Friendsmas VI – with Tips for Hosting a Stress-Free Holiday Party!
Ok then! We officially need two hands to count the number of Friendsmases we’ve hosted! This season’s fête was a convivial and completely stress-free success, but they haven’t always been. We’ve streamlined the process over the years and I thought I’d share the tips and tricks I’ve come to rely on for hosting a jolly holiday party.
Set the Mood with Music & Lighting
If there is only one thing you remember from this list, let it be this: ALWAYS HAVE MUSIC PLAYING. Maybe you think my caps yelling is unnecessary, but it’s surprising how often this Party 101 task gets forgotten. Trust, nothing kills a party faster than the awkward hum of silence when even the most animated of conversations comes to a natural pause. If you expect your husband’s coworker to converse with your childhood bff you need background noise to fill the space, burying those potentially cringe-worthy interims. And really, I would go so far as to posit this applies to all social gatherings – family dinners, I’m looking at you (no one likes hearing Uncle Bill’s labored chewing).
Then there’s lighting. Equally important, but I’ll keep this short. Turn off your overhead lights. No one looks good in artificial overhead light. It’s stark and glaring and casts unpleasant shadows. What you want is soft diffused lighting and Christmas makes it that much easier with the ambient glow of tree lights. Now go around and flip on all your table lamps, lights some candles and get the party started.
Clean Yo’ House (but Don’t Be Too Precious About It Either)
This is totally a personal idiosyncrasy, but when I’m hosting a party like Friendsmas I go all out with the pre-party cleaning. I’m not the greatest at the daily upkeep of our home – reality is more like: Slide all the junk into this room so I can take photos of that room or Quick! clean the bathroom because I just found out they’re on their way over. So when I know I’m planning to host I make time to really clean. We’re talking wiping the ages-ago spilled coffee from the stairwell, scrubbing grimy fingerprints off kitchen cabinet fronts, vacuuming away the extended family of dust bunnies from their year-long residency under the sofa… in addition to all the normal mopping, vacuuming, and dusting that, ideally, would be happening with far more frequency than it does.
I want to clarify, though, having a spotless home isn’t a prerequisite for hospitality. If you pop over for a surprise visit I will squeal with delight! What I’m getting at is less a prideful “look how perfect my house, thus life, is” and more because intentionally preparing for guests says “I value you.” “You’re important to me, and I want you to be comfortable and feel safe.”
But at the same time, don’t be too precious about anything. Unless it’s a cultural thing, don’t make your guests take off their shoes (it kills the outfit!). When the red wine inevitably gets spilled, have a towel for dabbing at the ready; save the vinegar, baking soda and other Hail Mary cleaning experiments for the morning after. In the end it’s all just stuff and being a good host means relationships and memories always trump stuff (so says the woman whose home is almost singularly furnished with second-hand goods…).
Play to Your Strengths (and Weaknesses) with Your Menu
Don’t decide to throw a multi-course dinner party if you typically subsist on a diet of frozen meals and other co-ed staples. I made a version of this mistake our first Friendsmas. I thought to host friends it had to be a dinner. Everyone contributed to the meal, bringing all the delicious sides, desserts, and even pre-dinner apps, so it wasn’t a complete failure, but as the host I felt compelled to provide the main entree. And as someone who didn’t know how to cook, had never cooked for a group of people, or attempted to cook meat of any sort – it was basically an “everything else is done, it just needs 3 hours to braise” situation – we finally sat down to eat the blandest, questionably-done pork roast close to 10pm, with some guests excusing themselves beforehand because they had to work early the next morning.
Six years later, I’ve grown from googling “how to mince garlic” to feeling kind of comfortable in the kitchen, and probably could make a tasty main dish, but I learned my lesson and every Friendsmas since has been a finger foods party.
And here’s part B of Tip 3:
Always Enlist Your Friends for Help/Know What Help to Have Them Provide When They Offer
I wrote about this last year; my friend Bethany makes a mean cheese/charcuterie board – crammed with all the best cheeses and other deliciousness that make for both a tasty and, equally important, good-looking display. So this year, I skipped the stress of trying to whip up some apps (still not my strong-suit) and let the cheese stand alone.
I asked my friend Adrienne to make her famous dark chocolate dipped strawberries and then I did what I do best, easy desserts that can be done the day before. I added a little challenge for myself, though. Over the summer I was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (where my fellow EoE sufferers at?!). Thus I’m on a triple-threat wheat, dairy, and corn elimination diet for, like, ever. So this year’s spread (minus the aforementioned cheese board *sob*) included only gluten free, dairy free, and corn free treats I could eat: coconut macaroons because they seem fancy even though they’re incredibly simple to make, fudge (made from semi-sweet chocolate chips and coconut milk), and rice chex puppy chow because, yum.
And my friend Laurel made the champagne, rum, pomegranate punch (known for being potentially dangerous because it just tastes like juice) we serve every year.
Let this be a lesson to you: cheese + sweet treats + punch = a foolproof holiday party menu
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a room of seasoned musicians or tone-deaf appreciators, chances are someone knows how to play guitar or remembers enough from their 4 years of forced piano lessons to plunk out an accompaniment. Or just go acapela. It’s Christmas! Even your shyest and dearest want to sing.
Facebook recently reminded me our caroling tradition began completely impromptu with a drummer keeping time byway clanging flatware on wineglasses, our friend Kyle remembering he had his accordion in his car, Luke hopping on the piano, and the rest of us calling out song requests like a bunch of sailors on furlough. Now, it’s a beloved part of the festivities of which it wouldn’t be Friendsmas without.
After obsessively insuring there is always music playing, this is the next most important tip. Seriously, your guests can tell when you’re a frazzled mess, stressed because you’re still frantically trying to follow a recipe upon their arrival. And it’s such a drag for everyone when the host isn’t having fun. Ughh. I’m so guilty of this. But now’s the time to shove a drink in their hands, one in your own, and thank your husband and closest friends for stepping in to finish what needs finishing/be ok with whatever doesn’t get finished.
Being a good host is a skill, but also an honor. You get to invite people in, make them feel welcome and wanted. I hope you found these tips helpful (let me know if you have more to add!), but moreso that you find yourself in the company of friends or family this Christmas who make you feel loved.
P.S. Is it melodramatic to dedicate a blogpost? Probably, but I’m going to.
To my Momma, and Cindy F. who taught me all these things. 😘