Celebrating Christmas with friends or family can present a whole slew of challenges. While Christmas is certainly one of the most magical times of the year, it’s also one of the busiest.
Finding the time and energy to host Christmas gatherings with friends can feel completely impossible sometimes, but in this article, Sue Donaldson reminds us just how important it is to show hospitality at Christmas time. Fortunately, her 5 simple party ideas will help you make room for your guests this year without the added overwhelm.
We all know that the holidays approach at warp speed once fall arrives. When we’ve only just returned the autumn décor to the attic after stashing the leftover candy corn in the deep freeze (for necessary late-night snacking), the idea of planning Christmas gatherings seems overwhelming and too much to even contemplate. You vaguely recall that last year you determined that this year would be different. After all, 2020 offered a good excuse not to host anything since we weren’t allowed to gather during the shutdown. Yet even before the pandemic, you knew you wanted to add ‘doing hospitality with flair and ease’ to your skill-set. So what better time than Christmas to make room around the table and celebrate the coming of the Christ-child into our hearts and homes?
The problem is this: We like the idea of celebrating the holidays with friends and family, but with so many other December activities already built-in and a to-do list longer than Santa’s in July, we wonder if it’s really a good idea to add something more to our month of days. We’ve been dreaming of a ‘simple Christmas’ after all, and does that dream really include party-planning on top of everything else? Shouldn’t we just leave it for another year—or for another host—to offer the invitation?
My heart knows this struggle all too well. The true meaning of Christmas can get buried under wrapping, buying, baking, and gift-giving.
When I take the time to consider that God loved the world so much He gave His Son, I want to make sure I don’t forget the reason why I’m doing all this extra work in the first place. I’ve learned through the years that gathering friends—even strangers—into my home may be the very best gift I can give to the baby Jesus as we celebrate His birthday. A friend drinking Christmas tea at my table or standing alongside in my kitchen decorating Christmas cookies may come to understand for the very first time that God sent His Son for her—that she is loved, welcomed, and accepted by God—not only at the most wonderful time of the year, but all year long and all her life long. So, I truly want to make room for guests in my busy schedule, but how best to go about it?
Although it can feel like a stretch, there are advantages to doing hospitality at the holidays. The house is already decorated—children’s glitter crafts count as decorations—and the tree takes up most of the space so no one expects expensive or perfect. And, if our cooking or creativity doesn’t match up with Pinterest and our budget won’t accommodate catering, we can take heart from Paul’s word to Philemon: “Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people” (Philemon 1:7, NLT).
People need their hearts ‘refreshed’. They are looking for love, perhaps even more so at Christmas if Hallmark movies are any indication, and a simple invitation to a party can be the best way to provide joy and show kindness.
I’m convinced that hosting at the holidays can be the most significant use of our time, money, and energy during this busiest of all months. People are more lonely at Christmas than any other time. Some kids you know, or that your kids know, need the warmth and normalcy of your home. Some adults, as well. An invitation may be the perfect gift to give to someone who may have felt a little forgotten last year, but won’t feel that way again this year.
Planning a simple holiday party creates memories for our families and for our guests, and it may be the most important thing on your To-Do List, even if it means taking something off to make room for it. After all, the first Christmas was all about ‘making room’. An innkeeper blessed a travel-worn couple by offering what he had. A humble stable equaled simple hospitality and the world has never been the same. Making room in your schedule for a holiday gathering will bless you, your kids, your guests and, from my experience, I know that you will never be the same, all for Heaven’s sake.
FIVE CHRISTMAS GATHERINGS
Here are five simple Christmas party ideas, plus five recipes named after friends who first shared them with me. Choose one—not all five—and experience the joy that comes from inviting, gathering, and making room for what’s most important: Extending the love and welcome of God, our Savior.
1. NEIGHBORHOOD BRUNCH
Plan a neighborhood Christmas coffee or brunch on the first or second Saturday of December. Make it early so guests feel like they can still use the bulk of the day to tackle their own holiday preparations. I email my whole neighborhood to brunch at 9 a.m., ask them to bring their own coffee mug, and call it: “The Non-Stress Christmas Power Breakfast to Give Us Strength For All The Things.” If someone asks, “What can I bring?” reply with, “Whatever you like!” I make one overnight egg bake, one coffee cake, provide coffee and tea—and neighbors fill in the rest.
