Holiday Entertaining 101

With only 10 days (yikes!) until Christmas and having just thrown my very first holiday fete, I thought it would only be appropriate to share what I've learned over the weekend. A Holiday Entertaining 101, if you will.

1. All of your homemaking projects should be done in November. October if you're SuperWoman. Otherwise, your boyfriend is hanging photos and you're spending moolah (that could be buying booze) on things like coffee tables and lighting, only the week or two before the party, and that really puts a cramp on your style. Spacing your stressful decorating projects out instead of piling them on top of holiday decorating, baking, and Christmas shopping. That being said, it pays off in the end. See?

2. Paper invitations get a way higher RSVP rate. Though my generation loves the facebook invite, I know from my own responses that its way too easy to hit "maybe" and then forget about it until a week after the party. For my first "grown-up" party I wanted it to feel a bit more old-fashioned. With a paper invitation, it's also easier to remember to call since it's physically hanging around as a reminder. And my guests were jazzed to get snail mail. Especially snail mail with glitter (sorry, no picture!). Out of the 29 people I invited, only 2 were unsure and 1 said no.

3. Even with an excellent RSVP rate, people will call last minute to cancel. Why I didn't expect this, I'm not sure. I've certainly called the day of an event after getting sick, experiencing yucky weather, etc. The prepared hostess factors a "cancellation rate" into her food and drink prep. I now have a fridge fully stocked with alcohol, tons of mixer, and frozen mini-quiches. Next time I will know that a handful of guests will not actually show. But here's my fully stocked table (minus spinich quiche that was still in the oven):

4. Less is more. As a rookie hostess, I stressed and fretted that some small desire or want of one of my guests would go unfullfilled, and that was just not acceptable! I tried to cover every base--a wide variety of alcohol, different mixer options, tons of different food options (however, I have many vegetarian friends, so that was a genuine concern). But was it truly necessary to have both vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with variations on chocolate and vanilla frosting, some with candy cane crumbs and some without simply to match the particular tastes of every. single. guest? No. I ended up with a dozen leftover cupcakes. Then I ate three. Then I threw the rest away (they were going stale too because I have nowhere to store so many!). Chances are, most people would not have noticed if there was no rum, because the gin and vodka was there. And no one touched or asked about the coffee station I set up (with decaf, regular, sugar, cream, hot cocoa, and Baileys):

5. Details are appreciated. From the yummy smelling candle in the bathroom to the paper-crane garland (folded during Northern Exposure marathons), guests appreciate the finer details. But any detail should be a pleasure for you, not a stress factor. I hemmed and hawed over my silly cocktail napkins, but in the end, people wiped their mouths with them. But I loved folding the paper cranes. And simple details designed to make a guest's experience easier (and safer for my peanut-allergic friends!) are always appreciated, like these food labels.

And the flower arrangements (three matching, all around the apartment)

And the recycling options!

All in all, I'd say my first holiday cocktail party was a success. People seemed to have fun, they drank, they ate, they didn't leave until 2 a.m.! And I learned many lessons that I can apply to my next gathering. Do you have any entertaining tips to share?