Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Topics to Avoid on Thanksgiving

For topics to avoid in your Thanksgiving conversations see my guest post for the Etiquette Bitch at Chicago Now.

Thanksgiving Dinner is Just Dinner

For all the fuss I make about Christmas, Thanksgiving may actually be my favorite holiday.  A day of eating, d drinking and lounging?  What's not to like? Still, the first time I was planning to host a crowd for Thanksgiving I was nervous. I called my mom and asked for advice. She told me something that has helped me every year since, "Thanksgiving isn't hard." And it isn't.

Multitudes of sitcoms and movies have reinforced a myth that Thanksgiving dinner inevitably is a disaster. Pair that with hosts who may rarely entertain (or even cook) on other days of the year plus the pressure of potentially judgmental relatives, and it's easy to see how people could get freaked out.

If you are feeling the pressure of hosting Thanksgiving take a deep breath and say it with me, "It's just a dinner."  Actually, roasting a turkey, like most cooking that occurs over several hours, is pretty forgiving.  If you relax you and follow the recipes you should be fine, but here are some tips to reduce your stress and increase your chances of a successful Thanksgiving meal:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Planning to Enjoy Your Own Party

I've thrown an annual Christmas Party every year since 1993. It was fashioned after the party my mother had thrown for years before that. Over the years it evolved. For the long time I lived in Pittsburgh the attendance grew each year as more and more friends considered it a part of their holiday traditions. As I've moved to new cities the tradition continues although the attendance is smaller.

But here's a secret. There were a few years when I didn't want to throw the party. I dreaded it. I only continued because I felt pressured by all those who looked forward to my party year after year. By the people who would ask as me for the date as early as October to avoid any December scheduling conflicts. By the people who had "already bought a new dress for the Christmas party!"

Why didn't I enjoy a party that was clearly successful? That so many people looked forward to? Because it had become too much work. At its peak I would have 40 or more guests. I made everything from scratch. Everything. I wouldn't even buy a prepared vegi tray! I'd start the day after Thanksgiving (sometimes sooner) preparing several dozen types of cookies and a full array of heavy hors d'ouevres. The work would build until the party itself during which I was constantly refreshing trays, heating small batchs of hot foods, and refreshing the mulled wine. I barely had time to greet my guests much less talk to them. I wasn't hosting the parties; I was catering them! Something had to change.

Instead of quitting, I scaled back the party. I didn't make absolutely everything. I made some simpler items such as more bar cookies than decorative ones.  I bought some prepared items like hummus and marinated cheese balls. Do you know what? People still enjoyed themselves! And what's more, I enjoyed myself!

Now, you may not throw parties of that magnitude, but hosting on any scale can be stressful. If you've ever been overwhelmed by the prospect of hosting an event, whether it be a small dinner or a large party, these tips will help make hosting fun again for the holidays and year round.

First, pare down your plans. Despite the holiday theme of my annual party, I haven't had a Christmas tree for 6 years.** Why? Sure, I love the look of a tree, particularly with the many beautiful ornaments that I've collected over the years.  However, getting a tree and decorating it had become a dreaded task rather than a lovely  tradition. Although I still fill my home with festive decorations, skipping the tree saves me hours of time that I can spend on cooking, which is my preferred activity. Perhaps you feel the opposite. Then, cut back on cooking (e.g. get a caterer, ask people to bring something), so you can spend more time trimming the perfect tree. Changing the type of party can help you pare down as well. A dessert only party will be easier than a dinner party. A tree-trimming party means you only have to bring the decorations out of the basement, but you don't have to do the actual decorating.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Evite for Guests: Reply!

So you've received a message from evite. This, like any invitation, is the start of a social contract. It's someone extending a hand to shake yours or raising a palm to give you a high five. And like a high five offered it is rude to keep your host hanging. Out of respect for your host you should reply. Even if an evite doesn't specify a requirement to RSVP or convey "regrets only" it is courteous to reply, particularly since it only takes a few seconds. Whether you plan to attend or not or aren't sure, your host will appreciate you acknowledging the invitation.

Reply immediately! You are in the invitation already, so it doesn't take much time to make the appropriate clicks to enter a reply. You don't know whether you are going or not? There's a word for that: "Maybe." Are you afraid you won't remember to go back in and change your response once you determine whether or not you are going? Don't worry about it. Most hosts count on about half the maybes to attend. If there needs to be an exact guest count for the event, the host will follow up with you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Evite for Hosts

The holiday season is fast approaching which means many party and dinner invitations are about to be exchanged. Traditional etiquette favors paper invitations, but electronic versions are common replacements. I don't mind the move to invitations via evite and facebook. After all, the money saved on paper, printing, and postage can be applied to the event itself. Plus, it's more environmentally friendly. However, the reputation of electronic invitations has been marred by the bad behavior of both hosts and guests. This is the first in a series of posts to help elevate the practice of exchanging electronic invitations this season. I start with guidance to those who want to send invitations via evite.

Your invitation, regardless of its medium, is the first impression for your party. Its style should be true to the upcoming event. Subtle colors, classic fonts, and simple images will convey a fancier event (e.g. a nice dinner party); whereas bright colors and wacky clip art are good for something more casual (e.g. a football gathering or crazy Christmas sweater party). Imagine printing out your invitation and displaying it prominently at your event. Would the style of the evite be consistent with the decor and desired tone?