The holiday party season is upon us and along with tidings of comfort and joy comes thestress of planning the perfect holiday party. Whether you are hosting a gathering for the kids, the adults, the office or the whole community, planning is the best way to avoid a panic. So plan, plan, plan your way into your best holiday parties possible.

Keep those little hands busy…

Christmas for many is really about children and though there is a lot of talk at the moment about the evils of sugar, the holidays are all about indulgence and only happen once a year. If you are having a party for your child and their friends in your home, why not have a cookie-baking party? There is nothing kids like more than personalizing things for themselves and letting the creative energy flow so why not whip up a batch of ginger bread? Get the cookie cutter out and let the kids decorate their own gingerbread men. Even little hands can squeeze icing out of a pastry bag so that the kids can make their own designs. Outside of gingerbread and frosting, having things like raisins, candies and candied fruit provide plenty of room for their creativity.

Shortbread and sugar cookies are also fun for the little ones to decorate. Just roll, cookie-cut and lay the shapes out for the little ones to decorate with red and green sprinkles, holiday coloured M&Ms, Smarties or white icing coloured with food colouring.

Kids can decorate their own Santas, Christmas trees and just about anything else you can find a cookie cutter for.

For kid-friendly gingerbread recipes go to:

For more cookie ideas:

Of course, if the idea of actual cooking is out of reach due to other activities going on in the house and or classroom, then try this no-bake holiday confection idea: do-it-yourself trees. All you need is a package of ice cream sugar cones, regular vanilla icing tinted green with food colouring and candies for decorations. Show the kids how to spread the green icing all over the cone with either their fingers or a Popsicle stick and provide bowls of holiday themed candy to add for decorations on the cones. Though this may be a messier (and stickier) activity it’s an ideal thing to set up for a large community party and have it manned by a helpful local teenager.

Once the little ones are sugared up, its time to get them to burn it off. Organized games are the best thing possible. If it’s warm enough, take them outside for a snowman-making contest, whoever’s Frosty is the most Christmas-y wins.

Indoor games can be just as much fun, too. How about pin the nose on Rudolph? All you need is a cut-out of a reindeer and red circular stickers for a nose. Another simple one is to hide some more durable ornaments around the house before the kids arrive. Divide the kids up into little teams and have them search for the ornaments, whichever team gets the most gets a prize.

There are so many different games and fun ideas for kids’ parties out there that the sky is the limit. For more suggestions go to:

Office parties… things to keep in mind

If you are responsible for planning the office Christmas party, you’d better get a move on if you haven’t yet started. The larger the event, the more planning involved.

The first thing to consider is what you and your co-workers want and where to do it. If you are at a loss for ideas, however, start asking around. Don’t let yourself become frustrated by having to make all of the big decisions – ask your co-workers whatthey would like. Would they rather go to a restaurant or pick a rented location and haveit catered? Quiz your co-workers on what they want and go with the consensus. Keep in mind however that you can’t please everyone.

With a location selected the next thing to consider is the invitations. The invitationsshould be holiday themed and most importantly all should go out at the same time as nobody likes being a second-thought invitee.

If a sit-down meal is going to be the central focus of the party, try and keep the mealplanning varied as not everyone likes the same thing. If it’s within the office budget, try to ensure at least two choices, chicken or beef, or perhaps something more traditional. If you are having something catered however, let everyone pick and choose by laying out a buffet. People like to graze and laying out things like a veggie platter, devilled eggs, mini spring rolls, chicken wings and acracker and cheese platter are the perfect warm-up to a wonderful party.

If the office is the only option for your holiday event, merry making can still be madeeasy with careful planning even if your event is being held in the lunchroom. Call your local grocer and find out if they make party platters to go and if not try a restaurant.