The last few years, I included this addition to the invitation: “Since Christmas is about a baby and all about giving, feel free to bring an unwrapped baby gift. All will be donated to the Tree of Life Pregnancy Center.” Once seated with food on our laps, each woman shares a little about her family, a Christmas tradition, or a tip to make the holidays stress-free. One year, I made “Stress-Relief” favor bags filled with chocolate kisses, mini-aspirin packets, and a slip of paper that read: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:11,14, NKJV).
You may only see some neighbors once a year, but often new friendships are cultivated and different generations come together over a cup of coffee and a piece of coffee cake.
Lorie’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1 Yellow Cake Mix
1 Cup Sour Cream
½ Cup Oil
⅔ Cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
1 T. Butter or Margarine, melted
1 Cup Chopped Nuts
1. Beat cake ingredients for 5 minutes.
2. Fill bundt pan with half of the mixture, then add the filling, followed by the remaining batter. Use knife to swirl.
3. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.
4. Cool for 10 minutes then turn upside down on a flat plate.
2. CHOCOLATE OPEN HOUSE
Send an evite or group text that states: “You are invited to the one and only Chocolate Open House! Bring something chocolate to share.” This is a fun event in which to include people who are acquaintances, like work colleagues and their families.
We invited 100 and 50 came, and since it was an Open House, they all weren’t there at the same time. I provided coffee, Christmas punch, water, a few chocolate baked goods, and name tags. A friend helped me furnish an extra table full of non-chocolate items like sweet and sour meatballs in a slow-cooker and veggie plates. Some new friends brought chocolate candy bars and said, “We came just to see all the chocolate!” Neighbors got a tour of the house who had never been over. And my two-month-old daughter slept in a cradle in the midst of the living room. People would bump into her and exclaim, “Oh, a real live baby!” (I thought it appropriate since we were celebrating Jesus born as a baby.)
This was not a church gathering. Just a group of people we knew from different areas of our life: the gym, our kids’ friends, work, the neighborhood, and some from our Bible Study. I asked one friend to bring her famous homemade chocolate cake and I placed a sign in front of it: “Jesus’ Birthday Cake—Chocolate is His favorite” and figured the message would get through.
DeDe’s Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake
2 Cups Sugar
1 ¾ Cups Flour
¾ Cup Cocoa
1 ½ t. Baking Soda
1 ½ t. Baking Powder
1 t. Salt
½ Cup oil
1 Cup milk
2 t. Vanilla
1 Cup Boiling Water
1. Combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
2. Add eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla, and beat for 2 minutes.
3. Stir in 1 cup boiling water (batter will be runny).
4. Bake in 9×13 pan for 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.
5. Cool and frost with chocolate frosting.
3. EARLY SUPPER OR LATE DESSERT (SURROUNDING A SEASONAL EVENT)
When your church or city holds a Christmas pageant or chorale concert, use that event to build your gathering around. One year, we planned to attend our church Christmas concert anyway, so we invited our daughter’s first grade teacher and her husband to come to a quick supper beforehand. Since we didn’t know them well, it felt a little awkward at the beginning, but my daughter was delighted and kept the conversation going. I loved the memory we have now of looking down the church pew and glimpsing Bonnie’s hand in the hand of her loving teacher as they watched and heard the Christmas story.
This party idea is especially good because the main activity isn’t something you have to plan or carry out. You decide if before or after a special event works best for your family, and invite someone or a family or two who may not have attended the living Christmas tree or churchwide choral celebration. And you only have to provide a casserole at the beginning or hot chocolate and Christmas cookies at the end of the evening.
Trishie’s Sopa Fideo
1 lb. Hamburger
12 oz. Fideo Noodles or Thin Spaghetti
2 T. Oil
1 Onion, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
2 Stalks Celery, diced
1 15 oz. Can Tomatoes, undrained
1 Can Whole Kernel Corn with Partial Liquid
1 T. Salt
1 t. Pepper
1 ½ t Chili Powder
1 ½ Cups to 2 Cups Boiling Water
1 ½ Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1. If Fideo pasta isn’t available, break raw spaghetti into small pieces. (I use a hammer while it’s still in the package.)
2. Brown pasta in oil then remove from pan.
3. Brown beef and drain.
4. Return pasta to skillet and add remaining ingredients except the cheese.
5. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until pasta is tender.
6. Sprinkle cheese on top and add lid to melt.
4. BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR JESUS
One December I prayed every day, “What do You want for Your birthday, dear Jesus?” And the week before His big day, a friend who had been praying alongside me suggested, “I think you need to give a birthday party for Jesus and invite everyone in Bonnie’s kindergarten class, and I’ll help!” (When someone gives you an idea and it’s a week before Christmas, it’s always good when they offer to help!)
