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Christmas is almost upon us — the season of twinkling lights, candy canes, red-cheeked elves and a thousand other magical creations, all hinting at that which surpasses the magical, the miraculous: God becoming man.
Unfortunately, hinting at miracles takes work, and all too often our attempts to make the Christmas season special do little more than make the Christmas season stressful.
Accordingly, come Christmastide, the temptation for our over-shopped, overworked and under-slept selves is to throw in the towel on magical and settle for easy — skipping the plum pudding and barring our doors to everyone except the delivery boy from Number One Chinese Restaurant.
Before you put the delivery boy on speed dial, though, remember: there’s nothing ordinary about the God of the universe becoming man. If any season merits a fuss, this one does.
Moreover, shortly before God made his appearance in a stable, his mother and foster father had countless doors barred against them. Christmas isn’t the season for acting like a put-upon innkeeper and shutting your doors to friends and family in need of companionship.
The good news (beside Christ’s birth) is that in this particular instance, you can have your cake and eat it too. When it comes to holiday entertaining, it’s possible to make it special and keep it simple.
The Christmas Dinner
Hosting Christmas dinner doesn’t require spending hours in the kitchen. It just requires a little advance prep.
This year, if you’re so inclined, ditch the turkey and serve simple, make-ahead appetizers instead. Some of my favorites are these mini-quiches (which can be baked the day before and reheated in the oven), sausage-cheddar-cranberry balls (which I prepare the day before an event, cook the morning of, and then keep warm in the crock pot until company arrives) and miniature crab cakes (which can be mixed the day before, thrown together the morning of and baked 30 minutes prior to dinner).
If, however, Grandma Betty can’t stomach the thought of a Christmas dinner without a huge hunk of meat on the table, cook up a turkey breast (or ham or beef tenderloin) the day before. On the big day, slice it up and serve it with small sandwich buns and fancy condiments. You now have instant gourmet sandwiches and a quiet Grandma Betty.
Finally, serve the whole smorgasbord on pretty platters, set out the china plates that have been gathering dust, light a few candles and open some wine, and you’ve got yourself an elegant (and easy) Christmas dinner.
The New Year’s Party
Hosting and cooking don’t have to go hand in hand. Sometimes, ditching the meal can make for an even better party, allowing you to expand both the guest list and the time you spend with those guests.
For example, on New Year’s Eve, instead of preparing a five-course meal, opt for a wine or beer tasting.
First, come up with a category for the night — Cabernets, French reds, California whites, German lagers, or English ports and stouts. Then, tell every friend you’ve invited that they’re responsible for picking out a wine or beer. After that, go to the store and find snacks that pair with the beverages: cheeses and olives for the wine, cured meats and pretzels for the beer, etc.
If you’ve got Christmas candy left over, great. Plate that up too. If not, don’t worry about it. Everyone’s probably had enough chocolate already.
The Epiphany (or Feast of the Holy Family) Brunch
Brunches comes with their downsides. Namely, because it’s a daytime event (as opposed to an evening affair), people can see just how dusty your bookshelves and living room floors actually are. This means you might feel compelled to do a bit more tidying beforehand. (This is also why I avoid hosting brunches.)
During the Christmas season, however, after-Church feasts are worth breaking out a can or two of Pledge. Even though they involve more cleaning, the cooking is usually less labor intensive. As an added bonus the meal will be over and done with by early afternoon, leaving you hours to enjoy your Sunday rest.
My go-to menu items for brunches are this hash brown breakfast casserole and baked oatmeal (recipe courtesy of Aleteia’s own Elizabeth Scalia). Prep both the night before and then pop them in the oven an hour before eating. Alternately, cook them in the morning and keep warm in the oven (covered with foil) while you’re at Mass. Serve with simple pastries and fruit (which guests can bring), and if you’re feeling extra fancy, have some orange juice and champagne on hand for mimosas. That way, even if breakfast doesn’t turn out, everyone still goes home saying “Merry Christmas.”
Emily Stimpsonis the author ofThese Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body (Emmaus Road, 2013).