Entertaining on a budget: Organizing a stress-free Christmas party
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us and with it are the holiday parties that will be happening left and right. Who doesn’t love getting invited?
Throwing a party of your own, however, might be the most exciting yet frightening thing you decide on doing this year. From the work and planning it entails down to the expenses, it can be the cause of some major stress.
If you do decide on hosting this year, fret not. There are some ways to keep these parties a little less tense and even a little friendlier to your wallet.
Contrary to popular belief, being the proverbial "hostess with the mostest" doesn’t have to break the bank, nor does it have to leave you all harried and unable to enjoy your own party.
Being married to a diplomat means going through these motions quite regularly – on a budget and often without help. After a couple of tries, trials and errors, and exchanging ideas with fellow "diplowives" (some, thankfully, with much more experience), I’ve picked up a couple of useful tricks.
What I’ve learned so far is that it all boils down to knowing where to invest most of your budget and efforts.
The three lists you’ll need
So, your friends or family finally got you to agree to hosting this year. Put pen to paper (or start typing on your phone’s Notes app) and start making lists right away.
First things first, the guest list. How many people and who? Once you have your number, you’ll know whether you can do a formal, sit-down dinner or something more casual.
Next, decide on your menu – choose dishes that will use ingredients that are in season to save you money. Once you have the list of dishes down, start your shopping list. Get everything you need in that list and do your shopping in one go. Having a working list of the things you need saves you time and several trips to the grocery store.
Lastly, list down your tasks. The things that need to be done deserve their own checklist. Put them in a sensible order and work your way through them one by one. Putting the tasks from the complicated, the essential, down to the seemingly minor things to do can give you an overview of what you’ll be facing before, during, and after your event. This also helps you get realistic in your planning, making it easier to trim down on things that might be too much for you.
Ditch formal invitations
While I’m all for fancy lettering in tangible, high grade paper, they can cost a lot and mailing them can take time. Unless you’re planning to invite a world leader to your home for the holidays, go save a couple of trees by going digital. You can get creative and make your own on free websites like Canva, Snappa, DesignBold, or even PicMonkey.
Any etiquette book will tell you that a Christmas party invitation should be sent a month before. Christmas is one busy season in the Philippines so it’s best to send your save-the-dates as early as possible and follow up with your actual invitation two weeks before your event at the latest.
Go for white
Not everyone is lucky to inherit a set of fancy china from their mothers. Should you wish to use this party as an opportunity to get your own set of “adult plates”), get them in a shade of white. They don’t have to be bone china. They can be porcelain or just a boxed set you get a department store but you should definitely get plain, opaque, white plates.
They are the most versatile – they give you the freedom to style your table in several ways compared to buying plates with designs that will restrict you to certain colours and themes. Food also looks more elegant and appetizing on a clean, white surface.
In defense of paper napkins
Again, unless you’re having a world leader over, save yourself some stress after your party and opt for paper napkins. It’s a reality for most of us since they’re convenient and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. Steer clear of the standard white ones and go for pretty, paper napkins with prints from creative stores. Choose a classy design that will go with your overall theme to instantly elevate your party’s look.
Decor: Less can be more
Decor at this time of year can cost you a pretty penny. Don’t be afraid to go DIY with stuff that you already own. Deconstruct, then put things together. Create well-placed, Christmas-themed vignettes in your living and dining room surfaces (also in your guest toilet if you have the space!) with pretty pops of colour. Add candles, fresh flowers, some leftover ribbon on old decor and the possibilities could be endless.
Your table’s centrepiece should tie the look together. Be it a formal dinner setting or if you’re setting up a buffet, the decor here should be the main attraction. As a tip, don’t use scented candles on decor near food. The fragrance can affect the way your guests taste what’s on offer. This, I learned first hand when I used some scented candles on my centrepiece two years ago. Thankfully, the scent wasn't that strong but it did lightly mask the aroma of the food. Eeep!
For a sit down dinner, add some place cards to your table setting. For a buffet table, make name cards for your dishes. You can easily make these on your computer. There are ready-made templates online. Just print them out on thick paper and fold.
Invest in food and wine
Scrimp on everything else but not the food and drink as these are the things your guests will remember most. While it is always best to cook things yourself to save money, a busy, career woman probably won’t have the luxury of time. Truth is, there’s no shame in buying the food you’ll be serving on that day.
My husband once decided to bring a couple of delegates to our home after one of the meetings they attended. I only had two hours to prepare and one of the guests was craving for some local cuisine. We were posted in Kuala Lumpur at that time and while I’m more than willing to spend hours in the kitchen making rendang from scratch, two hours just won’t be enough. So, I ran to our trusted local restaurant and ordered everything. When I got home, I transferred them all to my own serving dishes and plated them nicely. It all went pretty well in the end!
If you have a bit of time and would like to show off your cooking or baking skills, pick one dish (I usually go for the dessert) to make and buy the rest. This way, you get to make your guests feel even more special because you made them something but at the same time, you get to outsource some of the tasks which will prevent you from being overwhelmed.
For drinks, make sure you have the basic crowd pleasers: red and white wine plus a couple of choices for beers. You won’t go wrong with a refreshing beer like a Pilsner or a golden ale and one with a bolder flavour like a lager or an IPA (India Pale Ale). For wine, go to a good store and ask one of the knowledgeable staff to help you choose what will go with the dishes you’ll be serving. For a special toast, make sure you have a bottle or two of sparkling wine. If Champagne is out of the budget, pick another French sparkling wine or prosecco. Some German Rieslings are also of the sparkling variety and can save you some cash.
Give your guests some love
The only time coddling is essential is when you’re a hostess and the guests have arrived. Aside from the food and wine, they will always remember how they were treated in your home. Make them feel welcome at all times. You should be able to talk to everyone before the night is through, and make sure everyone is having fun (even you!). Prior to the event, you should have at least a rough plan how the night will progress – from welcoming the guests to your welcome drinks, the dinner proper, if you’re exchanging gifts, and finally, how you plan to end the night.
Lastly, enjoy your party! Space your tasks properly so you don’t get too overwhelmed. Be flexible, and once the guests arrive – relax. Any event will have its hiccups but if you prepared well enough, you’d be able to maneuver your way around them.
You’ll definitely be exhausted after but it will all be worth it because of the fun and memories you’ll have! – Rappler.com