Deck the halls on a budget

by Don Bingham

Almost everyone loves to entertain during the holidays.

There are so many ways to make this a stress-free time of enjoying friends and family while also being frugal at the same time.

Here are a few entertaining tips for your enjoyment and hopefully ones that will inspire you to adapt them to your particular location, budget and invitation lists.

Through the years, my wife, Nancy, and I have hosted numerous holiday parties – both in our home and for church-related activities and corporate clients. The key to any entertaining is to be prepared, plan ahead and enjoy the entire process. Here are some fun theme parties that we have used throughout the years:

The Open House  It’s much easier to have guests for a two-hour “drop in” or “come and go” party. You can invite a crowd – even stagger their party times on their invitation – and cover a wider range of guests. It’s not difficult to plan cookies and punch ahead of time, and the food budget doesn’t have to be large. The idea is to enjoy each other’s company and the holiday season.

The Dinner Party  One of our favorite party concepts through the years were those times we were members of a four-couple supper club. The host home provided the entrée, and the other couples brought the salad, vegetable/side or dessert. The expense was shared by all, and we always went home with a wonderful printed recipe that we cherished for years to come.

The Themed Potluck  What is more fun than everyone bringing that favorite tasting from Italy, Mexico, Greece or even “the ol’ South.” If your crowd is up to the challenge, come dressed in Charles Dickens era costumes and make caroling a part of the entertainment for a “Currier and Ives” hors d’oeuvres potluck.

The Three-Day Party  For the more ambitious, it’s really fun to have three successive days of parties – a Friday night dinner party, a Saturday brunch and a Sunday soup supper. You will be able to use the same decorations, fresh flowers and clean house and cover a varied guest list. Keep all menus creatively simple and “party heartily.”

“Fresh As All Outdoors” Party  The evergreens are our favorite foliage of choice for the holidays. Most farms and outside-the-city-limits landowners will welcome your pruning a few limbs of pine, holly and cedar to place lovely containers of simple greenery in the house. Tied with a red velvet bow or left simple, the added aroma to your lovely decorations is a grand way to welcome guests to any party.

The Candlelight Party There comes a time when it is a good idea to clean out all the “Christmas Past” holiday candles and votives that are stored in sundry places throughout the house. They are lovely when fresh trimmed and grouped in locations through the entertaining areas. Do some candle arrangements on platters, some in solid colors and all in various heights and shapes. The candle is a great source of atmosphere and a grand way to save on the decoration budget.

The Cupcake Bar  Cupcakes are “hot” items in the entertaining industry. They are small and can be simple to elaborate in production. These, too, can be made ahead, the cake portion frozen and frosted the day before the party. Let the cupcake take over the dining room table with a grand presentation of heights and shapes and stacking platforms. Simply serve a “coffee bar” addition to the cupcakes to allow guests to dress their own coffee beverages – it’s sure to be a success!

“Please Pass the Peas Party” Who doesn’t like black-eyed peas, turnip greens and cornbread! This is a delightful New Year’s Day party and a wonderful way to invite the neighbors, the seniors and the folks with whom you were not able to spend adequate time with during the rush of the season. Schedule your time from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. – allowing plenty of time to accommodate guests for your big pot of beans and greens!

“Thank You, So Much!”  There are always those that we should show appreciation for in a unique way. There are so few opportunities to really stop the whirlwind of activities and be gracious to the ones who mean so much to us and those who helped make the holidays so very special. A laid-back “thank you” party, scheduled sometime in January, is always in order. Once the schedules have lightened up and everyone has the opportunity, show the real priorities of kindness and gratitude for our friends and loved ones.

The Personal Plan-Ahead Party  I recently read of the concept of starting a savings stash in January, with the idea that by December the party budget would be in place for a wonderful holiday of celebrations. Monthly contributions throughout the year could be made to this fund, however small or large – and December would not leave one “financially embarrassed” in the party arena. It’s a nice idea!

Whether entertaining for two or 200, the basic concepts apply. Be prepared, plan ahead, enjoy the experience, include others and know that to entertain is a privilege. We love to entertain. Mostly, we love family and friends!

Merry Christmas and the happiest of holiday entertaining!