It’s that time of year – too many friends and family members want to come over and visit during the Christmas holidays, but you just don’t have the time to host that many dinners! But what can you do to stem the chaos, yet enjoy spending time with everyone?
Plan a Christmas Open House!
What exactly is a Christmas Open House, you ask? It may sound like you’re selling your home (some people have actually asked me this when I’ve invited them), but instead you’re hosting an all-day event where people can come visit when they want to and stay as long as they wish.
No big dinner parties, no head counts, no fancy tableware that has to be hand-washed every time you use it, no worries about Auntie Gertrude sitting next to someone she doesn’t like…it’s a casual, relaxing visit when everyone – family, friends, and neighbors can come to see you, as well as other friends and family that haven’t seen each other since last Christmas.
The best part is that people can come and go when they please, so they don’t feel guilty if they can only visit for a short time, or feel like they’re wearing out their welcome if they want to stay longer.
You plan a day (or two) with a certain range of hours for people to come visit. It can be all day, from lunch until dinner, mid-afternoon until late evening… whatever hours you’re most comfortable having company. Send out invitations at least two weeks in advance to give people time enough to plan on coming.
No R.S.V.P. is necessary!
Here’s how it works:
Serve simple foods buffet style. This allows you to enjoy your guests and not be in the kitchen all day long. Place tables in a way to allow flow-through for both those getting food, and those moving back into the main rooms to sit with their goodies. And don’t forget extra benches and chairs for people to sit!
You don’t need to provide enough seats for your entire guest list, because people will be moving in and out of your home throughout the established times. But make sure you have enough for at least one-third of the people you’re expecting.
If you’re doing a breakfast/brunch style Open House, there are many egg dishes that can be put into crock pots the night before or pre-prepped ready-to-bake pans of quiche or cinnamon buns (that you made ahead of time) that can be tucked into the oven as the breakfast trays empty. Don’t forget breakfast meats can also be piled into aluminum pans and kept warm in the oven!
Trays filled with deli meats and cheeses, cheese and sausages (or pepperoni), vegetables as well as rolls, crackers and dips do well for those coming in for a meal, or just to graze. Hot foods like sliced roast beef or turkey for sandwiches can be kept at safe food temperatures in crock pots, as can meatballs or soups.
Soups are especially popular when it’s cold out, and you don’t even need special dishes – just use hot/cold cups (like the ones you use for coffee) instead of bowls! This keeps the serving sizes down (sometimes people want to try more than one soup if you have a variety), and keep things neater – it’s a lot harder to spill soup in a tall cup than in a flimsy Styrofoam bowl!
Drinks can be as simple as buying soda, but if you want to have healthier choices, you can home-brew iced tea, have a variety of hot teas, coffees, and cocoas available (if you own a Keurig machine), offer juices, lemonade, or waters laced with freshly sliced fruit – anything that suits your fancy!
(Just remember the fruit waters will only last until the end of the day.)
Snacks can be candy and nuts, but you can also include chips and pretzels – they go with everything!
Desserts can be anything from cakes, pies, cookies, or puddings. Puddings can also be carried in a cup instead of a bowl, and if you want pie or cake a la mode, add the pie/cake to a cup, and top with a small scoop of ice cream. You can also have bowls of holiday candies or nuts out for people to nibble on as they mingle.
Plan enough food for about three-quarters of the guests you invite, because not everyone will be able to come.
As for how much food- figure a half-pound of food per person for main dishes (or two cups of soup per person) and one quarter-pound of food per person for side dishes. (*see below this first list for breakfast foods).
So if you’ve invited fifty people: expect about thirty-eight.
- 1 twelve quart pot of soup (or two six to eight quart pots of two different kinds of soup) – If you’re not including soup, double the meat and cheeses (listed below).
- At least ten pounds of lunch meats or hot foods (double these amounts if not having soup.) For lunch meats-two and-a-half pounds each of three different kinds of meats, and one and-a-half pounds of each kind of cheeses.
- For hot foods- at least three and-a-half pounds of two kinds of meats, one and-a-half pounds of two kinds of cheeses.
