I grew up in a very close-knit family. I have four siblings, and we always had lots of family and friends over to the house to help us celebrate the days leading up to Christmas and of course Christmas Day itself. Now we’ve all gone our separate ways; only one of my siblings still lives in my hometown.
The distance doesn’t ever discourage us from celebrating the holiday season like we used to. If we can’t all make it together to be with our parents (and we usually do), we have a blueprint down to entertain guests at our own gatherings. I call them the three “goods.” Good food, good friends, and good fun are key to making any holiday gathering sparkle.
I am a pretty rotund guy, so I know good food when I taste it. The key to a great holiday spread is variety.
Growing up, my mother would routinely cook a ham and a turkey for Christmas, allowing guests to take whichever meat they liked (of course we took both!). You can never go wrong with a hearty side of mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. For an efficient way to make turkey gravy, go to food.com and search up “Kittencal’s Easy No-Fail Make Anytime Turkey Gravy.” I do not consider myself a great cook by any means, but even I’ve been able to surprise myself with this easy recipe. It takes 20 minutes to make from start to finish, and at 225 calories a serving, is about as good for you as gravy is going to get!
Don’t forget your side dishes. Back home a favorite of ours was sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmallows. Now Top Chef contestant and The Chew co-host Carla Hall isn’t my mama, but I have tried her recipe and I can say that it is close enough to the original that I am willing to endorse it. You can cook this dish by getting the full recipe at abc.go.com/shows/the-chew, recipe title “Carla Hall’s Candied Sweet Potatoes with Pecans.” Also, cook at least two vegetables depending on your taste. In our family, we never go wrong with summer squash and broccoli.
For dessert, we would always have two pies on the table. As we are very Southern indeed, we would have pumpkin pie (a holiday treat no matter where you’re from) paired with pecan pie. To save time and aggravation, these pies can be store-bought, but my mother would try to bake them if she had the time (which sometimes she actually did; I don’t know how she does it!).
Also, for festive parties, be sure to put together lots of appetizers for your family and friends who have come by to wish you well. They’re there to visit, catch up with you, and the least you can do is give them a few things to munch on! My mother, who I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles is the best cook in the world, would prepare lots of fun finger foods that hit the spot and aren’t at all complicated or fancy. Her favorites were pigs in a blanket (easy to prepare with cocktail weenies and refrigerated ready-to-bake biscuit dough) and deviled eggs. Also put out a nice cheese and vegetable platter. This is something you can buy ready made from Publix, Winn-Dixie, or other supermarkets. It will be a great pairing with company and a load off your mind because it’s something you don’t have to cook.
Singer-songwriter Jason Derulo told E! that his tip for a holiday get-together is to “have lots of different kinds of alcohol…people like variety. You’ve got to have a nice little bar setup going.” Even though I am a sporadic drinker, I have to agree. Not everyone is going to agree on soft drinks, let alone spirits, and I know I’d like to partake in vodka if there is some, not sulk in the corner if they’ve only got rum.
When I say good friends, I mean it. Although the holidays are a time for cheer and goodwill toward all men, you will save yourself a lot of stress by only inviting the people you truly want in your company over to your house for the holidays. Keep it simple and light-hearted, and with your closest besties, keeping it light-hearted will be very easy indeed. My rule of thumb is, if you’ve gone on a road trip with the person or they’ve seen you at the crack of dawn before you’ve had your first cup of coffee, they have earned their “friend” credentials.
You may need extra hands to plan your holiday party, and it is acceptable to ask your friends for help. However, I would only ask the closest and most trustworthy people in my circle, mainly because they would be willing to help you (and vice versa), and you don’t risk a misunderstanding about “being used for labor.” A true friend would understand that sometimes a nice soirée needs a lot of planning, but be sure to return the favor if they need it!
This is absolutely key. A person whose party is a flop is worse than the Grinch and Scrooge combined! Luckily, it is pretty easy to keep that flowing, especially if you offer your friends good snacks and a well-stocked bar (see above).
One thing that always kept the party going at my parents’ house was good conversation and good music. Real Housewife of New York City LuAnn de Lesseps agrees. In her most recent etiquette book, Class with the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair, she reveals some of her own holiday party secrets. She is a big believer in being held accountable if the party hits a lull. Prop it back up, she says. “Introduce guests to each other and make sure you circulate the room sparking up conversations or telling a good joke or two when there is a lull in conversation.” She goes on to advise that the correct way to greet guests is “with a smile on your face and with a glass of wine in your hand.” Well, with some good wine, how hard can it be to smile?
Always keep some festive music playing in the background. My personal favorites are some Christmas classics, like from Karen Carpenter (“Merry Christmas Darling”) and Andy Williams (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”) mixed in with my favorite oldies (like Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival, or ABBA) and my Top 40 (Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry). An eclectic mix will never keep you or your guests bored, and is also a conversation-starter.
The holidays can be a tough time on all of us, so I hope that the advice that I was able to give will be able to help you throw a great holiday bash this year.