Managing hostess-phobia: Simple entertaining ideas for alternative holiday gatherings

Don't let holiday hosting pressure drive you nuts this year. Here are 4 festive themes complete with menu ideas that will leave your guests happy and you stress-free.

By Nancy Fornasiero

Beat hostess phobia with tobbogans and carols
Are you feeling the pressure to host a holiday meal this year? Has everyone in your family taken a turn except for you? If you're a turkey rookie, the thought of mastering poultry perfection for eighteen in-laws can be intimidating. Maybe it's the thought of competing with Aunt Liz's superlative latkes that's freaking you out. Or perhaps it's one too many picture-perfect Martha Stewart holiday specials that has left you petrified.

Don't allow yourself be immobilized by holiday hostess-phobia! You can pull off memorable gatherings with minimal effort and without being a maestro in the kitchen. There are plenty of opportunities to gather the gang at your home during the holiday season -- without the hassle of prepping a sit-down meal.

Holiday party idea: Toboggans n' Toddies
As important as gathering around a holiday table is, doing something active with your family and friends is sometimes preferable, especially when there are children or teens in the mix. If a nearby spot is available for tobogganing -- or ice-skating or skiing -- make your get-together special by anchoring it around a winter sport! Even a snowy backyard can make a great venue for a snowman-making contest; or how about road hockey in the driveway?

Once everyone has worked up an appetite, invite them in for cocoa and hot toddies. (Don't forget lots of mats for all the boots and wet gear!) Casual activities call for casual foods: serve up trays of hearty sandwiches, chips and dips, and store-bought brownies for dessert. (The easiest way to make a lot of sandwiches for a crowd is to fill baguettes with your favourite ingredients and then slice into individual portions. Do it the night before and you'll be golden!)

Holiday party idea: Sing for Your Sweeties
How much fun would it be to get your favourite people together for some old-fashioned carolling? This event could happen anytime leading up to Christmas or even in the days afterward. Follow up your neighbourhood serenade with refreshments and a smorgasbord of desserts that you've prepared in advance. Bake and freeze the goodies a little at a time so you aren’t rushed during those busy days in late December. Or keep it super simple and purchase some (or all) of them!

Whether homemade or not, the spread will be impressive if you take time to create a pretty tablescape. Serve a variety of cookies, squares, cakes, candy, nuts, and definitely something chocolate. Intersperse platters with evergreen boughs, shiny ornaments, and scatter candy canes around the table. Offer coffee and/or cocktails, but also prepare a punchbowl of classic eggnog or a crock-pot of cinnamon-spiked cider.

You might even set up a dessert-decorating station for the kids. Try out these Santa Cupcakes, or simply provide plain cupcakes and cookies, frosting, sprinkles, and candies and let them go to town!

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