to 8-10 people. No more. This allows you to visit with everyone and as a group fairly easily. As for your food, use your crock pot. We have two and use one for the main dish and one for dessert or a side dish. This gives you more time to spend with your guests.
Drinks don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Wines, sparkling juices, fancy punches, sugary sodas, etc. can be nice but can also be expensive. Pitchers of water with ice and fresh lemon, lime and/or orange slices look beautiful and are a healthy alternative.
Games do not have to be extravagant or complicated. Most often the simplest games are the best. For large groups divide everyone into groups of 4-6. Setup a game table for each group. Rotate tables every 20 minutes. Here are some game suggestions: Uno, Crazy 8’s, Chicken (dice game), Pictionary, charades, jigsaw puzzles or clay. Use your imagination. For large group games I would suggest Apples to Apples, 25 Words or Less and games I have posted in Party At My House and How To Be Silly, Have Fun and Not Be Embarrassed
Time is the Goal
The reason we have gatherings and parties is to spend time with family and friends. If you keep it simple and relaxed you can have the parties that people will talk about for years to come. The best part is that you will be able to really enjoy yourself.
Time is what it is all about so make it.