Entertaining when you have small children can be a challenge. I haven’t yet relegated the kids’ toys to their bedrooms, thus every time I entertain, I have to pick up Legos, trains, planes, etc. and move them out of the family room. Couple that with the fact that we are still slave to naps and super-early bedtimes, and the end result is that we don’t have that many big blowouts.
With that said, the one party we haven’t jettisoned is our annual Holiday Open House. For a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in December, we open our home to friends, family, neighbors and coworkers who come and go as their schedules permit. Some drop in for a brief respite from Christmas shopping, while others stay for the duration (typically three to four hours). Children are always welcome, and often the weather is nice enough for them to run around the backyard for a while. I normally hire a sitter to keep an eye on my kids, so I can hostess and socialize.
Since I’ve been doing this for at least 8 years now, I’ve got everything down to a science. Before we had children, I did a soup and sandwich menu, and held the event closer to lunchtime in the early afternoon. Now, with small children, we’ve shifted it to a late afternoon event, so I can use nap time for final preparations. I focus my effort on homemade cookies, cakes and candies and rely on store-bought appetizers.
I typically spend the week leading up to the event baking cakes and cookies and making candy. The children often get into the act, especially when gingerbread men are on the menu. Cookie baking often leads to a scheduled cookie baking/exchange night with my girlfriends. And, my mother-in-law, who is here most Christmases, normally pulls spritz cookie duty. We buy plenty of beer, wine, juice boxes and bottled water. I make my parent’s wassail recipe, which is a hot apple cider, which tastes delicious and smells inviting. On the savory side, I normally make a hot dip from scratch and a hummus. This year, a friend gave me a ton of sweet potatoes, so I made a sweet potato spread to serve with pita chips. I typically buy a spinach/artichoke dip, which I serve in bread bowls with tortilla chips. Brie and grapes are always on the menu. And friends often bring their own favorite foods to share.
With the exception of some minor furniture moving, decluttering and toy stashing, a Holiday Open House is a pretty simple way to entertain. To make things easier, I record quantities of purchased items and numbers of guests for each year (How much beer do I need for 75 adults again?). I even take pictures of my setup, so I don’t even have to think about it. I know exactly which serving dishes to use, where to place the tables and which linens to use. All-in-all it’s a fairly simple way to ensure we see all our friends during the holiday season.