Christmas does not get called the ‘silly season’ for nothing. The jingles pound your ears from every direction, shoppers swarm malls and carparks, and the air practically hums with the stress of the perfect Christmas card, gift, tree, decorations, work drinks/party and family gathering.
We celebrated Christmas in Singapore last year, but usually spend it at the in-laws’. I had a moment of madness and offered to host Christmas lunch at our new home this year. And everyone accepted!
I have only hosted three parties in my life: once for my 30th birthday (a disaster as I spent most of the time in the kitchen cooking for everyone), once for the SO’s 30th birthday (a cruise that included everything and I just paid for it) and once for Bubby’s first birthday (a simple pancake breakfast at the park).
Those occasions helped with hosting our first family Christmas, and I’d like to share them as tips on how to not go crazy during the silly season.
1. Don’t go crazy on the decorations
Don’t have space or the money to deck the halls?
Then don’t: use what you have and get creative!
We moved two months ago and with boxes still unpacked, space is a premium. We also wanted to keep our expenses low (mortage, ack!), so instead of a tree (and I really wanted a real Christmas tree this year), I used lots of Blutack, 5 metres of LED Christmas lights and a star light to make our version of a Christmas tree around our wall clock.
I used some silver tinsel we had for the table decorations. I didn’t mind throwing it away if it covered with food drippings.
And that was it.
2. PLAN like crazy!
This is especially important if you’re on a budget and your family has dietary requirements (and these days, whose doesn’t).
Making everything from scratch is amazing, but if it leaves you with half a bottle or box of an ingredient you’ll never use again, that is money down the drain. Go ahead and ‘cheat’ by buying pre-prepared ingredients, such as pastes, dips, dressings, pastries, etc. No one is really going to know or call you out on it.
Also check how much a recipe serves and adjust ingredient quantities you’ll need accordingly. I love leftovers, but there are only so many consecutive meals I can stomach Christmas ham and turkey.
I asked for everyone’s dietary requirements (eg. any allergies) and preferences (eg. doesn’t like eating pears) two months in advance. This gave them time to put their thoughts together – and for me to do the relevant dietary research, look for meal inspiration, test recipes and buy the ingredients.
And here is what I planned for:
What can be served at room temperature?
The more room temperature dishes you have, the less you have to worry about timing everything.
Plenty of entrees and starters can be prepared in advance and at room temperature. Think tarts, quiches, wontons, cheese balls, dips or breads.
I opted for a cheese platter, which was assembled 2 hours before meal time. That gave the cheeses time to warm up before guests arrived and for me to work on something else. Here is a great tutorial on how to assemble one.
- Two hard cheeses: a cheddar and a gouda
- Two soft cheeses: a brie and a cream cheese
- Two vehicles: crackers and bread sticks
- Something sweet: fresh grapes and pear paste
- Something salty: marinated olives
- Something crunchy: walnuts
What can I make ahead?
And here is one I prepared earlier!
Preparing as much as you can the day before means less stress on the day. Shouldn’t you, the host get to enjoy the party too?
Salads and salad dressings can be made the day before and kept cool in the fridge until time to serve. Coleslaw is a perfect choice – the fresh vegetables sort of marinate and soften a little overnight. Grains can also be cooked and kept cool in the fridge.
Desserts are also a great one to make ahead. If Christmas pudding is a little heavy for your tastes, opt for a trifle if you have a large enough fridge or a pavlova. Make the meringue the day before and keep at room temperature until you’re ready to serve. Indulge with any fruit you’d like – ours had lychees with passionfruit jam (made the day before) drizzled over whipped creme fraiche.
3. Crazy gift giving
How many gifts have you received, which you didn’t like or want? Were they thrown away, donated, re-gifted or hidden away?
I certainly had my fair share. While gift giving is often about ‘the thought that counts’, I really hate the waste. Australia was recently ranked in the top five waste producing nations – we produce over 18 million tonnes of waste per year. That works out to be a three-bedroom house filled from floor to ceiling per family per year! And it’s certainly worse at Christmas time.
Instead try sharing a wishlist, organising a Secret Santa, giving a gift card or suggesting donations to a charity in your name.
Or in our case, tell everyone all the gifts should just go to Bubby.