Maybe you’ve just moved into your first home and in your excitement to get in the door, you invited “everyone round” for Christmas dinner. Or perhaps it’s your first Christmas away from home and you’ve cobbled together some friends to spend the festivities with.
Either way, now that the date is creeping up and you suddenly feel the extra pressure that comes with the “Christmas Day” dinner, you’re starting to panic. How are you supposed to wine, dine and entertain everyone!?
First of all, don’t panic, there are people doing it all over the world – you probably have an aunt with a full-time job who feeds 20+ people every year without so much as a drop of sweat or whisper of complaint. Maybe ask her for a few tips. In lieu of that, here’s our round-up of things to remember when hosting Christmas for the first time.
Like, all good events, the food is crucial. Don’t kid yourself that once you’ve gotten all the ingredients you’ll be able to wing it on the day – to quote Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, "big mistake, huge". Carefully plan everything you want to cook; how long it’ll take and when the oven will be occupied. Then do like the Bake-Off-er’s do and create a tick list of timings that you can easily follow on the day. It’ll make you feel under control, will be easier to delegate to eager guests, and you get the satisfaction of crossing things off once they’re done.
If there’s anything you can do in advance, do it. Stuffing, roast potatoes and desserts can all be made ahead of time. You won’t much feel like it at the time, but you’ll thank yourself when your labouring over whether a slightly undercooked turkey might give your guests food poisoning. Oh, and on that note, invest in a meat thermometer.
I say this not because you ought to pour your heart and soul into festooning the table, but because you shouldn’t. A white tablecloth, some strands of ivy from the garden and scattering of candles will more than suffice. By the time your guests sit down, they’ll be too preoccupied at the well-cooked feast you’re serving up. Just ensure there’s enough seats (crucial) and the glassware is clean (not crucial but will give lovely reflections of candle flames).
Again, keep it simple. A beautifully lit Christmas tree and a few tasteful decorations will go a long way. The room may look sparse to you but remember it’s going to be bustling with friends and family soon enough. The general rule is "If in doubt, add a candle". Candlelight is the perfect atmosphere-setter, no need to jazz it up– just keep them out of reach of small hands.
The Drinks Table
When asking around the office for advice on hosting Christmas, ensuring there’s enough alcohol came up a lot. Christmas with family over can be a toughie, but a dry Christmas with family? Yikes. Stock up. And maybe subtly drop to invitees that it’s BYOB so you won't run out. Better to be looking at it, than for it.
If you want to fend off the annual family argument or have guests who don’t know each other very well, it’s no harm leaving out something to occupy themselves pre-dinner as you wait for aforementioned alcohol to metabolise and materialise. Something as silly as novelty face coasters will suffice in breaking the ice.
For little ones, why not set up a little craft area for them to play, no doubt they and their parents will thank you for it. You’ll find a few kid-friendly Christmas craft ideas here.
The Blind Spots
In the whirlwind of Christmas build-up you can often get bogged down over what’s happening in the kitchen and under the tree. While these are important, don’t neglect other areas, namely the bathroom and, if you have overnight guests, bedrooms. Your nearest and dearest won’t be expecting a five-star stay but ensure the room is clean and warm with fresh bedding and maybe air the room the day before. So many of us lucky enough to have a spare bed will often turn off the heat in there to keep the winter electricity bills down, so don’t forget to turn it back on in advance of their arrival.
In the bathroom, you won’t have time to be checking it during the day so make sure there’s plenty of clean towels, hand soap and toilet roll on hand. Not the most glamorous, but certainly necessary!
And finally, Frankie Says…
Relax. If you burn the turkey to a crisp and end up serving stuffing with a side of overcooked carrots, it won’t really matter. Sure you’ll be teased about it until the end of time but you've got to give them something, right? Make sure that you, as well as all your guests, have a wonderful time, take help when it’s offered, accept that at least one thing is going to go wrong, and remember it’s just a day like any other.