‘Tis the season to be jolly, they say. They might also say ’tis the season to be exhausted. December can be a marathon, y’all, and drain all the holiday spirit from even the cheeriest of folks. There are work parties and family parties and cookie swaps and White Elephant exchanges. And this poses a particular challenge for those who want to throw their own shindigs. In a sea of happy hours and Christmas carols and menorah madness, how do you make your fête stand out?
Luckily for you, I myself threw a festive shindig this past weekend, and I’m going to share my hard-earned knowledge with all of you. Here are a few tips Zelda-approved and guaranteed to make you the hostess with the mistle-mostest (sorry, sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Set the stage.
If you’re anything like me, your halls have been decked since the clock hit midnight on Thanksgiving night. So your party decorating job should be mostly done for you! All that’s left is to plug in all the twinkly lights. Should you wish to take things to an extra festive level, fresh greenery shows you made an effort for this particular evening. You can go for something seasonal, like poinsettias or winterberries — or my personal favorite, eucalyptus, which has the extra advantages of smelling great and lasting an incredibly long time, especially if you let it dry out.
Make room for mingling.
My apartment isn’t as claustrophobic as many New York pads, but it is definitely not palatial. My time-honored trick is to move the coffee table into my bedroom, allowing plenty of space for dancing or drinking.
Punch is your friend.
On to the beverages! Nobody wants to stand there mixing individual cocktails all night, and in my opinion the holidays call for something with a little more pizzazz than just wine or beer. This year, I went for a combination of vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice, and ginger beer, appropriately named “Christmas Cheers” (and inspired by this recipe). Garnish with frozen cranberries and sprigs of fresh rosemary for an extra holly-jolly look.
Let it simmer.
Another wintry big-batch favorite of mine is a spiked hot chocolate bar. You know your trusty slow cooker? It doubles as a cocoa vat! You can go classic or vegan if you have non-lactose-friendly folks in your life (I opted for the latter and could not tell the difference). Mix it up before the party starts and then let it sit on low until it runs dry. You can gather your own bar of mixers or ask guests to bring their favorites. And don’t forget garnishes! Some whipped cream, sprinkles, shaved chocolate, and a mini candy cane will take your drink to the next level.
Note: At some point during party prep, you may be tempted by an impulse to use mugs. “It will be so cute!” you may think. “Finally, an opportunity to deploy my full porcelain arsenal!” Do not give in to this impulse. You will thank me when party clean-up rolls around. Which brings me too…
Keep it disposable.
I know: This is not the most eco-friendly. But if your gathering is going to be anything bigger than an intimate dinner party among friends, you will not want to have to deal with washing everyone’s plates and cups and mugs and forks and spoons and…you get the picture. Buy something in a festive pattern (I suggest Target, for all your festive dining needs), keep it paper or number one or two plastic, and then you can at least recycle everything when the night is done, quieting your inner green gremlin.
Give zero forks.
Finger food is your friend! If it requires a plate or utensils, save it for book club. A party means party snacks. For the holidays, I usually go with cookies: These rosemary shortbread (recipes courtesy of Melissa Clark) are always a huge hit. And for the savory folks, my roommate usually whips up a batch of tiny meatballs, which can be speared on a toothpick and gobbled down in one bite.
Deck yourself with something festive.
We are only blessed with one month a year in which to wear all the reindeers and penguins and snowmen and jingle bells and dreidels and Santa hats we want and not get funny looks. Lean into it, my friends.
Treasure these moments (and by treasure, I mean document).
Take lots of pictures! And definitely make sure your friends pose super, super naturally. So candid. So festive. So Christmukkah.