Anything that you can order pre-made and either have picked up or delivered always cutsdown on stress as who wants to be up the whole night before cutting up vegetables and rolling up cold cuts?
Also, if you are responsible for the beverages, try to ensure that there are just as many things to appeal to drinkers and nondrinkers alike. Eggnog is a great choice but if you are making it from scratch, keep the booze on the side so that guests have the option. The same stands for holiday punch. Not everyone likes the same kind of holiday cheer so giving your co-workers options is the most responsible thing to do.

Knowing when to draw the line when it comes to drinking at the office party is one point that can not be stressed enough. It can be awkward when the whole company comes together, as not everyone has a great rapport with Mary in accounting or Annie in sales, but getting drunk is only a temporary solution and can be detrimental. Keep in mind that you might not be the only one experiencing a little social anxiety, one or two drinks might loosen you up but five or six may loosen you up too much. If you find yourself tempted to photocopy a body part to show the boss, you know you’ve had enough and it’s time to find a lift home!Holiday gatherings at home and in the community

The holidays are all about getting together, not just on Christmas Eve or Day, but in the weeks leading up to the big event. If you are throwing a party to celebrate the season, try to look at it as a who, what, when, where, why and how type of affair.

Who: Once you’ve decided on a guest list, send out all of your invitations at once as nobody likes to be an afterthought. Don’t be afraid to be specific on your invitations either, if you want guests to bring a guest, specify it, if not specify that also. Christmas parties usually involve a lot of food but it’s much easier for the host if they know exactly how many are coming.

What: Let your guests know if they should bring something. Sure it’s great to have 30 guests over for a gathering but if you are one person trying to prepare a holiday meal or appetizers for a large crowd, do not be afraid to ask for help. Tell your guests if you want them to bring their own alcohol. Get one guest to bring chips, another assorted cheeses, get another to bring home made sweets and so on. As gift exchanges are part of the seasonal activities, you could also get each guest to bring a gift under $5 or $10 and pick names out of a hat for an exchange.

When: It’s always a pain if you plan an elaborate gathering only to find out that your neighbours are having one the exact same night. Try and fish around to find out when your friends and community are planning their events so that there is no overlap.

Where: Just because you want to get everyone together for the holidays does not necessarily mean that you have to try and squeeze them all into your house at once. A skating party is a great way to get the whole crowd together and doing something active.

If you are musical or even if you are not, Christmas carols are part of the Christmas experience and carolling throughout the neighbourhood is an activity that can bring so much joy to the whole community. Afterwards the gang can enjoy hot chocolate together to warm up.

A house-to-house party is another way for folks to come together and share but at the same time cuts down on clean up and stress. With a house-to-house party, guests start out at one home for one course of a meal and then migrate on to the next participating family’s home for the next course. This way no one particular person has to go through the expense or effort of planning a huge meal and everyone gets the opportunity to show off their holiday decorating and also share what is meaningful about the holiday to them. Of course, the best way to do this is if you live in close proximity to your friends so that not a lot of driving is involved.

For more info on house-to-house parties:

Why: We get together because it’s Christmas, but what does Christmas mean to you? As Christmas is the kind of holiday that means different things to different people, why not express that. Get the whole group in one room and have everyone sit in a circle. One at a time, everyone can share their favourite Christmas memory and also take the time to tell everyone why they are happy to have everyone together. It’s a great way to get everyone to share something personal.

How: How do you have the perfect Christmas party? You plan it very carefully. If you are hosting a holiday party, let your guest know if it’s a casual or formal affair. If you want to do something different this year, plan a Christmas theme party. How about a red and green party where guests have to wear at least one of the season’s colours to get in? As Santa hats are easy to come by these days, why not have everyone wear one to your party? Of course, if you really want to go crazy, you could even plan a Christmas in Hawaii party with festive leis and lots of pineapple-themed foods. Feeling nostalgic? What about a 1950s theme holiday party? Encourage folks to sport something vintage and limit the holiday tunes to the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee and Judy Garland. The rule of thumb is, nothing can be played that was made after 1960.

Whatever you are planning, happy holidays and good luck!