lessons learned: what I did right and what I did wrong at Christmas this year

lessons learned from hosting Christmas

As regular readers of this little blog know, my husband and I moved into our first house in November and this Christmas was the first we would be able to spend in our new home. We would be hosting my family on Christmas day. Ever the hostess, I was so excited for Christmas this year. I had visions of being able to sleep in our own bed Christmas Eve, wake up at a leisurely hour and open presents in our pajamas, before going to Church and then coming home and getting ready for my family to arrive.

Well, spoiler alert: that’s not how Christmas happened this year. Oh there were no disasters, for sure, but a few things didn’t go as planned and I broke the cardinal rule of being a good hostess (and of event planning): just roll with it. Let’s just say I didn’t always roll with it this year. I let myself get a little stressed, which I never do while planning professionally.

So in the hope of preventing someone else from making the same mistake, I wanted to share my lessons learned.

Let’s start with what I did right, shall we? I stuck (mostly) with what I knew for the menu. I realized that this was not the time to try something exotic or different for my guests. In fact, I almost never try new recipes out on anyone besides my husband, or occasionally my closest friends. Christmas was definitely not the time to experiment!  Also, some of my guests were not the most adventurous eaters, and would prefer the more traditional Christmas dishes like ham and mashed potatoes, so that’s what we went with.

I also chose a menu that allowed for plenty of prep-ahead. You don’t ever want to be stuck in the kitchen while the rest of your guests are in the living room. Believe it or not, when you’re not with your guests, you are not being a good hostess. So much of my menu was prepared before my guests arrived so I didn’t have to be cooking the entire time they were there. I even made one of my side dishes in a crock pot so all I had to do was dish it into a serving platter when it was time to eat.

I had a fun drink menu. As I mentioned here, I was planning on making one fun cocktail to serve in addition to beer, wine and cider. I made this bourbon sparkling cider cocktail and it was delicious. I made a whole pitcher of it ahead of time so I didn’t have to worry about individual cocktails. I actually modified the recipe (to make it easier!) and it came out amazing, so if you’re interested:

  • 1 bottle sparkling cider (non alcoholic)
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 bosc pear, cut into 1 inch pieces

Combine all in a pitcher and let sit for at least an hour, chilling, before serving. The pears will add some flavor to the mix the longer it sits. I served in champagne flutes and it looked like this:

lessons learned from hosting Christmas

I don’t do instagram but I do occasionally like to play with the settings on my camera phone!

I had a cute, but realistic, table. I love the idea of cute centerpieces for Christmas but the reality (and first world problems) of my family’s holidays is that we always have too much food, so I wasn’t planning on a centerpiece. Instead I just did these little guys to dress up the place settings.

lessons learned from hosting Christmas

One of the presents under our tree from my husband was this little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, which I decided to put to use as a small centerpiece, which also acted as a conversation starter (who knew my brother-in-law was such a Charlie Brown fan?).

Ok, so what did I do wrong? Well, I didn’t have realistic timing for the menu. My sister and her family were coming all the way from New York so weren’t arriving until later in the afternoon, but my parents were coming over mid-afternoon. I felt the need to have hors d’oeuvres to serve them, but still wanted to be able to have hors d’oeuvres for my sister and family when they arrived a few hours later, and I didn’t want to rush right into dinner. Plus my sister was bringing her delicious spinach dip which is always a crowd favorite. So my New York family was famished and ate the dip and the hors d’oeuvres, my parents and husband ate a ton of hors d’oeuvres, and then I put out dinner and no one ate anything! Well, that’s not entirely true. Everyone ate something but it was clear that everyone had filled up on hors d’oeuvres and couldn’t do more than a thank you portion of some of the dishes I had prepared.

Which leads me into my next mistake – I took things personally. As a hostess, we do our best to make people happy. Being a hostess is hard work but the payoff is in smiles, making connections between friends, folks having a good time, and of course (let’s be honest) the occasionally compliment. But the event planner in me knows that despite best efforts, you can’t make everyone happy all the time. So when some of my guests didn’t take seconds, I immediately thought that there was something wrong with my cooking.

But the biggest mistake I made was I tried to do too much. I really should know better – in fact, I wrote this whole blog post on it. My visions of a relaxing, cozy Christmas did not pan out at all. We were in New Jersey with my husband’s family until 9 PM on Christmas Eve, then we drove back the five hours to Virginia that night (we said Merry Christmas to each other at midnight), slept late and had to rush to get to Church, etc. you get the point. I let myself get stressed out, and I didn’t have time to watch Muppet Christmas Carol to force me to get out of my funk. I wanted so much for the first Christmas in our new house to be perfect, that I let perfect be the enemy of the good. 

The good thing is that through it all, I had some great help. My husband, Joe, who is pretty much amazing and super helpful, and my mom, who was perfectly willing to help me get it all done, both helped make Christmas less stressful, for sure.

Well thank you for indulging me on this retrospective of this year’s Christmas. It really wasn’t so bad at all – it was a wonderful Christmas. I can’t wait to do it all again in 2014!

Happy Holidays!

Photo Credit: {Real Nebraska Girls}

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