Gathering with friends and family to share memories and holiday traditions has to be one of the season’s greatest gifts. After all, in addition to fostering good cheer, spending time with our nearest and dearest reinforces the relationships we cherish. With that in mind, here are four festive ways to bring together those you love.
Outdoor caroling celebration
Whether your posse goes from house to house serenading neighbors or gathers in your driveway, there’s nothing like a rousing bout of carol singing to ratchet up the good cheer. For the event, you’ll want to have on hand several carol books or printed copies of the holiday tunes you plan to sing, lyrics included.
After singing, it’s time for refreshments, either inside or out. For beverages, consider a hot drink, like mulled cider with rum for the adults or cocoa to embellish with marshmallows, candy canes, whipped cream, and peppermint schnapps for grownups. You also can offer juice, seltzer, beer, and wine.
For nibbles, make your own or pick up smoked fish spreads, pâtés, cured meats, and cheese and crackers from Sea & Cellar in Rockport, which also sells wine, craft beer, and sweets like halvah. Joppa Fine Foods in Newburyport also sells wine and local beer and offers a wide selection of crackers, cheese, cured fish, olives, hummus, and baked goods like homemade cookies.
Cookie decorating party
Perfect for kids and the kid in every adult, a cookie decorating party is bound to put a grin on every face. The process is fun, creative, and tasty.
If you want to make the cookies from scratch, consider making a big batch of cut-out ginger or sugar cookie dough in advance. That way, you can pull out the chilled dough when everyone arrives and get to work, rolling and cutting the dough into shapes. You can embellish the cookies before baking with nonpareils, silver balls, and colored sugars. Or bake the cookies and decorate with tinted icings and add-ons, like hot cinnamon candies (great for eyes) and raisins and mini chocolate chips (ideal for buttons).
For a bit less work, pick up a roll of prepared sugar cookies. You can roll out the dough and cut it into shapes, or simply slice the dough into rounds and decorate the cookies before or after baking in the same manner as above. For even less fuss, buy a box of sugar cookies or gingersnaps and decorate them with colored icings and decorations. Another option is to head to Appleton Farms in Ipswich and pick up a holiday cookie decorating kit (or two).
Holiday open house
What’s so great about hosting a holiday open house is that it can span a weekend afternoon, allowing folks to stop by at their convenience. The trick is to lay out food and drink in various locations throughout your home that will satisfy those stopping by in the early afternoon for, say, a cookie and bit of eggnog, as well as those arriving later for a drink and savory bite before dinner. What you choose to serve depends upon your entertaining style. If you’re a DIY person, prepare and lay out everything beforehand so you can enjoy the party and your guests, working only to restock as necessary.
An excellent crowd-pleaser is a cooked and sliced turkey or ham with rolls and condiments nearby. Cheese, crackers, crudités, dips, and even veggie maki, will satisfy nonmeat eaters, while finger foods, like deviled eggs and tea sandwiches, will fill out the buffet nicely. For sweet treats, go with bite-size goodies, like mini brownies and cookies, along with bowls of candy, like Hershey’s Kisses. For drinks, consider child-friendly eggnog and punch with bottles of brandy and rum for the adults, along with beer, wine, juice, and sodas.
One tip: Consider hiring some local college or high school kids to prep, help pass, and clean up. Alternatively, hire a professional caterer, such as Vinwood Caterers in Ipswich or Fireside Catering in Burlington.
Home-based New Year’s bash
Whether you go big or small, luxe or low-key, ushering in 2022 with a bang calls for feting your friends with standout food, fun, and libations. You can put everything in the hands of a pro by hiring an event planner, such as Janie Haas of Janie Haas Events in North Andover and Boston, whose motto is, “Let’s give them something to talk about.” She’ll handle the food, drink, entertainment, and décor, with unlimited consultations to make the night feel personal.
Alternatively, you could cook an elegant dinner for several friends. Make a splash by offering a different wine with every course, bookending the evening with bubbles from hallowed houses like Bollinger, Perrier-Jouët and Ruinart, along with grower champagnes (crafted and bottled by the grape grower) from smaller producers, including Egly-Ouriet and Marie Courtin. Put on music, do an all-white table, and pull out the crystal and china.
For a more low-key evening, invite a big group over to feast on seafood favorites, like chowder, clam cakes, coleslaw, and crabmeat rolls from Woodman’s in Essex. Or, heap some platters with smoky ribs, chicken, pulled pork, and traditional sides like macaroni and cheese, Southern-style green beans and collard greens from Tennessee’s BBQ in Peabody. Serve cocktails, craft beer, and sparkling wine to toast the New Year.