For some individuals, holidays are all about families, whether birth or friend families. These individuals spend time searching for the right present for everyone on their gift list and planning what they hope will be the perfect holiday meal. For other people, presents and food aren’t as important as the chance to simply spend time with the people they most care about. Whether you’re a meticulous planner or a laid-back, play-it-by-ear sort, you will no doubt be spending some time dining with your loved ones. Read on for some tips on making your holiday dinners extra holiday-y this year.
It’s easy for a meal to feel festive when everyone is dressed to celebrate. We’re not saying it’s time to get the tuxedos and long dresses out of storage—although, if that’s your jam, go for it! But there’s no harm in asking your guests to wear their Christmas sweaters or dress in blue, white, and silver in honor of Hanukkah or simply winter.
The first step to making your holiday dinners shine is making your guests feel welcome in your home. Even before they step inside your home, welcome company with a seasonally themed custom door mat and a seasonal wreath. Having outside decorations helps create anticipation by letting visitors know to expect more festive décor when they enter your home. After all, if you’re going to expend that much effort on a doormat, how much more time will you put into setting the scene inside your home?
In addition, make your home seem holiday-y by filling it with inviting holiday scents, which will also heighten the anticipation. If you’re not actively cooking, light some scented candles so that your house is redolent with the scents of pine, cranberry (it’s not just for Thanksgiving!), cinnamon, or the cookie of your choice.
Once you’ve taken your guests’ coats and given your company a few minutes to settle themselves—and admire your Christmas décor—offer something seasonal to drink, such as hot mulled wine or cider. (Even if no children are present, it’s always a good idea to have something nonalcoholic for those not consuming alcohol.) This is also the time of year when a lot of breweries come out with special holiday ales, so having a few bottles of those on is a reminder that the holiday season is a special time of the year. You can also serve appetizers that have flavors meant to evoke the holidays. For example, try a roasted chestnut dip or cranberry brie bites. Presentation—how you serve something—also matters, so dig out those holiday-themed serving trays to pass the hors d’oeuvres. Crudités or cheese cubes and fruit will seem even more festive when arranged in shapes such as a tree or a dreidel.
You’ll want your holiday decorating to shine when it’s time for everyone to come to the table for the main meal, so be sure to set the table in advance—and don’t hesitate to pull out all the stops. Be sure to break out your holiday tablecloths and napkins, not to mention the festive dinnerware, if you own any. At each setting, have a holiday-themed place card. Another fun thing to do to make your holiday dinner extra special is to place a cracker on each plate. Once everyone gathers around the table and pulls the crackers, the ensuing merriment will set the tone for the rest of the meal. Also, when you set the table, don’t forget about the centerpieces. Try arranging votive candles amid some greenery, making sure no branches come in actual contact with any flames. You can also find seasonal confetti that you can scatter about the table. If you’re celebrating Christmas, consider adding some mini candy canes around the table; for Hanukkah, opt for dreidels and chocolate coins.
Everything you've done to this point has led to this: your holiday dinner. What constitutes holiday fare depends on where you live and where your ancestors were from—not to mention what holiday you observe. Whatever you choose to serve, focus on presentation. Use garnishes to make dishes more appealing. Tempting as it may be, though, avoid using Christmas greenery on food; for example, holly is somewhat toxic. Instead, use mint leaves, carrot or radish curls, slices of fruit, or citrus zest to finish off a dish. Instead of pouring pitchers of plain water, add some orange slices and cranberries; you can also throw any remaining mint leaves in. If you are hosting a potluck rather than preparing an entire meal, encourage each guest to bring their favorite holiday dish. Be sure to allow people to explain the history behind their dish.
Making your holiday dinners extra holiday-y this year involves more than just cooking a dish or two. By focusing on the setting and ambiance as well as the food, you have a dinner that your guests will look back on fondly.