Holiday Party Planning 101 – my @AlbertaatNoon column for November

the holiday season is here and with it come many ways to light up our dark days of December photo - Karen Anderson

the holiday season is here and with it come many ways to light up our dark days of December
photo – Karen Anderson


Today I talked about planning a great holiday party on CBC Radio One’s Alberta at Noon. My number one ingredient for a great party? It has to be fun.

After all, isn’t that the whole point of getting together in the first place? So, how can you make this happen?

This blog will be filled with my top organizational tips to bring your plan together with ease so you can focus on the fun. Find the key recipes to go with each of the holiday party themes here.


Here’s my list of things to think about to host a fun and festive holiday party.

A theme
Being organized is the greatest stress reliever when it comes to hosting a party and choosing a theme is a fun way to help keep you focused and on track.

Would you like to host a skating, sledding or carolling party for families? If your gang are not the outdoorsy types, what about going to a movie premiere and hosting an after party? Are you ready for a more adult event with cool cocktails and fancy finger foods? Or do you crave a cosy dinner party with your nearest and dearest?

Once you have a theme and a date you can start making lists and develop a time line to manage your party just like you would a job at work. A theme also helps you develop your menu plan.

List making
Think about what you’d like to serve. Need inspiration? Search the current magazines (they are all about the holidays right now) for a gold mine of ideas and maybe choose one or two new things to try. Sticking with things you already feel accomplished at making (or buying) will keep your confidence high. Adding one or two new things will expand your repertoire and keep things fresh for you and your friends.

Now make a grocery list on your timeline. Ask how much can you get now and how much needs to be fresh a day or two before the party? Can a caterer help by making a few items that you would pick up and heat and serve yourself? Can you buy platters from your favourite deli or a few fantastic frozen goodies? Place your orders as early as possible with bakeries as many have an early December cut off period. I have a coconut cake I’ll be picking up on December 18 at one and a lemon pistachio yule log at another. I placed both those orders in early October (I’m not perfect, I missed the cut off dates last year but was grateful for that learning as it got me organized and I was acutely aware of the dates this year).

Welcome your guests with punch  Here's a Rum spiked, vanilla scented apricot one that's very refreshing indeed photo - Karen Anderson

Welcome your guests with punch
Here’s a Rum spiked, vanilla scented apricot one that’s very refreshing indeed
photo – Karen Anderson


develop a PUNCH Line
Age old punch is the perfect opener for a party. Essentially every punch recipe has five components – fizzy booze, pop or sparkling water, juice, alcohol or a second juice, spicing, and ice. Here’s a couple of examples to get you rolling with the idea and to illustrate what I mean.
Apple Jack – 2 cups Calvados apple liqueur, 1 quart apple cider, 1 bottle sparkling wine or water, Jack Daniels bitters, an ice ring with cloves, cinnamon sticks and sliced apples in it.
Rocky Mountain Mule – make a simple ginger syrup by combining ½ c grated ginger, 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar on stove and stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and then combine in a punch bowl with 1 bottle of limeade, 2 cups of vodka, 2 litres of sparkling water, 2 teaspoons of Angostura bitters and lots of ice and lime wedges.

Decorate early and enjoy the festive feeling

owls are everywhere photo - Karen Anderson

owls are everywhere
photo – Karen Anderson


The new trend is owls. I’ve seen them everywhere in my travels this fall. In chic Montreal boutiques, in gift shops in airports, hand carved ones in India and in Calgary I’ve seen them everywhere from Canadian Tire to Superstore to the florist and the greenhouse. They are a symbol of wisdom and yet they’re whimsical too. No matter what your taste there’s an owl for you – turquoise and glam, natural and soft, all white, any shade of metallic.
add a little whimsy to your holiday decor with this year's trendy little owls photo - Karen Anderson

add a little whimsy to your holiday decor with this year’s trendy little owls
photo – Karen Anderson


Fresh flowers and greens are always chic; especially bulbs which give us hope that spring will come again. Pomegranates, citrus and pineapples are also glorious. Pineapples are the international symbol for hospitality. I’ve seen them spray painted silver and gold and used to make amazing table centerpieces.
fresh greens, fruit and candles make an inexpensive homemade centrepiece

fresh greens, fruit and candles make an inexpensive homemade centrepiece

spring bulbs at Christmas give us reason to hope photo - Karen Anderson

spring bulbs at Christmas give us reason to hope
photo – Karen Anderson


Let their be light. December is the deepest and darkest point of the year so line the driveway with iced lanterns made from moulds you can buy at Lee Valley or bright and cheery lanterns from IKEA.

