Surviving the Holiday Party Circuit

Place Setting

Many of us enjoy visiting with friends and family during the holidays, but hosting such special occasions raises a variety of questions. Guests often find themselves in a conundrum when trying to be helpful without insulting the host. So how do you navigate the holiday party circuit without hitting too many speed bumps?

Emily Jamison, director of special events, and Ray Taylor, assistant director of special events, at The University of Alabama offer a few tips on how to pull off the perfect holiday party, whether you host or attend.

What is a good rule of thumb for preparing food for your guests?

EJ: It really depends on the time of day and what kind of party it is. If it is an afternoon reception, the food can be lighter and the guests will not eat or drink as much. However, if it is an evening party or reception, the guests will eat and drink more. It is appropriate to have heavier hors d oeuvres and a broader selection of items at an evening event. A good plan that might be helpful to determine the quantity is to be able to offer your guests two or three small pieces of each item you have chosen for your party menu.

What are some easy ways to decorate your home and/or table without spending too much time and money?

EJ: I have found that the easiest way for me to decorate my home for the holidays is to cut greenery from the yard. I love magnolia, pine, juniper and holly for my mantle and table centerpieces. Candles are a nice soft touch and add to the ambience. The large pillar candles in varying heights add just the perfect finish to my fresh greenery. When the holidays are over, I just toss all the greenery in the fireplace!

RT: "Less is best." Making a statement with focal points that draw your attention is better than something on everything. Fresh greens accent well and are inexpensive—even the trimmings from your tree. Add Christmas ornaments, fruit, pine cones, candles or flowers to add color. Change them out for different parties or dinners. Keep in mind: an appropriate sized tree with plenty of ornaments looks better than an oversized tree with few ornaments.

Should you always bring items when invited to holiday parties?

EJ: Although your host does not expect this, it is a very thoughtful thing to do. Such great suggestions might be to bring a bottle of wine if you have been invited for dinner, or maybe some cute and whimsical cocktail napkins if you have been invited to an afternoon party. I also think that if you have been invited to a large holiday cocktail party, it is especially thoughtful to send the host some flowers or a poinsettia ahead of time that they can use somewhere in the house for decoration.

How long should a party last?

EJ: Most parties are two hours in length. This usually gives the host time to greet everyone at the door and then spend some time visiting with the guests once it appears that everyone has arrived. This also gives the guests time to mingle with each other and catch up with friends they may not have seen in several months.

How can you politely notify your guests that the party is coming to an end?

EJ: This should not be necessary if the host has denoted the time(s) on the invitation. It is sometimes a little awkward to be the very first guest to arrive, but you never want to be the last to leave unless the host has asked you to stay late. If the host has not indicated an ending time on the invitation, a good reference is to watch the size of the crowd. Once it is apparent that the crowd is beginning to leave and thin out a little, that should be a good clue that the party is coming to and. Once again, my advice is to not be the last ones to leave. You never want the host to close the door behind you and say,..."I thought they would NEVER leave!"

Any other advice to make the holidays easier and more enjoyable?

  • Manage your time and your budget and stick to it!
  • Decorations don’t have to be expensive. Many times, just adding some pretty holiday candles or brightly colored Christmas balls in a bowl can do wonders to make your home seem more festive.
  • Gift certificates and gift cards are easy to purchase, easy to ship, and are always the right size and color!
  • Magazine subscriptions are a great gift for any age, and they are a reminder all year long of your thoughtfulness.
  • If you are caught in a real pinch on Christmas eve and the stores have all closed, I have found that the drug stores (large chains) are open late, carry evertything, and can handle any last minute emergencies for gifts.

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