Impress Your Guests With These Holiday Entertaining Tips

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Locals in our community share their top tips for making this season’s gatherings memorable and stress-free

Compiled by Anna-Rhesa Versola | Illustrations by Leah Versola Kallam

This may be the year you fill your home with guests for a rowdy New Year’s Eve bash. Or host an intimate holiday dinner party. Maybe you opt for a potluck picnic around the backyard fire pit. Whatever your style, celebrate with people you love, and perhaps incorporate some of these tips from your neighbors.

Illustration: Keep guests warm with a delicious cup of hot cocoa.

My biggest tip for the holiday season is to start or continue a tradition! My husband and I work every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas. This leaves little time to come up with new ideas every year for the holidays. On Christmas Day, it is just the two of us and the dog. This is our time to sit in front of the fire and drink hot chocolate, just relaxing after our busy season. Then, a few days later, the family all comes to our house for a traditional Christmas dinner. We keep the same menu every year: turkey, ham and all the fixings. Last year, we added a new tradition because everyone loved it so much. We all go outside, and the women pick out a geode and then the men take turns cracking it open to reveal the beautiful crystals inside. Each couple ends up with a unique specimen to take home.
Katherine “Kitty” Mecham, owner, Liquidambar Gallery and Gifts

Illustration: Cozy up with your guests and pets by the fire.

Holiday times are the busiest for Pittsboro Youth Theater. So, entertaining has to be simple. [My husband, Craig Witter, and I] don’t have a lot of family in the area. Our celebrations are quite small. We like a fire in the wood stove, our dogs snuggled up by the fire, good wine, simple foods and great conversation.
Tammy Matthews, artistic director/co-founder, Pittsboro Youth Theater

Illustration: Dance around the living room with your guests while playing your favorite holiday music.

There are some things I don’t miss about pre-pandemic life, and one of them is the stress I put on myself during the holidays. For Thanksgiving 2020, I made a chicken and rice casserole and played old Nintendo games – and it was wonderful! Last year, a tiny group of friends joined me in making a traditional spread, but it was a few days after the official holiday. We roasted a chicken instead of a turkey, and when we still didn’t get the timing right, we laughed it off and roasted the parts. Both years were so fun, and more importantly, they were relaxing. This year I will be saying “yes” to all my old traditions: mulled cider, pickle plates, unscented candles, the “Elvis Christmas Album” from 1964 – the best one! I’ll decorate the tree with “The Sound of Music” playing in the background. There might be homemade Irish cream [coffee] or chocolate babka after long hikes on overcast, windless days. But I’ll also be observing “The Sweatpants Rule:” Don’t do anything or spend time with anyone you can’t wear sweatpants for. The holidays are stressful enough. Only those dearest to us know what our coziest pants and slippers look like, and those folks will be my companions this holiday season.
Jody Cedzidlo, screenprinter/designer, Flytrap Clothing

We don’t like traditional Thanksgiving food, so we try to do a different type of food every year. Last year, we did a seafood boil. This year, we might do Italian food or African food – something just to mix it up. Then for Christmas, we try to include our puppies. We give them stockings, and we wrap their gifts.
Ja’dah Spradley, exercise physiologist/personal trainer, Duke Center for Living at Fearrington

Illustration: Consider serving guests something less traditional, like a seafood boil!

Holidays are the best time for us to get together with extended family. Everyone brings their favorite holiday dish to share, and we indulge in a good home-cooked feast. Accepting help from others to take part in the cleanup is an added bonus, but my top tip for entertaining is to break out into teams and play a game – [flag] football on the yard outside or a board game of your choosing. Either way, you won’t be disappointed in the results which are sure to bring out love, laughs and lasting memories.
Antonio McBroom, franchise developer, Ben & Jerry’s

Illustration: A nice bottle of wine is sure to please your guests.

Involve the kids (or family members) in the planning or decorating. I have three young kids, so I gave up on creating that perfect elegant holiday years ago. However, just because some of us are not living that Instagram life right now does not mean you can’t create a beautiful holiday experience. One year, my kids decorated small wooden ornaments for each of our guests, and not only were the guests pleased with their gifts, it also added that special touch to the tablescape. Another year, our dining centerpiece display consisted of the three gingerbread houses that my kids built. It ended up being an adorable handcrafted display and was fun for guests to guess who made each one. Outsourcing some of the work of the holidays not only takes some of the pressure off of the host, it also gives the kids ownership in the big day, but not in a “spreading tinsel across the living room” kind of way. Even if you do not have children, you can still enlist help from your guests. Another idea would be to have guests bring an old photo to display on the dining table. It sparks conversation and nostalgia of past memories of family traditions and members and makes for a fun, eclectic tablescape that brings everyone together.
Tracy Kalman Jordan, fabric/interior designer, TraceCraft

Illustration: Play games with your guests, or complete a puzzle!

Don’t forget to have fun! It’s easy to get caught up in making everything perfect for your guests, but joy is an essential for the holiday season. In our family, we like to play games. There are some great games out there that can keep a wide range of ages entertained. You don’t want to pick something that will have the adults bored or the kids feeling left out. You want to see smiles on everyone’s faces. Puzzling is also popular in Chatham County. Cobble Hill makes family puzzles with different piece sizes, so that kids and adults can participate. [Another idea is] the slingshots from Mischief Maker – they come with soft foam balls, so no one will get hurt. Whatever will allow your guests to bond and laugh will be what they remember 20 years from now. No one thinks about a perfect table setting decades later. Feel free to relax and enjoy yourself.
Samantha Birchard, owner, Pittsboro Toys

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Anna-Rhesa Versola

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