For me, the holidays are no grand leap when it comes to entertaining. I love finding a reason to celebrate and entertain those closest to me as often as possible, all year round. For some though, the holidays bring an added pressure to “host” when you don’t really want to or feel that you are not good at it. My first response to you, if you fall into the above category I mention, DON’T DO IT! I firmly and strongly believe if organizing and putting on a gathering makes you feel anxious, stressed or even nauseous, don’t do it…no one really cares. Find another way that feels good to you to show your appreciation to those you love this time of year. I hate doing Christmas cards. Hence, I gave them up about 5 years ago when I realized the world would not collapse and I would not be judged for all eternity for not having done them.
Part of what may bring stress to some is planning the menu. Now this is something that I enjoy. I deliciously peruse weekly food newsletters, clippings of recipes I’ve found here or there, my cookbooks or even the world-wide web to find things I wish to recreate or that will provide me with inspiration for a creation of my own. The number one thing to remember is keep it simple! Honestly, most people are not comfortable with eating something they can not pronounce or does not have distinguishable ingredients. There is also your own time limitations and skill level to keep in consideration. But no matter how much time or skill you have, the truth is you probably have plenty of other things that you want to do besides crafting complicated, time-consuming dishes. And do not feel the need to over do it! Pick maybe two types of appetizers and then just simple cheese and crackers, chips and dips, and/or crudete to add to the spread. No one is expecting you to feed them. (Unless you said you are, you call it a dinner party or start it between 5pm and 6pm.)
Here are some other tricks if you insist on hosting a soiree in the holiday spirit: Do not be afraid to use already prepared items. In the spirit of my personal philosophy, let me define “prepared”. This in no way, shape or form means canned, processed or frozen items that contain ingredients that did not come from the ground or a momma. There are plenty of organic and natural prepared items that can be found these days. (Plug to Costco…they usually have a great selection of natural and organic items that are all ready for you to serve, or heat-and-serve.) Also look for church groups, small local bakeries or at farmers’ markets for items that are already made for you but are often created from whole ingredients, as if you did it yourself. Have no shame in removing these ready-to-go items from their packaging and displaying them on a pretty plate of your own!
Second, only make things that you really love making. Perhaps it’s a family recipe that was always served at gatherings or just something that you enjoy and have made a hundred times over the years. If you really want to make everything yourself, then at least do something you enjoy and are comfortable making if the unknown is overwhelming to you.
Third, do as much as you possibly can as far ahead as possible. Want to have a cookie platter of cookies you made yourself? Make those cookies weeks in advance and freeze them. Dips can easily be done two or three days, perhaps more, before the big event. Doing veggies or fruit? They too can be cut up several days ahead so they are all ready to be plated.
And finally, this is the season of giving. All too many of your guests are more than happy to bring an item to share. They will not be offended or think that it seems “cheap” of you to ask them to contribute to the night. For extra fun, pick a theme or ask everyone who brings an item to also bring several copies of the recipe written out on recipe cards to give out and share with others.
Sharing food is a way of celebrating, acknowledging love and appreciation, and bonding with others. For some of us the joy comes with preparing something to be proud of and then freely, and eagerly, giving it to those we love-to watch in their delight as they partake. For some of us, being invited to gather and indulge in the creations that were carefully made, with love and thought and effort, by those closest to us is what we truly enjoy. No matter what your preference, it can not be denied the powerful effect sharing food with others has on our lives and relationships.