Eleven girls came to our first “Jesus Birthday Party” and we went on to host 14 more in the years following. Each year, at least two or three other moms offered to help which made it much easier and made us friends. Not every party was the same—we caroled around the neighborhood some years, and other years hosted parties back-to-back with different-aged kids. But these three things contributed to its success: a simple craft, a cake or cupcakes, and a Christmas story read aloud. Some years even included glitter which is always a challenge—but fun! I’m craft-challenged, so a friend who loves crafts led that part, and we split the cost of supplies. A simple example for younger kids was an 8×10 sheet of plain paper with the outline of a snowman and the words across the top: “God Loves You Snow Much.” The kids glued cotton balls to fill out the snowman and colored in the background, and we made sure we had marshmallows for the hot cocoa when it was time to eat cupcakes and sing a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday, dear Jesus” before blowing out the candles.
Each child brought an unwrapped baby gift in honor of the Christ-child, and the next day, after all the glitter was finally unstuck and vacuumed, I took our girls with me to the pregnancy center to drop off the piles of gifts to bless a new mama. When they got a little too old to invite their friends, we began including younger kids and our girls read the story and helped with the glue and the glitter. A memorable and meaningful tradition began long ago, and carried on for the sake of our own family and the families of many other children, through the years.
Mitzi’s Chocolate Chip Yellow Cake
1 Yellow Cake Mix
1 Package (3.4 oz.) Instant Vanilla Pudding
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips
5 T. Grated German sweet Chocolate, divided
2 T. Powdered Sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine cake and pudding mixes, milk, oil, and eggs.
3. Beat on low speed until moistened.
4. Beat on medium for 2 minutes.
5. Stir in chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons grated chocolate.
6. Pour into floured/greased tube pan or a 9×13 cake pan.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
8. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
9. Combine confectioners sugar and remaining grated chocolate; sprinkle over cake.
5. CHRISTMAS EVE SOUP AND BREAD POTLUCK
Because of my husband’s job, we rarely traveled during the holidays. I wanted our three girls to celebrate the season with more people, even if they weren’t relatives, so we began our Christmas Eve Soup and Bread Potluck. Similar to #3 above, we used an event already in place: Our church Christmas Eve Service which promised to be short and sweet and started around 6 p.m. Each year we invite anyone we meet who doesn’t have plans or also doesn’t have family in the area to come for soup and bread after the service. If your service is later, you can host beforehand. Of course, some people go to their own church service or none at all, but the invitation for soup is for all, no matter their tradition or faith.
To make sure there’s enough, I usually make three soups that I keep warm in crock pots during the service, and buy rolls that I can always freeze if we get more bread than we can manage. I tend to gather used crock pots from thrift stores which I keep in the garage when not in use. What makes it simple is that the same two or three families come every year so I can always count on their soups or desserts, or any extra dishware or paper goods needed.
Friends of friends are always included, and all ages as well. The holidays can be a lonely time, especially for single people. When the invitation is offered, it can fill a soul with love and comfort besides some delicious soups. Our girls’ fifth grade teacher comes every year and brings her famous homemade rolls and catches up with her former students. I invited a man named Doug who lived in his car at the time I met him. He insisted on bringing cheese and crackers. After that first Christmas, he joined our church choir, found an apartment, and returned to our home every year on the 24th with his cheese and crackers after he sang with our choir at the service.
Some years we’ve had 25 guests and some years we’ve had 50. The best part about it is that we don’t have to be fancy. There’s always enough food. And I can’t help but think the angels are rejoicing when we gather together, usually standing room only, and I hold up a birthday cake—chocolate, of course—for the Guest of Honor as we sing “Happy Birthday to the King of Kings.”
Jamie’s Chicken Corn Chowder
4 Strips of Bacon
½ Diced Onion
2 Cups Cubed, Peeled Potatoes
2 Cups Diced Cooked Chicken
1 8 oz. Can Corn
1 8 oz. Can Cream Corn
2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 Cup Half and Half
Pepper and Parsley for garnish
1. Fry bacon until crisp.
2. Drain, cool, and crumble.
3. Saute onion in bacon drippings until tender (8 min.).
4. In Dutch oven or large pot, combine bacon, onions, potatoes, broth, and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender—about 15 min.
6. Add chicken, corn, creamed corn, and cream.
7. Heat thoroughly.
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