Reserve a Corner Booze
A bar set up in a corner and a few college students to tend and serve will make the evening a lot more relaxing for you and your partner. Make sure you have a plan in place for all party goers and their exit strategy for the evening. Put it right on the invite: please make arrangements for a drive home or designate a driver. This writer and Mother supports MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. All parties should have happy endings.

Equipment Needs
Do you own enough party stuff? In my neighbourhood we borrow glasses, chairs, platters and plates instead of buying things we’ll only use once a year. The best thing I’ve ever rented was a coat rack and hangers but don’t worry the master bedroom bed is still a solution that works every time. I used to rent glasses but last year went out and bought IKEA wine glasses at $0.99 a piece. I have room to store them and though they are not fancy, they are glass and reusable and most importantly: they fit in the dishwasher with ease. Kudos for that all important design strategy.

Holiday iTunes
Give your teenagers guidelines and employ their techno talents to make party play lists. They can intersperse Christmas classics with upbeat party music or just put your 5 favourite CD’s in and spin them for the night.

Getting your just desserts
As I mentioned, I’ve already reserved a couple of great cakes from my favourite bakeries. They are made with real ingredients and freeze beautifully. I’ve also set up tiered platters that feature beautiful chocolates, mini cupcakes and the dainties my Mother-in-law treats us to each year. I’ve bought gourmet ice cream and set out homemade chocolate fudge and bourbon caramel sauce with lots of fun toppings. I’ve done the chocolate fountain and fruit thing. I love to imitate the French and support great local food artisans while taking some of the work load off myself. Besides, at this point in the night people will either pass or just want a little bite of something so I’d rather put my effort into the main theme.

Party favours
The notion of party favours does add a higher degree of difficulty to hosting a party but if you are up for it, you can pull this “Martha-nator” move and do up little bags of caramel corn or biscotti and tea bags for people to enjoy later. Leave them in a basket at the door and give them out with a hug when you say good night to each guest. This is soooo optional! Another idea which takes it down a notch is to buy some nice preserves and hand them out. It’s still a little bit of homemade goodness but you didn’t have to add it to your job list. When all is said and done though, the hug and making sure your guests are getting home safely is the best favour you can give your guests.

Cleaning up your act
Forget the kitchen. Scour the neighbourhood and your friend’s families for the possibility of hiring teenagers to help with dishes. They all need cash and it’ll be the best twenty bucks you ever spent.

In closing here’s a few more photos from my home. You’ll see my taste is not for fancy things but instead, for those little touchstones and sentimental things that bring with them my memories of loved ones and the warmth of our times together.

I’ll send a special prayer out to all the families in Alberta who lost family treasures like these in the Great Alberta Flood of 2013. You may have lost some of these precious things but may you savour the joy of having your health and your family intact this holiday season. Blessings be to you and yours for renewed prosperity and loving memories in years to come. May you once again be able to savour it all.

family keepsakes - these angels were made by my Mother and though we can't be together they bring her close to me at Christmas photo - Karen Anderson

family keepsakes – these angels were made by my Mother and though we can’t be together they bring her close to me at Christmas
photo – Karen Anderson

handmade family heirloom manger set - there's just some decorations you never tire of photo - Karen Anderson

handmade family heirloom manger set – there’s just some decorations you never tire of
photo – Karen Anderson

pewter is my metal of choice but silver, gold and bronze add a festive flare photo - Karen Anderson

pewter is my metal of choice but silver, gold and bronze add a festive flare
photo – Karen Anderson

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