It's-Not-Dinner Holiday Entertaining

It's-Not-Dinner Holiday Entertaining

Holiday entertaining is such a romantic notion. Not romantic as in moonlight and roses, but instead to think that many of us might actually have the time, space, budget, or patience to be our own version of Colin Cowie. He's the charming mega-party planner who is responsible for such major events as Oprah's daytime TV farewell party. His extravaganzas are elegant, dressed with amazing fresh flower arrangements and color coordinated ornaments and china patterns, lit by candlelight, with a curated soundtrack, and catered with treats like gravlax and aquavit with plates and glasses that match.

I was thinking about this the other day when I opened a magazine and saw Mr. Cowie, looking dashing and completely relaxed, offering advice to the rest of us who face entertaining with neither dash nor calm. Much of his advice was very reassuring and macro -- "Light the candles, put on music, and make your guests feel welcome." If only it were that easy.

For those of us who live in apartments or small houses, holiday entertaining can be daunting. First there's space: Where is everyone going to sit? Then logistics: I only have six wine glasses. Or, my budget is already stressed with gifts and holiday tips. And who has time to grocery shop and cook with all the other obligatory holiday events like office and kids' parties? Next, December is always a deadline-filled month. Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year -- each has its own expectations and deliverables. Plus there are the other things of life -- school holidays, end-of-year work deliverables, or maybe taxes to pay. So trying to be a host or hostess in the coming 31 days can be an idea that's a non-starter.

But holiday entertaining can in fact be easier and less costly (in time and money) than you may think, especially if you avoid doing sit-down dinner parties. So if you want to be spontaneous, or to invite more people than you may have chairs, or if it's time to return some invitations you accepted during the year, consider a casual not-dinner party.

I don't mean one with passed canapés and a bartender shaking martinis (although there's nothing wrong with that), but instead a gathering where you offer food with drinks and not a full meal. It could be simply having friends over for a glass of wine and a few nibbles before heading out to a restaurant. Or spiced hot cider and a cheese board late on Sunday afternoon to decorate a Christmas tree. Or an invitation to come over after work on a Friday, to mark the end of the week and the start of a busy holiday season weekend. It can be comfortably casual but still generous, delicious, and fun. And you won't have to cook dinner.

Tips For Not-Dinner Parties

Easy, Quick and Store Bought

Here are some ideas for foods to serve when entertaining without a meal. Many of these you can buy on sale and keep on hand for last minute invitations.

Easy-to-Make Dishes

These take a little assembly or making but are easy and quick.

Other Favorites

If you have more time to do some last minute cooking, these are popular hors d'oeuvres to serve with simply a drink or in advance of a complete dinner.

Above all, however and whenever you entertain, preserve some of your time, energy and good will so you can have a good time at your own party. Hang a piece of mistletoe, sprinkle nutmeg on the eggnog, and celebrate the best meanings of this holiday season.


EntertainingHors d’oeuvresSullivan Street BakeryHolidays


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