. . .

Home Thrown Parties

By Angie Simonson, blogger
advice-unsolicited.blogspot.com

Santa has too much to do to plan your party, so it’s all up to you.  After shopping, wrapping, decorating and checking your list twice (or a hundred) times, planning a holiday party can seem overwhelming, even if it is just for family and friends.  With a few ideas and a little insight from this mom of four whose made home-thrown parties her hobby, you’ll knock your guests’ reindeer-jingle bell socks off.

red_christmas_baubles_187315Before we get carried away, let’s just say in Northern Minnesota, finding a “Martha Stewart” is like finding a Sasquatch… we know they are out there, but unless you have beef jerky or an apple-scented sachet in your gift bags, you won’t see one… and I won’t pretend to be one.  I’m not going to tell you  how to properly set the table (when all my family is over we have to break out the spare set of silverware just to have enough forks for everyone) and while we don’t (always) do paper plates , you won’t find fine china here either.  The ideas I’ll share are real… tried and true, and budget friendly.  They may not be glamorous or approved by Good Housekeeping Magazine, but I believe hosting a home-thrown event is more about cultivating an atmosphere where your friends and family can relax, converse, laugh and enjoy themselves.  I don’t think any guest has left a party thinking “I would have had a much better time if I would have had a salad fork AND a dinner fork.”

So let’s get this party planning started.  Planning a party at home is as simple as planning the decor, food and fun.

The Decor
Most people decorate for the holidays, so your work is probably half done. Adding a few extra special details will make the impression you want without costing too much.  Start with the basics, add a festive tablerunner and centerpiece, use your Christmas serving dishes and get some inexpensive window clings to doll up the windows that get dark way too fast in the winter.  If guests are going to be in your kitchen you can also use them on your appliances.  If you’ll have kids at your party – save this for them to do!

If you have young kids, you know that starting in the beginning of December endless snow, snowman and holiday themed art projects will be arriving home.  Use them to create an art gallery on an open wall and watch your kiddos beam as guests admire their handiwork.  Blue painters tape works great for a quick installation and take down without damaging the masterpieces.

If you don’t have kids, but still want the holiday wall art, pull your framed art off the wall and wrap the front of it with left over holiday paper, add a bow, even a gift tag and hang it back on the wall.

After the cookies have been made use your cookie
cutters to create a garland to hang over a window or doorway.   Your grand decorating total comes out to about $3 for the window clings.

The Food
The most important element of any event is the food.  If guests are hungry, they’re unhappy and your event will go from Ho-Ho-Ho to Oh No!  Luckily, good food doesn’t have to be complicated and your family and friends will have more fun if they see you out of the kitchen, so plan your menu carefully.

Consider a menu that lets you prepare most of the meal in advance and use cooking methods that keep you from being chained to the stove.  Soups, chilis, roasts, hot sandwiches or baked meals work great.  Cook soups and chilis the night before and re-heat in the crockpot for the event (see my Easy Chicken Chili recipe on page 37).  Roasts can go in a crockpot the morning of the event and come out spectacular without ANY effort on your part. Roasters work great for birds and ham, leaving the oven free for side dishes.  Prepare some cold items like salads, slaws and veggie platters that can go from the fridge to table fast.  Prep as much of your side dishes as possible the night before  to minimize time and stress the day of the event.

For our family parties, which are often 20+ people, almost half of which are kids, we keep it to simple favorites like a crockpot roast with mashed potatoes, or pans of lasagna with salad and garlic
bread.  For lunch time parties it’s soups, salad and hot sandwiches.  You can make a dozen grilled cheeses at a time in the oven, cut them in quarters and serve along side soup.  Make a  variety with different cheeses.  Most people will only take 2 quarters at a time, meaning 24 people can be served.  (A second batch of sandwiches bakes while they eat – going back for seconds means a hot out of the oven sandwich.)   For multi-day events like Christmas Eve and Christmas, we’ll do a big meal one night and on the other, an appetizer free-for-all.  Everyone brings an app or two, and along with the mountains of Christmas candies, cookies, and treats everyone looks jolly and plump by the time they roll into bed.  Seeing what everyone has made, trying new recipes and sharing is part of the fun.

Speaking of Fun
The grown-up guests will have plenty of fun eating, chatting and eating some more, but if you don’t want the littlest guests tearing apart your home, plan a few activities to keep them busy.  As I mentioned before, having them help decorate with window clings is an easy and cheap idea.  If you don’t mind the clean up, have some sugar cookies, frosting, sprinkles and decorating doodads on hand for them to make their own desserts.  Plan an outdoor activity to burn off energy, sledding, taking a neighborhood tour of lights or going caroling is fun and a great way make memories and traditions.  Want to stick around the house? Kids can decorate the snow with colored water in spray bottles.  If it’s too cold to go outside have a
holiday singing competition or dance-off.   When it’s time to calm down, have them write and decorate last chance letters to Santa that they can leave by his cookies and milk.

Hosting a holiday party at home can be simple and fun, the key is to not get overwhelmed.  I’ve learned  that with little kids, I’ll always find handprints on the windows or a dirty sock in the hallway seconds before guests will arrive, but that’s okay.  Your friends and family are coming to have fun and aren’t looking to point out dust bunnies and handprints. Once every one arrives there will be so much activity, no one will notice your three-year-olds underwear peeking out from under the couch… and if they do, tell them
they are the winner and the prize is doing the dishes,
that’ll keep anyone else from making comments!

The most important part of a home-thrown party is a happy hostess. You set the mood, so relax – open that bottle of wine early if need be, and be grateful that you have these special people to celebrate with you.