Top Ten Essentials for Holiday Entertaining at Home

ENTERTAINING DURING THE HOLIDAYS can be stressful, but it need not be so. Entertaining can be as simple, or as complicated, as you want to make it. Let’s have some lunch in my kitchen and then talk about it.

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We hang bells on the outside doors in December so we can enjoy the tinkle of bells as we go in and out. The children love it – and so do I.

THE FOCUS IN OUR HOUSE IS ON CHRISTMAS, as our family’s tradition dictates, but perhaps a few suggestions may be helpful to bloggers who are preparing other holiday celebrations.

I AM NO MARTHA S., nor do I aspire to be an entertaining diva. I have always wanted our home to be a place where family and friends felt welcome, when they visited. I’ve had a number of years for trial and error and have arrived at my own ways to make entertaining more enjoyable for me – and hopefully more memorable for my guests. (One of the many perks of getting older is all that comes with life experience.) If the host is relaxed and having a good time, our guests’ pleasure in being in our homes is multiplied tenfold.

MY TOP TEN ESSENTIALS FOR ENTERTAINING AT HOME:

1. Plan Ahead– Organize-organize-organize (See earlier post on getting organized: click on HOME posts and scroll to Nov 5th: The Holidays are Coming and Its Time to Get Organized)

2. Invite People You Enjoy
Yes, I know that is not always possible. There may be a family member or co-worker that is a challenge for you, but should be included in some traditional event – so onward. We do our best to be gracious and make guests feel welcome in our home. Aside from the have-to-have folks for obligatory events, this is a wonderful time of year to plan special events in your home with people you enjoy to share your decorations, traditions and holiday foods (e.g., lunch, dinner, coffee, tree decorating, cookie exchanges, dessert sampling, wine and cheese by the fire). This is the time for joyful celebrations – large and small.

3. Plan a Menu That Meets Your Stress Test
As a young wife and mother, when I was trying to master so many things at once in managing a home, I set such a challenge for myself for entertaining that I was often exhausted when I met our guests at the door. My sister often kids me about the dinner I fixed that used every pan and dish in the kitchen. I even made a dobosh torte with 8 different fillings. No more! Unless you enjoy many hours in the kitchen, are catering the event, are working on a cookbook, or have good helpers, you may want to plan a gracious and fabulous repast that won’t burn out the chef.

THIS IS MY RECIPE now for entertaining, especially for dinner parties – the 1-2, 3 & 3 method. This Star-Early Bird and Easy Method is based on the notion that not every dish I serve needs to be a candidate for gourmet magazine, a never before seen dish or take 2 days to prepare. Oh. What a relief! I use this method for planning the menu.

1-2 STAR DISHES Star dishes are 1 or 2 complicated show-off gourmet dishes. They can be the entrée, dessert, bread, or some of the sides. There are the stars of the meal.! The other dishes are delicious also, but are supporting players in your meal.

3 EARLY BIRD DISHES These dishes can be prepared a day ahead with minimal preparation the day of the event.

3 EASY DISHES These are prepared just like the name sounds – easy, (e.g., purchasing a unique side dish or bread from a deli or restaurant ready to bake or warm, or a dish you can prepare with few ingredients – or in little time).

4. Decorate the house in early December
WE DECORATE THE CHRISTMAS TREE the day after Thanksgiving and finish the other decorations by the first week of December. So – that is done and ready to enjoy the festive display while we move on to holiday activities. The house is always ready for entertaining, with a just a few things to do to refresh the decorations before each event.

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5. Refresh decorations with fresh flowers and holiday greens
I LOVE HAVING FRESH plants and flowers around all year long. I usually find something to cut from the yard and add to that with fresh flowers picked up at the grocery. This can be an arrangement on the serving table, in the living or family room, or even a small vase with one flower on the table. I always put a fresh flower in a bud vase in the guest room. It says welcome in a special way.

MOST CHRISTMAS TREE LOTS will give away, or charge a small fee, for armloads of pine or frazer fir branches they have cut away from the trees in shaping. I put the branches in a bucket of water and keep outside where it is cool. Weekly, I bring in fresh boughs to add to the mantle and table decorations and toss the old ones. The fresh greens add a Christmasy scent to the room.