- Rolls/breads- 2x people expected (4x slices of bread)
- One cheese tray
- One veggie tray
- One condiment tray (for the sandwiches, if having deli meats.) Condiment trays usually consist of lettuce, onion, tomatoes, and pickles.
- One cookie tray
- Two cups of dip
- One box mixed party crackers (or four sleeves of other kinds of crackers)
- At least three pies/cakes (cut into 12 or more pieces)
- One large bottle each of mayonnaise, mustard, or preferred sandwich spreads
- 1 pound butter, room temperature
- Salt and pepper shakers
- Two to three quarts of ice cream (optional)
- Several bags of candies, nuts and/or trail mix
- At least three bags of chips/pretzels
- Plates, cups, and plastic utensils (3x the amount of guests expected)
- Napkins (4x the amount of guests expected)
- Ice- at least twenty to thirty pounds for drinking, twice that if using a cooler. Don’t use cooler ice for drinks!)
- Clean rags (for spills and drips)
For a breakfast / brunch open house:
- *Two eggs per person
- Three strips of bacon
- Two breakfast sausage links or patties
- (The three items listed above are plenty if you’re serving eggs as a quiche.)
- Assorted veggies for the eggs (spinach, green peppers, and tomato are popular)
- Two to three bags of shredded cheddar or cheddar blended cheeses
- (This breakfast list can be substituted for the soup in the above list)
- One small bag per five people for Hash browns or tater tots
Set up your tables so the plates and utensils are near the sandwich foods, the cups and spoons are near the soups, and more cups with stirrers by the beverages. Keep the hot foods away from the cold foods.
From one end of the tables to the other:
- Rolls / breads
- Hot foods
- Condiment tray
- Cold foods
- Salt and pepper
- Chips / snacks (not nuts and candies)
- Cheese and veggie trays
- Crackers and dip,
- Desserts (except ice cream)
- Cookie tray
Tips and tricks:
Make dips a day ahead so they have time to thicken and ‘cure’ (so the flavors blend in well).
If you’re making your own trays, breakfast casseroles, and drinks, make them a day ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate.
Use aluminum pans instead of glassware for safe transfer from fridge to oven (some glassware will shatter from the extreme temperature change) and for easy clean up.
If you’re making fruit infused waters, make them two hours before the Open House and refrigerate.
To make tea concentrates- steep preferred tea bags in one quart of hot water instead of a gallon. After steeping, squeeze tea bags well, and add the sugar you normally would for a gallon into the concentrate. Then all you have to do party day is to pour the concentrate into a gallon jug, and add three quarts water!
If using crock pots or anything with plugs, make sure the wires are behind the tables against the walls, or taped down so people don’t trip over them.
Buy special liner bags for crock pots for quick and easy cleanup.
Cut rolls ahead of time so guests won’t be at risk of cutting themselves. No sharp knives on the buffet table-especially if there are children around!
Rolls are best cut with a serrated blade, not a smooth blade.
If you’re serving soup, make sure the crock pot is in ‘Warm’ mode, and stir every once in a while – especially if you have creamy soup.
Have several salt and pepper shakers on the available dining tables, as well as a set on the buffet table.
Butter sticks can be placed one each on small plates at each table (or on each end of each table.) Don’t forget to provide butter knives!
Use laundry baskets lined with trash bags for additional ice buckets or as extra trash cans. (I suggest double bagging for the ice!)
You can also have the kids walk around once in a while with a trash bag in hand, asking guests if they have any trash to deposit. Less clean-up for you and the kids get a chance to serve others!
Hosting Christmas Open Houses is the best way for our family to tone down the holiday chaos, enjoy our company, and even save money!
This allows us to spend more time together as a family, get the Christmas shopping done, and one surprise side benefit – we usually have enough leftover party foods the next day that we don’t have to cook!
If you decide to host a Christmas Open house, I’d love to hear about it! Please write to me at email@example.com and tell me your story- and don’t forget to send some pictures!
Have a fantastic Christmas!
Beth Brubaker is the Assistant Editor of RUBY magazine, and a regular contributor to our monthly magazine. She blogs at Footprints in the Mud where you can read more of her inspirational, humorous, and home / family advice articles.