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 Advice: Holiday Party Overhaul — on a Budget

 Advice: Holiday Party Overhaul — on a Budget


Planning and throwing a holiday party can be a lot of pressure -- not to mention totally exhausting and super expensive. Which is why, especially when it comes to the holidays, I stick to the philosophy that if you're thinking of going to all the trouble of hosting a party for the simple joy of bringing your loved ones together, you should not have to spend a ton of money to do it.

This year, instead of throwing a lavish party that leaves you with little money left over for your holiday gift list, host one that really reflects what this so-called season of giving is all about. With a little help from your friends, you can easily throw a potluck with class.

There are several types of this party (and several ways to screw one up!), so here are some of my favorite holiday themes.

The Sweet Eats and BYOB Holiday Drinks Party

This involves inviting your sweetest friends to indulge in a buffet of desserts and treats, which will be paired with several distinctive holiday drink options.

The party should begin later in the evening (after 7 p.m.), to ensure that your guests arrive after they've eaten dinner.

Let your guests know that on your end, they can expect a warm home full of friends and holiday cheer, plus plenty of dessert options to satisfy their sweet tooth. In return, you ask that they each bring the recipe for their favorite holiday drink and everything that goes along with making it.

The fun starts as soon as your first guest arrives. Then as each additional guest arrives a new drink is added to the menu, and before you know it, your guests are teaching each other how to make new drinks, talking about what they love about each recipe and where they got the idea for the drink. All of which is way more interactive and entertaining than sitting around drinking standard party booze and mixers.

The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Holiday Party

To get this party started, tell your friends to bring their favorite cheese and a bottle of vino. Let them know you'll be providing plenty of bread and a wide variety of gourmet fixings to experiment with.

Encourage guests to seek out rare cheese and try something new. (Can't pronounce it? Perfect!)

For the host, here are a few suggestions for items to have on hand: pears, blueberries, blackberries, honey, basil, pesto, salami, prosciutto, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, avocados, spinach, olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper, red peppers, garlic, brown sugar, tomato soup, butter, and plenty of spatulas.

Ask your friends to bring any portable griddles, panini presses, or George Foreman grills they may have lying around the house. This will speed up the cooking process.

A Legit White Elephant Soiree

According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, "a white elephant is an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Or something of little or no value." To throw this type of party, it's a good idea to include both the rules and gift budget in your invitations. (You don't want any crazy fighting at your holiday party ... or do you?) Encourage your guests to purchase really kooky and unusual gifts, which makes the exchange a lot more fun.

For those who don't know, here are the basic rules for a legit white elephant gift exchange:

* Each party guest brings an unlabeled, wrapped gift of the same monetary value.
* Everyone draws one slip of paper from a hat (slips of paper are numbered to match guest count).
* The person who draws number 1 is the first to select a gift from the pile.
* Once the first gift is opened, the person who draws number 2 gets the choice of either "stealing" person number 1's gift or choosing their own wrapped present from the pile to open.
* Next, person number 3 gets the choice of "stealing" any unwrapped gift or choosing a new wrapped one to open.
* Turns proceed until everyone has a gift. A turn is ended when a gift is opened.

Additional rules:

* If a gift is stolen from you, you can steal a gift from someone else or open a new one.

* A gift cannot be stolen more than once in a turn.

* The third owner of a gift gets to keep it, and it cannot be stolen again.

* At the end of the last turn, the first person (who had no choice at the beginning) can choose to put back his or her gift and steal any gift that is still available.

* Then the gift "exchange" is started again and ended when someone either chooses or is forced to take the gift given up by person number 1.

The Naughty & Nice Cookie Decorating Party

Host a cookie decorating party by supplying your guests with plain sugar cookies and tons of frosting and toppings to get creative with. My friends throw a party like this every year, and there is always a competition for the best-decorated cookie. The winner gets first pick for selecting the cookies they'd like to take home to enjoy and serve over the holidays.

Wondering why I included "naughty" in this party's description? Well, to spice things up, my friends like to have all types of holiday-inspired cookies -- including a few shapes that are a little more risque. Regardless of whether you go naughty or nice with your cookie design, the main thing is to have fun with your friends while rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands a little dirty.

The Giving-Back Bash

Adopting a family in need for the holidays is a great way to spend time with your friends and give back to your community. All you have to do is contact a local charity and let it know how many gifts you'd like to donate. Then it will match you with a family and give you the name, age, and size of each family member you're buying gifts for. In your invitations, assign each party guest a member of your adopted family to buy a gift for along with any details they'll need before shopping. Next, have everyone bring their presents to your home for a wrapping party.

Let your guests know you'll have tape, scissors, and plenty of festive paper to choose from, plus ribbons and bows and a few yummy refreshments.
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