Even with all the commercialism, the chaos, and the over-sentimentality, this season really is the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays provide an opportunity to get intentional - to reach out to others, to make gifts and special food, to wish "Season's Greetings" to a stranger that you'd have otherwise ignored.
But, though we all might forget when we have to be eight different places on Christmas Day, the best part of the holidays is about gathering together. Even for the extreme introverts (like me), nothing says Christmas like welcoming someone into your home, being warm together, and sharing some food and drink.
So, in order to make that as easy and headache-less as possible while still keeping things merry and bright, we've teamed up with mike's hard lemonade to offer our man's guide to hassle-free holiday entertaining. All the basics are covered - just add a bit of personalization and whatever feels Christmas-y to you, and we're off. Cheers!
Decor and Festivities
Color Scheme: Hah. Your party doesn't need a color scheme. What is does need is a general vibe. You can go all Dickensian and bust out the red and green and holly and mistletoe, but our vote is this: skip the green altogether, and keep everything in bold holiday red with natural tones and textures. Forgo fancy table cloths, and cover your tables with brown kraft paper. This'll give everything a cohesive feel, and the natural textures will help bring the outdoors in, as it were. as well as bringing the outdoors in. If you do use paper plates and cups and napkins, snag the unbleached kind. And continue that vibe into the rest of your supplies: unbleached paper, cork, wood tones, pinecones, some galvanized steel and metal tones (like a beverage tub) and then plenty of red.
Christmas Smells: They say smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, and by my count, Christmas-y-ness is a good 75% aroma. So - you gotta do it. The easiest way is just to simmer some whole spices and citrus peels on the stovetop, but if you want something pre-packaged, look for some simple scented candles or essential oils. The candles will make for a dimmed, cabin-like ambiance, or you can heat a couple different oils throughout the night, preferably something forrest-y: pine, oak, sandalwood, or even cinnamon. Just don't do both, and avoid anything too overpowering.
Decor: You need but one thing, my friend: string lights. That's it. Don't over think it. Buy a few extra sets when they're 50% off, and keep them around for anytime. Inside, outside, whateverside. Just drape them from everything for some instant comfort and joy. Use blue painter's tape or removable Command hooks to place them on walls and ceilings, and you're home will just feel like Christmas. Promise.
Music: Yes, your Christmas party needs music. Christmas music, even. What sort? Whatever you like...just not the same six songs they play 24 hours a day during those 30 days when your local radio station goes all holiday, all the time. To start, allow me to suggest the ManMade modern rock holiday playlists from the last three years, which are free to stream: 2010, 2011, and 2012. That'll get you three and half hours in. From there, hit up Spotify or another streaming service, and take advantage of all the free playlists there. Like this one, or this.
Food and Drink
Eats: When it comes to holiday entertaining, the important thing to remember is: you don't have to serve anyone dinner. Unless you're having a dinner party, which you're not, cause it's Christmas, and you're having a Christmas party. So, the goal here is just to provide some small snacks and bites to accompany drinks and keep people moving about. Simple ingredients put together well to create awesome bites. Think: apples, a few choices of cheese, local mustard and jellies, olives and charcuterie, some toasted rustic bread. Done and done.
Or, if you want something a little more, uh, indulgent, try this trick I learned in Jalisco, Mexico: Simply lay out some thick cut potato chips in a huge pile, and cover the whole thing in Valentina hot sauce (yellow label) and plenty of fresh squeezed lime juice. You've turned a party staple into something truly special, and neither you nor your guests will ever be able to eat regular potato chips again. Happy Christmas, snack spoiler!
Pick Your Poison: The goal here is to pick one thing, and stick to it. For some variety with ease, try the mike's hard lemonade party pack. You get four different varieties in each case, allowing your guests to mix and match with whatever they're currently munching on. The classic hard lemonade works well with earthy, salty items like cheese and olives, and the limeade is an obvious match for the Mexican-style chip preparation above. My personal favorite is the mike's hard cranberry lemonade; it's got an extra boost of acidity from the cranberry that cuts through all these rich holiday foods, and simply tastes like wintertime. Just snag a few party packs, stick them in a cooler or beverage tub with ice - or snow, if you've got some - and the drinks issue is covered. You concentrate on spending time with your guests.
If you want to add an extra layer of seasonal flair, try what we did in the photo above: seal some battery-powered LED lights in a double layer of zip-top bag (just in case), and place it inside the ice. At my gatherings, I like to put my drinks outside, where it's a reliable 20-30° in December, to keep everything chilled, and the people moving. The lights help my guests find their way.
Entertaining Tips and Ideas
Coasters: Anyone who's ever hosted (or been to) a party will tell you there's that one awkward dance: where to put your drinks, and how to tell them apart. Are we using coasters? Is that my bottle or yours? So, solve both problems with this super simple DIY project: just grab a stack of cork tiles from the craft or office supply store. They're always less than a dollar each. Cut them into 1/4ths with a craft knife, then stack them up alongside some red Sharpies. The cork and red combo reinforce your not-color scheme, and allow folks to tell their drinks apart, while protecting your furniture. You can reuse the coasters several times - just black out the names and start again; when they're full, flip 'em over. You've still spent less than those silly wine charms, and these pull double duty.
Photos and Merry Memory Making: The last thing you want to do it chase everyone to take photos to remember this nearly perfect holiday moment...cause they won't do it. But in the era of smartphones, your friends can all take part in the fun and collect the memories in one place: just make sure you create your own party's hashtag.
Make it easy enough to remember: something straightforward like #ManMadeHolidayBash or something festive like #39andahalffootpole. Write down the tag and place it in little cards around your home - or write it on that brown kraft paper we keep going on about. The next day you can go through the feed on your social media channels and laugh, cry, and regret.
Create Movement: The host's job is to keep things from feeling stale, and keep your guests moving about. Other than putting the food and drinks on opposite sides of a space, think about other ways to get feet a-shuffling. Nobody's going to dance, but how else can you avoid the statics?
One of my favorite local restaurants/pubs has a huge collection of old VHS tapes that they play on monitors. The volume is always off, but those flickering screens give some serious motion to the spot, and add a sense of time to the meal. So - do the same. Pick your favorite Christmas movies, and let them play, with the volume at 0. Whatever floats your Christmas boat will work, but we vote for the ultimate guy's Christmas movie - Bill Murray in Scrooged. Buster Poindexter as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and a gun-toting Bobcat Goldthwait, plus that version of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" at the end? Talk about Christmas spirit.
Be Polite and Tell Your Neighbors About It: I don't necessarily mean invite them over, but at least let them know you'll be having a "small gathering" (choose your words wisely). It'll only take a few minutes, and allows them to prepare appropriately. It also gets rid of any weird issues, and answers that classic question "What is going on over there?!" Somehow, when you're prepared any excess noise comes off less like rude behavior and more that you're just following through on those preparations you made. Just say something simple, like "Hey neighbor, I'm having some friends over on Friday. It won't go til late, but if we get a bit noisy, please let me know!" If you want to go the extra mile, wrap a little bundle with goodies from the party and leave them by the door with a note.
And? That's it. Some string lights, the right music, a bit to eat and drink, and you and your friends, together because tis the season. Happy Holidays!
This post was sponsored by mike's hard lemonade. All opinions are mine. Learn more about mike's and their mike's hard party kit at their Facebook page.