I thought I’d write a few posts over the next week or two about hosting and attending holiday parties. This time of year, people’s calendars (and stomachs) fill up with one party after another. (I personally tend to lose track of dates and locations, and during the month of December I wish more than ever that I had a personal assistant.) Between work parties (if you can call them that), family shindigs, and gatherings with friends, it’s a lot to take in.
Also, it may be intimidating to jump in to the fray by deciding to host your own party. But, I assure you, it is totally worth it. So, if this is your first time throwing a holiday hoedown, or if you’re looking to improve upon previous parties, you’re in the right place. Today I thought I’d go over what are really the two most important components of a holiday party: the guest list and the food.
Guest list ““ Even though menu planning is way more enjoyable, you have to think about your guest list first. This is simply because, until you know the size and the expectations of the group you’re going to be hosting, it’s difficult to decide what to serve.
There are two decisions to make about the guest list, and they are kind of “chicken-or-the-egg”-like in that it’s hard to say which decision has to come first: the size or the actual guests. Say you start with size: you want to have a small party. You’ll naturally produce a guest list of only your nearest and dearest. But say you’re thinking about the people first; you want your cousins to see your new place, you don’t want to leave out your work friends, oh, and you want to include your whole softball team. Before you can say “pfeffernusse,” you’ve got yourself a big bash.
Small parties can be easier on the hostess. Less food, less booze, and you won’t have to worry about having enough seating for everyone. But big parties have an energy that can’t be matched; they can take on a life of their own, and there’s nothing better than looking around your house or apartment and seeing people from all corners of your life talking to one another over eggnog.
The downsides? Small parties need to be a little more carefully planned, since you can’t count on the sheer size and inherent chaos to make the party interesting or fun. This could mean that the guest list for this party should be rather tight; in other words, you invite people who know each other and will mingle and get along. As for big gatherings, you run the risk of running out of provisions, running out of space, or possibly even pissing off your neighbors. (Hint from Hattie: always invite your immediate adjacent neighbors ahead of time to appease them.)
The great thing about hosting is that you get to decide what your party is going to be like. So pick your guest list, and start planning the fun part: the food.
The food ““ Both the number and the disposition of your guests will go a long way in helping you decide what to serve. Take a look at who is coming, and ask yourself what they are going to want or expect. Are a bunch of your college buddies coming? Is your brother, who barely looks at food before shoving it in his maw, going to be there? Then you don’t need focus so much on wowing everyone with intricate little quiches; you can keep it simple with some casseroles, dips, and simple small bites. If you’re having anyone over that you’re trying to impress, or if you’ve drawn up a more formal guest list, it may mean that you should be a little more creative with the cuisine. (Bring on the quiche!)
No matter what you’re planning to serve, do your homework. I’ve addressed this in a general hostessing post before, but make sure that you do as much work on the food or drinks ahead of time as humanly possible. You want to enjoy your party just as much as your guests; you don’t want to spend it all in the kitchen. And don’t go overboard. Unless you are throwing a full-on dinner party, don’t feel pressured to have enough food for each guest to make a whole meal out of.
A quick note on drinks: if you’re lucky enough to have space for it (and I might hate you a little bit), create a drink station somewhere in your place where your guests can assemble and pour their drinks. This prevents crowding in the kitchen, or wherever you’ve got the food laid out, and it creates a nice social area. Need some ideas for holiday drinks beyond the simple beer, wine, and liquor that you’ve already got? Check out my hot favorites or a few other ideas from the NYTimes.