Holiday Hassles Give Way To Simple Get-Togethers
Holiday parties are always fun - especially when you're not doing the entertaining.Skip to next paragraph
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Wait a minute, say the experts. It's time for attitude adjustment.
"What some people forget is that entertaining is a gift," says Suzanne Williamson, co-author with Linda Smith of "Entertaining for Dummies" (IDG Books, $19.99). "All the expectations scare people. Holidays are so overwrought. There are all these 'shoulds.' "
Whether trimming the tree or ringing in the New Year, entertaining is about spreading goodwill; a time to reconnect with family and friends.
The idea of entertaining just to impress went out decades ago. "It's so fake," says Williamson.
"You give people your time, energy, and attention. You spend time with the people you love - and in a sense, you're also giving yourself a gift," says Ms. Williamson.
While the casual trend has been simmering for a while, it's really roiling now, Williamson says. Formal entertaining still has its place, but the definition of what's acceptable has lightened up. Years ago, Emily Post may have gasped at the idea of asking people to bring a dessert to a party if it wasn't potluck. No more. Even guests are more apt to ask "What can I bring?" rather than "Can I bring anything?"
"Amen," says Linda West Eckhardt, who wrote "Entertaining 101" (Doubleday, $37.95) with her daughter Katherine West DeFoyd. They suggest a cooperative Christmas where each guest contributes a dish to the buffet table. "One of the things we see is a movement back to tradition," says Ms. Eckhardt. "In the go-go '80s, people ate out all the time and ran up their Visa bills; now they're discovering that home entertaining is a grand gesture."
But the gravitation back to tradition is tempered by the realities faced by two-income families. "We have this tension between our wish to preserve tradition and the pressures of modern-day life," Eckhardt observes. "We all work too hard ... yet we still value family holidays and gathering around the table."
The upshot is that people are more sensitive to "workload" as it applies to the home front, and that translates into the "anything goes" approach to entertaining. If you use every day ware instead of your finest Limoges, who's going to tsk-tsk? You can rely on your supermarket's prepared-food section to take care of your whole spread, Eckhardt says. The holidays are hectic enough, "and you want to give your guests an island of peace."
Williamson may be stating the obvious when she says during entertaining, that "you don't have to do everything." But hosts can't hear that enough, she insists. "Delegate! People like to help in the kitchen."
Master of entertaining Malcolm Hillier also cautions about overdoing things in his new book, "Entertaining" (DK Publishing, $29.95): "Never take on too much; it is vital that you are relaxed and at ease while you cook and entertain. Your guests will sense if you are not."
According to Williamson, there are two keys to success:
* A good guest list. Take a new approach, she suggests. Ask yourself: "With whom do I want to spend time? Don't worry about inviting office colleagues or people you feel the need to pay back. It's also nice to span generations and invite a single person or someone who doesn't have family nearby, she adds.
* Atmosphere. Of course festive decorations, interesting food, and music set the scene. But so do you. Get your front-door greeting down: "I'm so glad you're here."
Along the way, if you find yourself obsessing over the centerpiece step back. Ask, "What's going to make me happy and my guests happy?" says Williamson. "If you're excited, your excitement will spill over."