A–Z guide for a successful Christmas party
How can we survive and thrive as excellent Christmas hosts? Planning is the answer, says Sarah Monier-Williams, who offers her very own A-Z guide to drifting effortlessly through the season.
Christmas has got to be the Marmite of our annual holidays. But love it or hate it, you simply can’t avoid the adverts, the lists, the commercialism or the farmer’s best behaved donkey on loan for the nativity.
When you’re a fine wine merchant living adjacent to the village church there’s a certain inevitability to Christmas Eve. After five years in situ we’ve given up trying to turn off all the fairy lights, hide and do an Action Man crawl up the stairs to bed in the dark in our vain attempt to feign absence. Even parking the Chelsea Tractors around the corner failed and we are finally resigned to our fate. Half a decade of residence makes us fair game for the late-night visit on Christmas Eve from neighbours confidently buoyed up with eggnog and Christmas cheer after midnight mass. Carollers head straight for our gaff, faces aglow with a level of expectation equivalent to that of their offspring the following morning. Give it another few years and they’ll probably come with their own Oktoberfest-scale tankards. However, for now they’re content with lashings of prosecco laced with sloe gin or a plastic glass of claret to take with them on their merry way.
I now even intentionally leave the Norwegian spruce sparsely decorated in order to share the love and let guests hang an eye-catching bauble or tinsel tassel. I raise my glass of fizz (Pol Roger vintage which Mr M-W hides behind the tins of beans in the kitchen, obvs) as the basket of gaudiness is handed around and the Pringles scoffed. OK, so the following morning I’ll be undoing what you imagine Christmas would look like if it threw up in your drawing room, but it’s so worth it. We will have been that loveliest of festive fantasies – good hosts.
Having actually done the whole fly to Lapland and meet Father Christmas trip, I can confirm that yes, it was a trip, and a surprisingly epic, unintentionally humorous one at that. In a mere 48 hours all the boxes were ticked North of the Arctic Circle: stroked a reindeer (tick! Christ, they stink); rode in a fur-lined sled drawn by reindeer whilst watching the Northern Lights (massive tick!); ate reindeer (Donner & Blitzen kebab?); and met Santa, Mrs Santa and the elves. Of course, all this charade malarkey works best on those under six years of age, yet as an adult I fully appreciated the sheer level of planning which had gone into this scheme.
How can we then survive and thrive as excellent Christmas hosts? Planning is the answer.
Here’s the A-Z guide to enable you to drift through the season with grace and style:
A – is for Alka-seltzer. By the side of the bed in multiple packets for your guests. With a glass and a big jug of tap water.
B – is for board games. And a few packs of playing cards left lying around. There’ll always be someone with a bit of a competitive streak who won’t be able to resist.
C – is for Christmas spelt with a C (see ‘X’ later) on all invitations, cards and gift tags.
D – is for drink-driving. Do your best to stop your friends by hiding the car keys and making them comfortable for a snooze in a guest room with plenty of water and an ‘A’ (above) whilst they sober up.
E – is for eggs. Stock up with what will feel like stupidly large quantities. You can’t make Yorkshire puddings, cakes, fresh custard, pancakes, or simply have a decent straight-up boiled egg without one. Ditto milk, plain flour and sugar.
F – is for freezer. Stock it up with crowd-pleasers like ice-cream, fruit, and game pie mix. Make loads of ice in advance and bag it up. No-one wants to drive to the garage to buy ice half way through a party.
G – is for God. Don’t get sucked into, or allow to take place in your home, conversations about religion other than pleasantries about how lovely the church is looking this year.
H – is for happiness and humour. Spread it thick and share the love and laughter wherever possible. Liberally sprinkle guests with compliments about their weight loss and good behaviour of their offspring.
I – is for immersion heater. Don’t forget to switch it on if you’ve got loads of guests coming. Or get more wood in.
J – is for jolly japes, joy, jingle bells, jokes and, well, all-round jollity. If it’s all getting stressful, turn on the telly and watch back episodes of Only Fools and Horses or Blackadder. Guaranteed to get you (and everyone else) giggling again.
K – is for kindness. Know anyone in your village who lives on their own? Be a secret Santa hero by ringing their doorbell and running away before they can see it’s you. Leave a mystery cardboard box on their doorstep containing stuff they’re likely to actually want - some booze, cheeses, chutneys, etc. And never tell a soul as nobody likes a charity smartypants.
L – is for loo-roll. Buy gargantuan quantities in advance of descending guests. It never ceases to amaze me how much men can use in a single sitting.
M – is for matches. In this era of the ubiquitous electronic cigarette, no-one’s got any bloody matches or lighters anymore. Better still, a few of those BIC long lighter thingies which are just too big to nick and put in one’s pocket, should a cigar aficionado turn up.
N – is for the lovely word “no”. Manage little one’s expectations by holding out your hand, looking into their eyes and waiting for a handshake to agree a deal on difficult items like bed-times in your home.
O – is for “oh shite”. There will be a moment when you’ll say this as something or someone is forgotten, incinerated to a crisp or just hates their present. Don’t beat yourself up. Say “I’m such a numpty”, take all the blame and refer to ‘H’ (above).
P – is for puff pastry. Everyone loves it. You can fill it with savoury yumminess or something fruity from the freezer. It’s the go-to nibbly-wibbly crowd-pleaser.
Q – is for Queen’s Speech. Raising a glass and toasting our beloved Royal is compulsory. As is a toast to “absent friends” at the end of a meal, not the beginning, so as to control the tears.
R – is for relatives... who you maybe don’t normally spend huge amounts of time with but over the holidays you’re all together all the time. When you all own your own homes and have your own way of doing things it’s hard to back down when a guest wants to take over. Suppress their inner control freakery and suggest that the best way for them to assist would be to volunteer to do the washing up. Better still, just pass them a tea towel.
S – is for scheduling. Let everyone know what’s going on and what to expect. They’re more likely to show up on time if they know which meals are scheduled to take place and when, if the pub in the village is actually open and, importantly, who has dogs that just can’t be walked off the lead.
T – is for toothbrushes and toothpaste. Acquire a cupboard full. It’s a given that someone will have forgotten to bring one or the other. Ditto for shampoo, conditioner and facial wipes.
U – is for undisciplined children. See N, above. Moody teenagers just want the WiFi code.
V – is for Vino. Buy plenty at different quality levels so you don’t run out, or you don’t begrudge filling a pimply godson’s glass with first growth claret – someone will end up drinking the £5.99 Pinot Grigio sooner or later.
W – is for witchery. It feels odd to be making that third batch of game pie mix or peeling the 100th pear of the day before we’ve even had to endure Halloween. But when your other half merrily invites what feels like half the pub back for a snack after the Boxing Day Hunt, you’ll be allowed a touch of smug as you wave your freezer wand and magic up a feast.
X – is for Xmas. Unforgiveable war crime of a spelling. No presents for you this year if you use it. Ever.
Y – is for you time. Make some room for it.
Z – is for Zzzs. Plenty of them, especially for older relatives. Make sure your house has quiet, cosy corners for them to hide under broadsheets.