Doesn’t it strike you as crazy that “The Holidays” are a far cry from what that Hallmark Card would have us believe?  Is it only me?  Where has the “holiday” part gone?  We fall hook, line and sinker for the idyllic picture of a happy, relaxed family with a welcoming roaring fire, perfect Christmas tree and house sparkling with Martha Stewart perfection!  It seems that this time of year has become a far cry from anything relaxing as we whip ourselves up into a frenzy!  As if modern life wasn’t busy enough, we lurch around like lunatics buying hosts of things that no one really needs, cooking up feasts that cause panic and terror in many kitchens (once again, we are driven by that magazine image), racing from one party to another and then…waking up when it’s all over (it seems to be over in a blink — all that is left is a mess) EXHAUSTED and a little let down.

My favourite part about this time of year is all the friends that one gets to see and hear from.  My mother and I host an open house the last Sunday before Christmas.  As you can imagine, it’s a pretty hectic time of year for me, but my mother loves to have people drop in for some Christmas cheer.  I started out with amazing elaborate plans but over the years, I have learned to pare it back and “farm out” some of tasks.  I have to.  I simply do not have the time.  I make certain to get the best cheeses I can lay my hands on, delicious cookies baked by my friend Catherine O’Donnell of Willow Cakes & Pastries (I can’t bake to save my soul), simple Amaryllis from Earl at The Watering Can and I rent my linens & glassware from my friend Ron at Special Occasions (I even get them to deliver!).  I keep it simple…sparkling wine (now I only need one type of glass), an impressive cheese offering, my mother’s famous liver paté and all those cookies!  It may seem extravagant and a tad lazy BUT I have time to enjoy my guests and the party–although I do tend to spend the entire 4 hours in the kitchen opening and pouring the sparkling!  It’s a great way to visit with everyone as they pick up a glass and move on through the house.  By the time everyone leaves we have only cases of empty bottles and a few platters to clean up!

So here are some of my entertaining tips to build a little more holiday into “The Holidays”:

  • serve only sparkling wine — it’s delicious, festive and…very cost effective!
  • arrange for rentals — glassware, linen for your table, small plates and…a coat rack (saves you having people trudging all through your house).  If rentals aren’t in the budget, get some nice disposable plates at your local dollar store.
  • share the wealth and buy the goodies you don’t have time to make or can’t make…nothing wrong with supporting your local businesses and friends.
  • remember that this is about having fun and visiting with friends and family so….keep it simple!  Make that mutli-course extravganza you saw in the latest magazine sometime in February when you have the time for a few friends.
  • stay within a budget…Costco has great affordably priced cheeses and platters or if you can splurge, visit Chez Fromage and buy one or two outstanding cheeses.  You are hosting your friends afterall so there should be no need to impress.
  • keep it casual but festive.  Black tie and fancy dress is for another type of affair not an open house.
  • if you have delicate treasures and heirlooms, put them away!  That way you don’t have to cringe when you see little people in tow with your adult friends
  • position yourself somewhere where you can greet everyone as they come in
  • cut yourself some slack!!  You are only one person, you aren’t Superwoman, you don’t have a team of staff or help to do the work and… these are your friends who love just the way you are!

Take a deep breath and relax for a moment.  Now take out that “to do” list and see if there isn’t something you can cross off or delegate so that you can find a little holiday in “The Holidays”!