Preparing for a holiday party

Make your list and check it twice

METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION Your guests will appreciate the care you took with the menu, but most of their enjoyment will come from being together and talking with each other. So make opportunities to be together the focus of your party planning.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION By working ahead and cooking desserts, for example, in advance, your party food preparation can be simplified come the day of the party.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTIONYou’ll want your home to look great, so clean it really well and then decorate for the holidays. Go classic or follow a theme.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION Expert party planners recommend creating a custom cocktail as a tactic to simplify your party bar menu.
METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION Welcoming menu contributions from guests, such as plates of festive cookies, is a good way to simplify your party preparation and to involve your guests more meaningfully in your party.

One time, he almost burned the house down.

Ben Smith doesn’t remember exactly what year it happened, but it’s now part of his Christmas party lore that gets brought up every single year, much to the laughs of everyone who remembers and even those who weren’t there to see it happen.

In a nutshell, he began a fire like he normally does at his annual party but did not realize his wife had closed the flue. Soon enough, people noticed the bricks were get hot. Mega-hot. Hot enough to call the fire department.

“The fireman, he comes clomping in, looks in there and notices the flue is closed,” Smith said. “He must’ve left saying, ‘What a bunch of idiots.'”

Smith and his wife, Julie Creek, have been hosting Christmas parities for 22 or 23 years — they can’t remember the official start date — so they know a thing or two about the art of entertaining during the holidays. And that day, they learned rule No. 2,745 when it comes to throwing a Christmas party:

Always keep the flue open.

But there are many others. So if you’re planning on hosting guests — whether they be friends or family or both — there are a few things you can do to prepare and make everything run as smooth as possible in order to give everyone, including yourself, a good ole’ yuletide time.

1. Start early

Smith and Creek typically start preparing about a week out from their party, which Smith says means his wife begins making the food they plan to serve. She’ll make fudge and nut bars one night; then maybe cookies the next. On the day of she’ll prepare a pork roast.

“She does most of the heavy lifting,” Smith said.

Party planners at HGTV.com suggest making a to-do list, one that you feel comfortable with and can live by. And don’t be afraid to delegate duties to those who may attend, as giving your guests a party-related task may make them feel more involved.

2. Decorate

There is no end to decorating ideas when it comes to Christmas.

You want stockings and lights and all those traditional things? You got it. Want ideas for themes? Websites like www.partycity.com have you covered, with ideas for a “winter wonderland” where everything looks like it’s covered in frost or where “hot chocolate stations” placed throughout the home abound.

“I do all the decorating about a week before, too,” Smith said. “Get the tree up, put the lights up. My wife calls me the Buddy.”

But don’t get too caught up in themes. Those coming over will likely revel in the company as it is. For Smith and Creek, they began the party as a formal event, with Smith even donning a tuxedo for the first few years.

“We quickly scrapped that,” he said.

3. Clean

People are coming over. To your house. Where you live and eat and which you maybe treat like a savage for a big chunk of the year. You do not want people to come away thinking your place is a sty, so you clean. And even if you have a decent home already, you might do some more cleaning than usual, just to spruce things up a little bit more.

“I usually take a day off to do all that stuff,” Smith said. “I do all the housework, and I do a little extra.”

Better Home and Gardens suggests you walk through your home with a “visitor’s eye,” making note of any imperfections you may be used to but guests may notice. Once you have an idea of what to clean, you need to get to work.

Scrub the windows, vacuum, clean the bathrooms — deep clean them — scrape off anything caked on the stove and straighten up all the closets. Make sure your refrigerator is clean, too, and if you’re ultra OCD you can polish all the door knobs.

4. Booze … and food

When it comes to refreshments, make it clear if you’re having a dry party or whether alcohol will be available and whether it is acceptable for guests to bring their own. You don’t have to spend tons on alcohol if you decide to provide it — there’s a likelihood guests might want to bring a bottle of wine or two to add to the festivities.

“I pick out a couple of bottles of pretty good wine, and then I get a couple of bigger bottles that are more generic,” Smith said. “We found that people will bring other bottles, so there’s no running out.”

Organizers at Empyrean Events and Catering, a local company which provides planning for social soirees and even home holiday parties, suggest a limited bar can be very helpful to easing up on the stress of hosting a party.

“p3″>”Paring down your bar selections will not only help ensure you do not run out of something halfway through the party but also create a more tailored menu” is one tip organizers wrote on the company’s blog. “Craft beer and specialty cocktails will without a doubt be a guest favorite.”   

Similar thinking should go for food. Guests should know whether it’s cool for them to bring a dish or almost necessary for them to add to the feast. And don’t be afraid to change up the menu from year to year — something that may add spice to the party.

Another tip from the Empyrean blog: “Remember that most holiday party menus include staples such as shrimp cocktail and decadent desserts but that doesn’t mean you can’t customize. Include favorites of your own paired with items you know your guests will love.”

5. Create conversation

Deciding who gets invited to the party — or who absolutely needs to be invited to the party — can be a real chore. Will everyone like each other? Will it be awkward? It’s always good to keep in mind who might get along with whom when putting together a guest list, which may or may not include family.

“We try to invite people who, even if they don’t know each other, they may have common interests,” Smith said. “So there may be conversations that would be interesting to everybody. And it’s worked out real well. We’ve had people who didn’t know each other who spoke to each other most of an evening.”

The Empyrean blog suggests seating vignettes throughout the party space can encourage guests to get to know each other. Also, it’s good to always make sure guests know whether they are attending an adults-only party, or whether children are invited, as well.

“We consider the holidays, and Christmas in particular, to be about children and kids,” Smith said. “So we encourage people to bring their kids. That way, it becomes more of a family atmosphere.”

6. Prepare for surprises

Last year, it was about 65 degrees in December when the Creek-Smith Christmas party rolled around.

Smith spent part of the party opening every window in his house and checking on his guests — as about half of them congregated outside on his deck.

“It was ridiculously warm out,” he said. “That will probably never happen again.”

So don’t worry if not everything goes exactly as planned, or if the weather forces an indoor party to the outside, or if someone spills a little wine or drops a little food. Just roll with the flow. Everything will work out fine, especially if you’re getting good people together for a good gathering.

Good people who gel with each will make anything a good party.

“If there’s a secret to it, it’s that,” Smith said.

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