In the past, Christmas was somewhat of a minefield when it came to decorum, hosts and hostesses fretted over everything from appetisers to seating plans. No more. No longer constrained by old-school rules, our number one job as hosts is simple enough- to relax and make everyone feel welcome. And Orla Brosnan of the Etiquette School of Ireland has suggestions on how to navigate gracefully through the festive season.
Lower your personal bar
You are not Martha Stewart. Or Nigella. Or Nigel Slater. And no one expects you to be. They are just happy to be with you, eating a lukewarm, slightly-too-dry turkey they didn’t have to make. Let that be your mantra and everything else is a bonus.
Invest in a decent electric carving knife
You may not ever use it again in the course of the year but you will be grateful for it on the day. It will give you some chance of getting the bird to the table warmish.
Let the turkey rest
Leave it for a decent interval of at least an hour under foil, with a tea towel or two on top to keep the heat and moisture in. What you lose in temperature (minor) will be offset by what you gain in flavour (major) and even after a couple of hours an uncut bird will retain plenty of heat. Make sure to factor this crucial step into your sit down time calculations.
Appoint a designated herder before guests arrive
People are bound to gravitate towards the kitchen to ‘help’ (and get their first glass of wine) as soon as they come in the door, so if this is going to stress you out while you’re trying to wedge everything into limited oven space and on to warm burners, you’ll need help in the form of crowd control. Work this out before guests arrive so you’re not visibly deranged and climbing over people’s feet to reach the burning gravy.
Make sure there’s space for people’s dinner contributions
You asked them to bring stuff weeks ago and they have, but now there’s no room for it. This will take some extra manoeuvring.
Serve nice non-alcoholic alternatives
If you’re serving a festive cocktail, have a non-alcoholic one ready, too. You can be just as creative with mocktails as the real thing and you needn’t make a tonne of effort, just go big on garnishes.
Have vegan/vegetarian options
You forgot to ask and aren’t quite sure who they are or how many they number but trust us- there are bound to be a few invitees who won’t even have spuds because you roasted them in goose fat (a special treat). Really, these days you should interrogate people about dietary restrictions at the time of invitation. These are the times we live in.
Mix up the seating plan
A free-for-all placement will not work, even at the most chilled multi-generational family gathering. You don’t want a ghetto of young ones at one end of the table plotting their escape or burying their faces in their new devices nor do you want to wedge them between the ancients without thinking things through. Everyone should have a conversational lifeline and a chance at winning the cracker pull (without snapping an elderly arm).
The most important element of the meal is piping hot gravy
If you do one thing, do this. Turn the gravy up to max and don’t serve it until everyone is seated, plated up, forks poised. Use a few different jugs so more people have access to it and then everyone’s meal will warm right up to where it should be after all the palaver of settling in.
Have extra table salt to hand
Because as sure as eggs are eggs, someone is going to spill a glass, or bottle, of red wine all over everything and the old salt-on-stain trick really is the best intervention. Alternatively, throw a commercial remover into the trolley on your last run to the shops.
Americans have a million plastic containers at the ready after Thanksgiving dinner, which is basically Christmas on steroids because it’s the main and only event of that holiday. The host makes sure no one leaves the premises without the gear for some killer day-after sandwiches. You can be as scabby as you like with portions (keeping plenty of good stuff back for yourself) but still look like the most generous and most thoughtful person in the world – the size of the containers determines all.