By: Michelle Cannon Epting

As the holiday season approaches, the annual rituals of decorating, shopping, and consuming delectable treats are frequently punctuated by holiday gatherings.  If you find yourself hosting a celebration for coworkers, family, or friends, you probably desire to throw the perfect holiday party.   The responsibility of hosting may be initially daunting, but by following these guidelines, your soiree will be a success.

The first thing to keep in mind is the hectic schedule most people have during the holiday season.  Social obligations quickly amass, so decide on a date for your party and send out invitations early.   Also, when making your guest list, keep in mind the size of the venue, whether it is your home or elsewhere.   Consider too, whether or not it will be an adult or family-friendly gathering.  If children will be included, you will probably want to plan for an area for them to watch holiday movies, engage in crafts (such as sugar cookie decorating), and eat separately from the adults (the infamous kid table).

Staying organized is key to having a successful holiday party.  Make a list, and don’t be afraid to delegate.  This allows you to remain as stress-free as possible and others the opportunity to get involved.  If you are cooking yourself, cook as much as possible ahead of time.  If you are ordering items, do so well in advance.  Buy whatever items, especially snacks, in bulk.  Remember it is important to have food available throughout the party, particularly if your guests will be drinking and therefore, munching all night.  Finger foods, dips, and vegetable/fruit/cheese trays are easy and popular choices for pre-dinner appetizers and post dinner snacks.   Any platters should be refilled often.

Drinks will be a significant focus.  You may want to have a punch bowl (see the sidebar recipe), which may or may not be alcoholic.  Additionally, prepare by having plenty of soda, wine or other beverage options.  Consider creating a signature holiday-themed cocktail for your guests. Remember to have abundant ice available for the drinks. 

When planning the menu, consider all tastes.  For example, have options for carnivorous and vegetarian guests.  Some creativity is appropriate, but dishes should not be so extreme as to prevent guests from enjoying them.  You may consider hosting a potluck in order to alleviate some work on yourself and to allow guests to share their own holiday culinary traditions.  Alternatively, consider hiring a catering company to reduce preparation, cooking, and cleanup time. Also, consider renting china, glasses, and silverware.  Buffet style may be preferred over sit-down course dinners.  Keep in mind too, that your focus will be enjoying your party instead of cleaning up during the party.

When planning your setup, consider flow.  For example, the high traffic beverage station and snack/appetizer area may be placed on the perimeters to allow socializing in the center of the venue.

Entertainment and the senses are pivotal in creating a festive mood for your celebration.   Consider having holiday movies playing silently in the background, as your guests will catch glimpses of some of their favorites as they socialize.   As with any party, music is pivotal in setting up ambience, so have holiday and party favorites playing quietly in the background, either via a music station or pre-made soundtrack.  If hosting at home, appeal to your guests’ sense of smell by simmering hot apple cider, cloves, and cinnamon on the stove.

For outdoor décor, keep it simple.  For example, place a simple wreath on the front door with a garland around the frame.  When planning your indoor décor, decide on your color theme – whether traditional red and green, magical silver and blue or simple white.

Here are some ideas for specific decorations:

  • twinkle lights in glass bowls
  • vintage ornaments on a cake stand
  • branches with or without ornaments in a vase or tall glass cylinder
  • mirrored table runner
  • painted or plain pine cones
  • lit candles
  • topiaries created by gluing faux cranberries on a foam sphere and placing the cranberry sphere on a sliver candlestick
  • faux chandelier with glittering icicles, crystal baubles, and clear bulbs hanging from the ceiling to free up table space and create a different effect

The idea is that beautiful can be simple.  As most holiday décor focuses on bringing the outside inside, you may also create a Florida holiday by placing burlap and greenery on the table, accented by seashells and ornaments.   Light your Florida table with candles placed in vases filled with sand.

Lighting is also a vital component of your party.  Low lighting is preferred.  Utilize unscented candlelight, subtle string lights, and/or a fireplace to achieve this effect.

Finally, plan for a take-home gift for your guests.  Ideas may include jams, candies, or drink mixes (hot cocoa or apple cider).   Packaging can be simple, such as a plain jar with a ribbon.  For two popular examples of holiday gift treats, see the recipes for Peanut Brittle and Peppermint Bark in the sidebars.

As you plan to entertain your guests this holiday season, keep these pointers in mind to make the experience easier.  The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself while you prepare for the enjoyment of others.  The holidays are a time of joy and tradition.  Draw upon your own traditions, share the traditions of others, and create new ones together.  By focusing on these things, and having these hints in mind, your holiday party will be the one that stands out this season, for your guests and their host.

To see the recipes included in the print publication, click here.

The Green Turtle Market Catering

The Green Turtle Market celebrated its thirteenth anniversary on September 7 of this year.  The market sells fresh turkeys and all of the traditional holiday accompaniments.  The Grapevine Café, located at the Market, offers holiday catering off-site as well as in the venue.  According to Lindsay Richer, Director of Catering for the Green Turtle, “We do intimate sit-down dinners for ten and buffets that serve hundreds.  We offer set-up and clean up service when our staff caters your event.  We also have bartenders, chefs, and delivery service to your home.”  When asked why hiring a catering company like the Green Turtle is a good idea, Lindsay explains that it’s about time saving and enjoyment.   “It sounds like fun doing it all by yourself, but the level of stress involved in hosting, cooking, and bartending for your own party is unnecessary!  Let professionals take care of set-up and clean up and your guests.  This way you can enjoy the celebrations as well.”

For more information on The Green Turtle Market and its holiday catering, contact Lindsay Richer at (321) 773-2001 or