Christmas Eve. Growing up, there was always something magical about that day. Perhaps it was the anticipation of Santa, a treasure of gifts underneath the tree the next morning. However, as I look back, it wasn’t about the gifts at all. It was the one day of the year that my mother opened the doors of the house to guests from morning until night. An open house where we saw relatives from both sides of the family, friends and neighbors. One group for brunch in the morning, then a visit by my uncle and his famous Sicilian pizza that he would bring to us every Christmas Eve. (Hold the mozzarella. Pecorino only, please.) Fresh sandwiches with the yearly holiday cold cuts spread out for passers by at lunch. Followed by an evening of Christmas carols, cookies and the aroma of my uncle’s pizza baking in the oven.
Throwing an open house, whether by official E-vite or not, can be a big undertaking. However, here are a few tips to ease the enormity of the day and make just another holiday one to remember.
Open houses aren’t one of those events where you need to be concerned about pouring over the guest list. Concerned about numbers and space? With a party that could last twelve hours or more, you don’t need to worry about fitting everyone in your home at once. The more the merrier. Worried about inviting a couple that’s no longer together? Not a problem. An open house isn’t a dinner party. There’s enough space that friends who don’t work together in a more intimate setting will have no problem having a good time without running into each other.
Vary the food on the buffet table throughout the day. Sticking to a continental breakfast in the morning, perhaps sandwiches at lunch and more filling foods in the evening. Rather than having one large plate, make two smaller plates for each dish. Exchange every few hours to make sure the food stays fresh. Same goes for drinks. Make sure there is plenty of ice and that drinks stay cold by checking the table every hour or so. Think of the day as a food marathon – pace yourself and the food.
The beauty of Christmas Eve is that there are no rules when it comes to dessert. It’s the Superbowl of dessert holidays. Bring out the cookies, pastries and chocolate in the morning and keep the table refreshed all day. Bake your Christmas cookies as early as a few months ahead of time and freeze. Or let holiday cookies be your pot luck, asking guests to bring their favorite. As food allergies become more prominent, make an effort to have at least one gluten free option on the table, such as a box of chocolates or packaged gluten free cookies that you plate. Your friends who can’t usually partake in dessert will thank you.
Making it a tradition means looking back at all the fun and remember all of the family and friends that dropped by. Make sure to have a guest book near the door. This way you’ll catch everyone as they arrive and leave.
Prior to the day, ask certain friends or relatives to help you put out food and clear plates, napkins and beverage cups. Or, if your neighbor’s daughter or babysitter doesn’t have plans during the day, hire them to help you in the kitchen and with clean up. Don’t try to be a hero. An open house can be a lot of work for one person.
The one thing to remember about an open house, especially at Christmas, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. The holidays are about connecting with people. Your guests won’t remember if you didn’t have the perfect hollandaise sauce. They’ll remember that cousin, uncle or friend that they haven’t seen since the last holiday. Or how they caught up with that former co-worker that they only see on Facebook. Sorry, Cousin Eddie, it’s not the Jelly of the Month Club. Throwing a holiday party where everyone can reconnect and celebrate is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Merry Christmas!!