I think there are only three things that America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music and baseball. They’re the three most beautifully designed things this culture has ever produced. – American essayist Gerald Early
As hard as it is to accept the cold hard facts, Dear Reader, the holidays are upon us once again.
Determined to keep the holidays evergreen and even more festive this year than the year before, I love implementing at least one new holiday tradition, along with revisiting some old ones. Something as simple as reacquainting myself with my old friend Handel’s Messiah while baking pumpkin bread pops the cork on my inaugural yuletide celebrations.
While serving soup kitchens, organizing ornament exchanges, and greeting neighborhood carolers are all welcomed activities in my holiday repertoire, there’s nothing that puts the glitz on the holiday season quite like a formal dinner party at home. Here are some helpful idea starters for throwing a sophisticated soirée that will draw friends out and refresh them from the futile race against time to beat the clock before New Year’s Eve!
1. All That Glitters: Metallic Envelopes
My sister Ava, Little Miss Pinterest Fashionista, is notorious for dressing up every announcement from princess birthday parties to success on the big girl potty in a shiny metallic envelope.
When I receive one of Ava’s shiny envelopes, I can’t wait to rip it open and find out the scoop. Invitations are easily customized and paired with the perfect envelope by utilizing Shutterfly and Etsy . You’ll convey a sense of anticipation to dinner guests for weeks prior to an event.
2. All That Jazz: Notes that Glitter
For the perfect ambiance, greet guests with a lighted sidewalk and classical Christmas music, but once a guest enters your home for the dinner party, there is but one choice: Jazz. From Harry Connick, Jr. to Louis Armstrong, there are thousands of selections that will define the mood of the night. While hiring live musicians is ideal, there are more recorded options than you will even have time to consider!
3. Water & Lights
So your husband never got around to installing that lighted garden fountain on your Honey-Do list? It’s okay. An elegant way to include water and lights into your party atmosphere is by using oversized decanters and carafes filled with fancy ice cubes, fresh herbs, and sliced lemons. Serve in crystal and worry about washing the dishes later.
Place uplights in corners behind plants and furniture. Fill tall glass urns or vases with fruit, flowers, colorful rocks, and water—but not before tucking submersible LED lights inside for a holiday feel.
Let the fireplace be the focal point of your holiday party as guests get to know one another and reminisce about holiday memories. Whether or not you have a fireplace, scented holiday candles are THE quintessential holiday centerpiece of every good conversation. Pick the usual holiday scents like evergreen and cinnamon, but the real secret scents are fresh cake and sugar cookies that will convince guests that you are a much better cook than you actually are!!
5. Cheese & Chocolate
Dear Reader, I am about to reveal to you the most sacred secret of my kitchen. The kind that, if it were a matter of beauty where women are concerned, would only be discussed in the presence of a plastic surgeon. If you want to throw a party to remember that includes food that will still be the topic of conversation for years to come, you must read your Bible. In this case, I am not talking about the Holy one. Rather, any one of the four cookbooks that contain the secret recipes of the Junior League of Lafayette, LA (JLL). Straight from the heart of one of the most cuisine-conscious cultures IN THE ENTIRE NATION, WORLD, and HIGHER UNIVERSE, these four kitchen gospels can do for your party what Emily Post has done for etiquette.
Hear me now. The JLL knows there is no greater way to heighten the senses of your guests than to present them with all sorts of delicacies surrounded by cheese and chocolate. Whether you serve gourmet grilled cheese minis, fondues and fountains, dips, cheesy pastas, baked brie, or ribbon sandwiches filled with pimento cheese – you are going to make a lasting impression. There are many such recipes tucked within these Junior League cookbooks. They can be ordered online at www.juniorleagueoflafayette.com.
6. Seafood & Fine Meats
Where there’s cheese, it will behoove you to have seafood. Crab dips, shrimp fettuccini, and bite-sized crawfish pies on silver trays delight guests. Chafing dishes filled with Swedish meatballs stationed next to a carving station of prime rib on pistolets is a popular option, if guests have a place to sit and eat. Pinterest has great recipe selections for so many dishes, but especially when tackling something that is not everyday fare such as a frenched pork tenderloin or crown roast.
7. Old World Breads, Crackers, & Cookies
Making your own bread is easier than you think it is and can be one of THE most rewarding holiday activities! Start making super nutritious holiday breads weeks in advance by mixing fresh pumpkin purée, walnuts, and pecans into your own special creation. Wrap in plastic and wax paper then freeze in double lock freezer bags. Use as needed for holiday teas, but save some as the conversation piece of your dinner party.
If all else fails, dip buttered crackers & cookies into chocolate and roll in nuts.
8. To Mingle or To Dine: Dress For Dinner
I’ll be honest with you, Dear Reader. It is my opinion that far too few people sit and dine at dinner parties. We generally feed out of the mingling trough especially when heavy hors d’oeuvres are served. But, for the most elegant experience, opt for cocktail or black tie attire and seat guests. Plan things out.
Use a choice of sorbets and surprises with planned moments of sharing what God has done in your life this year. Have an honored guest propose a toast! Use ancient verses and poetry between courses. Pose for photos together, not for Twitter, but just for the scrapbook –for old times sake.
9. Party Favors: Ornaments
Remember how your grandma used to keep everything from devil’s food cookies to rum cake in little “tins”? Now it’s your turn to live in her footsteps and get every bit as creative in a modern world. Send guests home with a little piece of your party. My pick: A customized handmade ornament that says something like: Chambless Holiday Dinner 2012. My most memorable ornaments represent events and are made from pipe cleaners, light bulbs, Styrofoam balls, sequins, lace, and string. It’s not the What of any ornament, it’s the Who behind it. What could possibly be sweeter than sending guests home with a batch of divinity in a pretty tin tied with raffia and your own keepsake ornament?
There will always be guests that want to linger. Be prepared. Have a basket filled with hot cocoas and teas from around the world as you kick your feet up into the wee hours of holiday sanctum and talk about politics, sports, and life. Even better, just happen to remember the fruit tray you happen to have (prepared in advance for such a time as this), knowing that He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.
11. Sleep In
Don’t set a clock, Dear Reader. No amount of savings at Macy’s is worth the sweet slumber of holiday surrender. Make it sacred. Make it yours. Realize that the glitz is not all there is, it’s the heart connection. Give up the race against the clock and be assured that you have left an imprint of fellowship on the hearts of men in the season of peace and good will. Keep only the worthwhile traditions. Redefine worthwhile.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper. Follow Brandi on Twitter @BrandiChambless