Eggnog and mistletoe are fine traditions, but sometimes a holiday party needs a novel spin. Think chic and, best of all, easy: “Light the candles, put on music, and make your guests feel welcome,” Colin Cowie, party planner extraordinaire says, “Just relax, because everybody is going to have a good time.”
LIFE OF THE PARTY
• If you want to show people your real sense of style, open your house to them. The key is to set everything up the night before. That way, the day of the party, you just have to put food and drinks out, and you’ll still have time to shower and don your favorite attire. Dress up. If you’re a hostess, buy new shoes and a lipstick, and put your hair up. A gracious host is unflustered and has a great story to tell.
• Be resourceful. It’s not humanly possible to do it all. Buy the turkey and make the soup. Maybe you like setting a table, but food’s not your thing. Instead of cooking, order a roasted turkey with all the fixings, a roasted whole beef tenderloin, or even salmon wellington from Wagshal’s. Serve it with wine and knot rolls and sliced artisanal baguettes. Let guests help themselves.
FIVE ESSENTIALS FOR A GREAT PARTY
1. Serve a signature cocktail, such as an orange veuve (Veuve Clicquot champagne, an orange slice, and ice). Set up a drinks station with glasses and a beverage dispenser so guests can serve themselves. Or hire a mixologist—they’re rock stars these days, and they typically only cost about $100 for 4 hours. Soften the Jeeves factor by skipping the penguin uniform in favor of something casual.
2. Play great music. Don’t make it all about Santa. Take your best cocktail playlist and mix in about 20 percent holiday songs.
3. Set up food stations. Such as charcuterie, smoked salmon and limpa bread (with frozen vodka or aquavit), and one warm dish like beef bourgignon, chicken pot pie, or risotto. To serve, have a tray of espresso cups and spoons at the ready so people can have a taste.
4. Assemble a colorful guest list. Don’t always invite the same people. Mix it up.
5. Good lighting is a must. Not too bright; use dimmers or replace your harsh light with 25-watt bulbs for the evening. Low light instantly renders every room (and everyone) more attractive. There’s no such thing as too many candles. Votives, pillars, tapers (preferably unscented) —use them everywhere.
• Start with a color theme: red, brown and gold; white and silver; or purple with turquoise and lime. Use the colors for your invitation and decorations. Create vignettes—groupings of candles, ornaments, and flowers.
• The artificial trees of today look so real, and you can reuse them next year. If you miss the scent, you can get fragrant candles that smell like pine. A tree should have at least 100 lights per foot. Try fresh flowers on a Christmas tree: Put red roses in test tubes and nestle them in the branches. Last year Colin did a turquoise tree and used green spider mums.
• For a dinner party, set the table to the nines. Try a theme like a secret garden, with moss and twigs at each place setting; or go contemporary, with glass, manzanita branches, and miniature white pumpkins.