By Alison Cox
As a child growing up in upstate New York, it wasn’t the snow that signaled the arrival of the holidays (there was snow all the time). Nor was it the annual television viewing of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” that we watched snuggled up under a green blanket while eating popcorn. No, it wasn’t until my mother’s invitation to the neighborhood cookie swap arrived that we knew it was holiday time.
It was evident that the swap was upon us when the kitchen filled up with gorgeous cookies that we weren’t allowed to touch. The next day, while my brother and I were at school, my mom would leave our house with her gigantic Tupperware container of cookies and return with a most amazing array. From the frosted Santas to the buttery sugar cookies sprinkled with colored sugar, we ate cookies for days. Oh, the Cookie Swap of Yesteryear!
From an old-fashioned cookie swap to a very 2008 Haute Cocoa party, there are myriad ways to celebrate the holidays. Visions of harried hostesses dancing in your head? Take heart. Holiday entertaining has never been easier. The following ideas are meant to be easy, affordable, and most of all, fun.
Before you decide which type of gathering you’d like to host, bear in mind the reason behind the party. We know how busy this time of the year can be. Getting friends together is the perfect panacea for our feverish pace. While we all want our homes to be festive and inviting, do not drive yourself mad seeking Martha Stewart-esque perfection. All we are striving for here is camaraderie, comfort and yummy food.
Cookie swaps are a great way to get in the holiday spirit and gather a variety of cookies to share throughout the season. Determine how many guests you are comfortable hosting; swaps usually work best with 12 to 15 guests. Much more than that and the actual swapping gets harried. Ask each person to bring four dozen cookies arranged on a platter. (One helpful tip: if you are a guest at a cookie swap, use a plate or platter that you don’t mind leaving behind or not seeing again.) When guests arrive, have everyone place their cookies on the table you have designated. Allow the guests to ooh and ahh over the bounty—but no tasting! These cookies are for taking home; provide your guests with refreshments other than cookies, and time the actual cookie swapping toward the end of the party. Provide containers, such as cardboard holiday-themed boxes lined with waxed paper, for guests to load up with cookies. The idea is for each guest to go through the cookie “buffet” and take some of each cookie, until she has replaced her original four dozen cookies with everyone else’s.
Parties for Children
Even the smallest among us love a good party. Before you endeavor to invite your child’s entire class to your home, know your limits! The key here is for your guests, young or old, to have a good time. That’s impossible when the hostess is feeling beleaguered. Keep the party to a two hour minimum, and provide simple refreshments: something sweet, something salty, and a variety of juice boxes and water bottles. At our kid parties, we like to fill waffle bowls (the type used to serve ice cream) with trail mix. That way, kids can enjoy the party with their transportable snack. Some project-oriented parties to consider:
• Decorate a gingerbread house: You might want to take the time the day prior to your party to assemble the
houses (kits are available at retailers like Michael’s) so your young guests can concentrate on decorating. Make
sure your work space is accessible to children and provide aprons.
• Decorate cookies: Provide the little ones with already-baked sugar cookies of varying holiday shapes (stars, trees, reindeer, etc.) and embellishments to make them festive. Colored frosting, small candies, sprinkles, and the tiniest of chocolate chips will guarantee that your pint-sized partiers will leave with a beautiful treat.
• Holiday crafts party: Clay pot reindeer candy holders, wooden spoon snowmen, merry mice made out of pompoms…the list goes on. Some excellent websites to visit are www.holidaycrafts4kids.com and www.amazingmoms.com. Check your supply list and be sure to have extra everything. That way you won’t have to say to a tearful child who has accidentally cracked his clay pot, “Sorry little fellow, that’s the only one you get.” Also, make sure that if you throw a project-themed party, you have other activities planned as well. Children are notorious for sitting down to craft for two minutes, then announcing, “I’m done!”
Slightly More Glam
Hoping to host something with eveningtime panache? Consider the following forays into fun:
• Haute Cocoa Party: This is a slightly different twist on a chocolatethemed party. Provide guests with a hot cocoa bar: pour flavors such as peppermint, raspberry, dark chocolate and milk chocolate into labeled white bowls. Serve up a signature chocolatethemed cocktail, chocolate truffles, and chocolate fondue with fruit and marshmallows to dip. See www.hostessblog.com for more extensive ideas.
• Desserts Only Party: Yum! Easy to host and easy to attend. Simply serve a dizzying array of easy-topick-
up sweets with champagne as an accompaniment.
• Cocktails for a Cause: Host a good old-fashioned cocktail party, but ask guests to bring something that will
benefit your favorite cause. One year, we asked everyone to bring along a bag of cat or dog food. At the end of
the night, we had amassed quite a supply to haul to the grateful Humane Society. Two clever hostesses I know
asked everyone to bring an unwrapped ornament, which they donated to a women’s shelter in order to decorate
their Christmas tree.
• Shop ‘Til You Drop: Plan a shopping trip with your pals that starts in a coffee shop—to map out your shopping and swap ideas for those hard-to-buy-for on your list—and ends in your home after shopping all day. Provide wrapping paper, tape, gift tags, nibbles and beverages; you’ll have fun with your friends while being