The Stress-free, Low-cost Party Planner

The weather outside may be frightful, but hosting a great holiday party shouldn’t be. If you’re game to entertain friends and family, you can make it festive and simple. How? Don’t do it all. Instead, choose one or two things and do them well -- en masse. Skip the complicated and pricey array of hors d’oeuvres, mixers and decorations, and stick to what you know and love.

Work Ahead
The best parties include good music (make a special playlist), tasty drinks, and above all, your company. Everything else is gravy. Choose simple recipes you can prepare ahead of time in batches. This way, you can spend time with your guests -- not your oven mittens.

Serve up an Activity
Think of small gifts you’d like to whip up for family, teachers and friends -- and invite guests to come and make their own. If you’re a cook, try homemade granola or herb-infused vinegar. Are crafts your forte? Whip up some no-sew felt coasters or rolled beeswax candles. You can find many simple, low-cost recipes and project ideas online. As the host, you assemble the ingredients, instructions and a platter of treats. Ask friends to bring a bottle of wine, and enjoy an afternoon or eve of DIY holiday cheer.

Ditch Tradition
Instead of your usual holiday fest, celebrate the season with a Winter Solstice party. This ancient pagan fire festival marks the moment when the sun is farthest from us, bringing the shortest day of the year, to be followed by gradually longer days.

Embrace the darkness by lighting your front path with brown paper bag luminaries. Fold the top of each lunch-sized bag about 2 inches down, toss in a few good handfuls of sand and nestle votive candles in glass holders inside. Inside, dim the lights and light candles and a roaring fire -- complete with a few fragrant cinnamon sticks. Feed folks warm comfort food that’s easy and inexpensive to make, such as stew or shepherd’s pie. Make a batch of hot cider for kids.

Hit the Road
If you have no room at the inn, take your party a-caroling. Print the lyrics to the handful of songs that everyone knows. Make toasty rosemary-roasted almonds (toss almonds with chopped rosemary, olive oil, a pinch of cayenne and salt, then toast in the oven) and pack them in paper bags. Fill thermoses with extra-toasty hot chocolate and flavored liqueur, then take these goodies and your good cheer to the streets.

Stick to Sweets
You can feed a crowd easily if you don’t have to feed them everything. Lay out a few sweet treats and ask friends who bake to bring their favorite holiday cookies for the table. Limit your bar to prosecco and liqueurs that guests can add to coffee or hot cocoa waiting in carafes. (Don’t forget the marshmallows and whipped cream!) Keep decorations simple: Pour fresh cranberries into glass cylinders, vases or bowls and fix white or cream candles on top.

Brunch After Dark
Most families find themselves more than a bit done -- with shopping, cooking, decorating and preparing -- by December 24. Host a casual Christmas Eve brunch, complete with mimosas, bagels and cream cheese, fruit salad, and quiche you can make or buy ahead. Friends itching to pitch in can bring muffins and other baked goods. Now all that’s left is enjoying the people you love most.

by Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos