Celebrations are an integral part of marking the December holidays and they come when we need them the most.  After a few weeks of leaving your office under pitch black skies, it’s precisely when the weather starts to turn that we have a few drinks and eat some canapes.  You might think, it’s January, the party is over, who cares.  While you are right, it’s only now, after the detox from champagne and rich foods that the mind is a bit clearer to look back on how to do it right.

What people often forget about the holidays is that it doesn’t happen by chance.  All of those perfectly decorated cookies and delicious meals do not just appear on cue.  There are usually individuals, be they wives or husband, mothers or fathers, who allow you to sit back and enjoy the outcomes of their hard work.  These rituals also have the danger of making you absolutely crazy.  Really, how many gourmet delights can you pull together till it takes a toll on your body and a part of your soul.  So, how can we make it easier?  Here’s my advice on how to be the best kind of host:  an engaged one.

1. Timing

Before I plan a dinner or party I make a master list of every single thing that I will need.  Now this list has several categories and contains everything from the ingredients to the type of cutlery I will be using.  Then, I make a plan of when I am going to buy or gather all of these materials.  The trick is that you give yourself a lot of lead-up time.  No one wants to work on a project constantly, even if it involves making place cards.  Take the time you need and know your limits.  If you need a break, take one and pick up the slack when you have more energy.

2. Be present

When you invite guests into your home be sure to take the time to speak to them.  Sure, some platters may need a bit of refreshing but that can be done after you’ve made the rounds.  Trust, they will come back to the table if they really want that savory tart.

3. Finer details

A few years ago I was walking in the grocery store and fell in love with the vintage coca cola bottles.  As someone who rarely drinks soda, this was a very strange attachment.  I love the look of those glass bottles engulfed in ice with the red label peeking out.  The aesthetic spoke to me of a casual cool with that extra care for the details.  Since then, they have appeared at every party I have hosted, from my son’s 2nd birthday to a New Year’s eve party for my parents and their friends.  I am also partial to: cans of San Pellegrino, paper straws (though no one seems to ever use them), Kiju organic juice for the young ones, and Perrier.  With regards to the alcohol, go heavy on the wine and lighter on the beer.  Party-goers seem to prefer to mingle with stem wear.  The French label Kronenbourg with their pretty blue bottles will strike a nice chord.

4. Simplicity

Most people will choose to have a smiling gracious host over a big hot, stressed mess.  To walk into a house with that vibe is just not appealing.  So, before your guests arrive have a drink in hand and be prepared to actually enjoy yourself.  To enable you to do that you might need some help.  Do you want to cut up fruits and vegetables?  If the answer is a “no” then order some platters from the grocery store or a caterer.  The same goes for the rest of the menu.  If it will make it easier, pair some of your dishes with pre-ordered ones.  There is no shame in that but it’s always a shame to miss out on a good time.

I feel that some temperaments are better suited to host parties.  My control-freak tendencies mixed with the generally calm demeanor means that I take great pleasure in organizing such fanfares but experience over the years has taught me to keep it real.  It is just a party.  As soon as it stops being enjoyable, find pleasure in something else.  Above all though, as we make our own happiness, we also make our own fun.  So chillax baby, it’s the people that matter.


Brown paper packages

As this season of giving draws to a close, I write now about the ritual of bestowing gifts.  Though unintended, a week’s reprieve from the blog was actually much needed.  Goodness knows what I would have said in the flurry of friends, food, family and fun.  Things are never clear in a haze, even when that haze is made of very good things.  It has been lovely to say the least but it’s nice to take this moment to reflect on the festivities that have just past.

I believe it’s so fitting that the holidays are followed by a time of reflection.  When a new year approaches even the most laissez-faire individual cannot help but be caught up in making wishes and honing in on dreams for the new year.  I never find this passing to be depressing because I’m not overly nostalgic nor do I see the time ahead to be a clean slate.  We’ve already started to impact the future with the decisions in the past few months, so just go with the flow folks.

What I find more interesting is the process of giving gifts to those you love.  From many a December, I’ve learnt that you really need to be on the same page with your circle of recipients.  Some are not so into it, because of their dislike for materialism and so forth which is cool and others use this time to show off all that they possess.  There is the middle ground where we return to the act of giving to the people in our lives because we care for them and for no reason other than that.  We’ve also reached the age and phase in our lives when we can go out next week and buy whatever it is that we want, so I don’t give to receive, I give to offer a tangible token of my love.

I’ve always been in favor of the wish lists because it’s so much more practical.  Why not give an item that the person actually wants to wear, use or practice?  But I’m also of the mind that once I give a gift, it is out of my hands.  The individual has every right to put it in the back of their closet or re-gift it because frankly, it’s not really my place to ask about the thing at every opportunity.  These types of questions reak of cheapness, as if you’re counting if every penny you spent is getting its full value.  I’m also not a fan of the guilt.  Of course, it’s important to recognize those who are not in the same position to celebrate the holidays with such grand gestures and material goods.  This type of reflexivity should be practiced always, not only when the malls have extended hours and the lights cover the street lamps.  It is also about scale right?  The most elite are giving different types of gifts to each other, probably vehicles or Cartier and not gift certificates to Banana Republic.  It’s also about context.  Not everyone marks the holidays and no, they don’t know if it’s Christmas time at all.

Always gratitude right?  But I truly believe that when you give, give with a full heart.  Balance the pocketbooks but don’t be a humbug either.  You have the rest of the year to be Ebenezer and see if it all adds up.