6. Light the Candles
CANDLES CREATE a special atmosphere in the evening. I have candles in my kitchen, in the living room and on the dining tables. To simplify my life, I have given away all candle holders that hold the tapers that have to be monitored for fire and for dripping wax. I only use fat candles inside hurricanes and I also have a few battery candles that come on for 5 hours in bedrooms or places where children gather.

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Battery candles near the fireplace turn on automatically for 6 hours after dark.

7. Turn on holiday music that makes you sing
I ENJOY CHRISTMAS MUSIC while I am working on holiday projects or creating something for the holidays in my kitchen. Traditional Christmas pop songs and carols stimulate tons of memories to keep me in the spirit of the season. The memories floating into my kitchen on the strains of the music create a cozy and warm Christmasy feeling as I work. (As I mentioned previously, I’m a sucker for sentiment in December.)

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8. Make Your Kitchen Holly Friendly
I DON’T MEAN TO GO CRAZY in over-the-top decorating. No, I mean to at least put a touch of the holidays in the room you spend a lot of time in – your kitchen. It can be as simple as one Christmas candle, a wreath on the kitchen door or a small kitchen tree hung with cookie cutters. I have a favorite red apron I wear in December and I use a couple of Christmasy pot holders and dish towels.

9. Decorate Dining and Serving Tables
THINK OF IT as creating a stage to present your food as the star. Decorations can be simple, with candles, flowers, pine, or just scattered ornaments or pine cones.

10. Take Time to Rest Before Guests Arrive
WE LEARN THE LESSON early (at least many women do) that we project a more confident and relaxed manner when we wear something we feel comfortable in.. and that we think we look good wearing. So – think about what you are going to wear ahead of time, so it is ready to wear. Plan your time so you can take a leisurely bath or have plenty of time to dress before guests arrive.

Congratulate yourself on your preparations. You deserve it. Greet your guests at the door with a smile. Enjoy your guests and your own holiday party.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

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17 thoughts on “Top Ten Essentials for Holiday Entertaining at Home”

  1. Happy Holidays to you Sue. I’m going to have to dive even deeper into your writing to find out how your home got so beautiful and you got so talented. I’m linking you to my blog and hope others will have another way to find you. Great post. Great advice. Patsye

    1. Oh my gosh… as a new blogger, you made my day! Thank you for your gracious comments. I have always enjoyed a busy career, but my home is important to me – and guess what… I love the Christmas holidays. This year is especially nostalgic as we have sold our home to downsize since there are two of us here now. We are a little sad as we enjoy our last Christmas here… January will bring new adventures for my husband and I to make a new home. Thank you for visiting my blog. Happy holidays to you and your family.. Sue
      womenlivinglifeafter50.com

    1. Thank you Sheri. I hope you are having a good day. It is 70 degrees here today. Doesn’t feel like December. Sue
      Womenlivinglifeafter50.com

  2. There are few surprises in my house each Christmas. We have the same tree, decorations, music, menu and activities. The only thing that might vary is who visits. We are usually busy up to close to the day, and ready for holidays after, so K.I.S. rules 🙂
    With all that great advice, I can only wish you a very Merry Christmas 🙂

    1. You are respecting traditions in your family holiday celebrations then. My best to you and your family for happy holidays. Sue
      Womenlivinglifeafter50.com

  3. Great tips, Sue. As every one has said. It takes some time but we all eventually learn to scales things back so that we, too, can enjoy the holidays. I must admit, though, that I’ll pass on the bells. When he was a pup, I taught my dog to ring a bell when he needed to go out. Now he rings it to go out, for a treat, for food, to play — you’ve got the idea. I took it away and the poor guy would touch his nose to the spot where the bell hung. He looked so pathetic that I put it back up. 🙂

  4. It takes time, but we finally learn. Thank you for your wonderful suggestions.
    I used to make myself nuts preparing complicated dishes. Now I use my crock pot and serve extra special desserts and homemade Focaccia.

    1. Way to go! Homemade Facaccia yum. I use crock pot for many things too. Even makes easy pumpkin butter. Sue
      Womenlivinglifeafter50.com

  5. Very sage advice! We all learn the hard way about ehausting ourselves in the cause of making a big impression! I love your food star rankings, very sensible! Freshly cut trees only last about a week in our heat, sadly!

      1. We’ve spent the last 4 days travelling! We can seriously begin our preparations now, although the very tropical an weather, that’s heat and humidity, will have a big influence on our decisions. 🎄

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