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December 01, 2012

Holiday cheer

Entertainment season is at hand, here are some tips to keep your budget and sanity

Kathy McCormick

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It’s all about thinking outside the box — but even that box needs to have glitz and glamour to give it a festive feel.

If you are planning on having a Christmas party this holiday season, make it one that your guests will remember — and it doesn’t have to be expensive or really complicated.

It’s all about planning ahead, being creative and complimenting your own individuality.

“If you are not experienced with a lot of entertaining in your home, don’t stress yourself out by being over ambitious and planning too many things,” says Shelly Coyle, owner of VIP’s Gourmet Catering.

“Give yourself lots of time before the party date for planning and organizing. Make lists — and use them!”

In fact, says Dave Howard, president of The Event Group, “your holiday dream event can be fun and exciting — but you need to have a plan.”

We talked to a number of experts on holiday entertaining about topics ranging from setting a fabulous table, to the food that will put the party ‘over the top’ with friends, to decorating your home and creating themes. Besides Coyle from VIP’s Gourmet Catering and Howard from The Event Group, we asked designers Alykhan Velji, principal of Alykhan Velji Design, and Monika Siebert of Monika Siebert Design Planning Inc. for help.

Here are some of their hints to creating that ‘Wow’ factor for your party.

Create a theme
This is the first place to start. “What is your own personal style?” asks Coyle. “What is the goal or purpose of this gathering?”

From there, decide on a theme — and it can be anything from traditional to off the wall, says Howard. If traditional, “every faith carries a number of traditional décor choices. Follow through your theme with your plates, glassware, napkins, and so on.”

Be bold, if that’s your personality, he says. “A theme can set the tone for your party before it happens and create your party’s atmosphere.”

How about a Karaoke Christmas? Rent a Karaoke machine from your local music store and have holiday classics as part of your music selection. How about Holiday Charades? Make up your own personal holiday charades.

Or why not have a Bad Sweater Night? “Everyone has the ‘bad’ holiday sweater,” says Howard. Invite your guests to break out their favourite and give out prizes for the oldest, cutest, best overall, etc. People can even shop at their local next-to-new shop for one. It will add to their fun.”

Having a theme helps you pull all items together for the party, says Velji.

Siebert has a wealth of tips to help transform your home — and your party — into a Romantic Christmas theme. It starts with colours — and they are used in every room, on the table, and even in the food choices. She uses red, green and purple throughout (even in her prize potato dish — a smashed potato sundae with purple, white and golden potatoes mashed separately and layered in a clear sundae glass with red and green accents between layers (tomatoes and chives). Festive, fun and carrying the theme throughout.

“My holiday tip for the dining room table: Combine rental pieces with dollar store items and your own collectables — in your theme colours,” Siebert says. It makes it interesting, eclectic and inexpensive, yet still carrying out your theme.

Yes, use dollar store items

No need to spend on really costly items — but do pick and choose where you do want to spend the money, the experts say. “Use dollar store snowflakes and complement them with custom floor stickers to put on the floor at the entrance or in the hallway to lead people into your home,” says Siebert. “They are easy to remove with a plastic card.”

Use the dollar store for party items like disposable plates, says Coyle. But don’t wait too long to buy them. Like everything else at holiday season, these will be in demand and sell out quickly.

“When doing it yourself, there are ways to save money. If using a rental company, you can save $100 in delivery costs by picking up and returning yourself,” Coyle says.

“When buying wine, ask the expert at the store for the best choices in your budget — or ask your guests to bring a favourite bottle of their own, and then provide the rest of the required beer and other specialty items.”

Prepare ahead
Send out ‘save the date’ emails well ahead of time — and send out real invitations at least three weeks ahead. “If you’re presenting a themed event make sure this is mentioned in the invite — and the invitation design fits the theme,” says Howard.

Make your own invitations, says Siebert. “It can be as simple as a close-up photo of the tree with details of the party on top.”

And order ahead if you will need things like food warmers, plate or glassware.

Even disposables like dinner plates sell out quickly at this busy time of year, so buy well ahead.

“Plan your menu at least a week in advance, decide what you can make ahead and possibly freeze — and the more the better,” says Coyle. “Also list what fresh items need to be purchased the day or two before the party. Prepare and assemble as much as you can the day before. If space is limited, ask a friend to keep some things in their fridge or put it in a cooler with ice in your garage.”

Select music for the party — and if it fits your theme, so much the better. “Music is a must so create a fabulous play list,” says Velji. “You can also then create a music disc for all your guests so they have a take-home gift.”

Select classics, fun, funk, jazz, and new renditions of your favourites, says Howard.

And the day of the party? Be finished with preparations two hours before guests arrive. “Do have a small glass of wine and a warm bath to relax. Remember, if you are stressed during the party then you won’t enjoy your guests and they won’t get to see much of you, either.”

Of course, the ultimate way to really enjoy the party is to have a caterer and/or bartender. “Make sure you call well in advance to check out their availability and costs before you send out the invites, though,” says Coyle.

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