10 commandments of Christmas parties
For some people, the mere thought of opening up the house at Christmas will send them spiralling into a panic - especially at the busy time of year that is December. For others, a house full of guests is true happiness and they couldn't get through Christmas without hosting a great party. Get back into the fun side of festive entertaining with our 10 Christmas stress-free party commandments.
Plan once, enjoy the night
The first step is to create three master lists - guests, menu and shopping - that will help you keep track of everything for the party. Keep the lists in your handbag so you'll know exactly what you still need to purchase and how many guests have RSVP'd at all times.
Make the guest list work
You might want to call guests before you even set the date for your party. Inevitably, not everyone will be able to come. But if "it just wouldn't be the same without them," make sure they're free and invite them then and there. Your other guests should be invited as soon as you set the date. Try to give people no less than three weeks' notice -- remember, holiday schedules fill up fast. A good strategy: Invite friends and family by phone, then follow up with a written reminder. Or let your Christmas cards do double duty -- as a holiday greeting and an invitation.
Sort the food and drinks
Whether you're planning a brunch, a cocktail party or a barbecue, food and drink are your party's most important ingredients. The first thing to plan is the main dish. Jot down a list of recipes you're confident cooking and build the rest of the menu around it. And don't make things too hard on yourself. If you'll be cooking a complicated main dish, go for simple side dishes that can be easily prepared in advance. Don't rule out convenience foods like barbecue chicken served on platters of fresh iceberg lettuce or Turkish bread and dips bought from the local kebab shop.
Take a careful look at the servings each recipe provides and make sure you have enough to feed your crowd. This is well worth planning as over-catering is an expensive hassle while under-catering puts a real dampener on a party.
Finally, don't forget to budget Christmas drinks. Plan to have a variety of nonalcoholic drinks on hand. It's best to buy more than you think you'll need. Buy lots of ice the day of the party. That way, you won't have to waste precious fridge space. When it comes to alcohol, don't feel obligated to set up a full bar. Unless you're having a cocktail party, it's fine to limit your selections to wine and beer.
Compile a comprehensive shopping list
Look over each item on your menu and list everything you'll need to make it happen. Note each ingredient, then check your kitchen for what you have in stock and what you need to buy. Make sure you have all the serving equipment you need to dish out your food and drink plans. No kitchen ever has enough serving platters during party season, but cheap platters can be bought from $2 shops and covered with foil to "make-do" or stretch what you have. When it comes to glasses for drinks, some bottle shops will offer free glass hire if you purchase enough alcohol from them - just be sure to plan it in advance as this service is busy at Christmas.
Can your kitchen get the job done
It's quite pointless to plan a party that your kitchen can't handle. Every kitchen has space constraints; make sure you know yours. For example, can your refrigerator fit all those platters of cold hors d'oeuvres? Can your stove handle heating the five dishes you plan to serve hot at the same time? If not, now's the time to make adjustments and plans. The sanest way to shop for a party is in stages. Divide your shopping list by store and buy all the nonperishables you need as early as possible.
Go for visual appeal
A beautifully set table can make even plain food look elegant and inviting. And you don't need to spend a lot of money to do it. Start with a great tablecloth, add a bowl of Christmas balls, fruits or candles. Candlelight is the kindest light of all but can be hot and dangerous if there are children attending the party.
Make ahead if you can
Waiting until the last few days before your party to cook everything just doesn't make sense - especially when, if you examine your menu, you'll see that much of it can be prepared ahead, frozen and reheated. your children can - and should - help out to get the party ready and then help host it by clearing away glasses and passing around nibblees.
Don't go insane cleaning the house
Don't attempt a top-to-bottom housecleaning before your party. Confine your efforts to the rooms your guests will see and use - close the doors to the others. Clutter removal is key to the rest of your housecleaning. Consider setting up several food areas so that everyone has enough space to mingle but eat. For example, use the coffee table for nibbles, your buffet top for the cheese platter and the laundry bench for drinks service.
The final commandment is both the hardest and the most important thing - have fun! It takes a lot of planning and effort to pull of a Christmas party, and most guests are delighted that you have invited them along. They don't care if you forgot to put out the nice cutlery or your dog threw up in the front yard. So take a deep breath before you open the door to guests and relax.
Read more about entertaining at Christmas
- Discover great Christmas recipes to make
- Scour our Christmas gift guides for pressies everyone will love
- How to do Christmas on the cheap
- Read about Christmas crafts
- Find Christmas nibbles recipes
- Discover the best Christmas party food
- Christmas drink ideas