Over the coming weeks, food-lovers everywhere will be hosting parties to celebrate the festive season. Whether you are planning an intimate dinner party for a few friends, or a much bigger celebration, there is much you can do to make your party memorable. Rachel Khoo, author of My Little French Kitchen and food writer for The Guardian, is a passionate advocate for simple, fuss-free entertaining. Here is her indispensible guide to throwing the perfect Christmas party, along with a selection of wonderful recipes to delight your guests.
Festive ice breakers help loosen up guests and bring people together
‘Musical chairs’ (without the music). After each course, encourage your guests to swap chairs or places at the table. This way, the conversation remains varied and everyone can mingle with different guests. It’s important to get your guests on their feet, and moving around!
People like to feel useful – delegate tasks so that everyone can be involved in the getting dinner on the table. Guests will feel more comfortable if they’re occupied, especially at the start of the night.
Delegate tasks in advance, too. Invite creative guests to help create the Christmas crackers, or decorations for the table.
Polaroid cameras can add a fun touch and can help to break the ice. Depending on how much space you have in your entertaining area, you could create a Christmas-themed photobooth for larger events.
Set up a cocktail bar and arrange cocktail lessons for your guests. Hands on activities will make everyone feel more at ease.
Get creative with your invite list. If you have friends who have recently moved to your city, extend an invitation to join you for a Christmas celebration.
Creative presentation and serving ideas for food
I love to arrange water jugs with sprigs of mint along the table.
Get creative with flowers: freeze edible flowers in ice cubes to add to cocktails or water, or adorn the table with colourful petals. Christmas hues don’t just need to be green and red. Incorporate all kinds of lovely flowers as part of your decorations.
Keep things informal, and arrange your Christmas fare like a picnic spread. This way guests can serve themselves and it will keep the mood fun and casual.
Share a copy of your menu with guests – whether you write the name of each dish served up on a black board, or print off little cards and display them with each place card.
Serve layered dishes (such as salads or desserts) in small jars for a rustic touch. Tie a little sprig of holly on the lid of the jar for a festive touch.
Serve bread in small baskets lined with a fun tea towel (like they do in restaurants in France).
Inventive place cards
Paint blackboard paint on small squares and write guest names in chalk – easy and reusable (unless your guests take them home!).
Playing cards (you can find some lovely vintage playing cards at markets or second-hand stalls).
Tie a tiny bunch of flowers and attach name cards with twine.
Pick wild flowers or herbs, and place in small vases or jam jars and arrange them along the centre of the table.
I love placing tall candles in old wine bottles when decorating my table at Christmas.
Rather than concentrating on one large centrepiece, keep things simple, and adorn the table with tea lights in an array of jam jars.
I love adding homemade paper snowflakes to the Christmas table. It’s fun to sit down and create decorations with your guests, too.
Mantel décor ideas
Homemade bunting (you can use old wrapping paper or even cut outs from magazines for a quick alternative to fabric).
Decorate the mantelpiece with bits and bobs from your travels – this will also lead to great conversation starters.
Flowers (as gorgeous as they are) can be expensive, especially at Christmas time when prices skyrocket. Try filling large glass vases or bowls with citrus fruit. The bright hues will add a nice touch and keep things simple and chic.
Drape fairy lights along the mantelpiece. Opt for bulbs with a warm and soft glow, as this will tie in nicely with candlelight.
New ways to display seasonal greenery (this could tie in to a centrepiece, mantel or side table décor idea)
Embrace your local flora and greenery, and go for a local theme. Use flowers or bits and bobs from your garden, or ask your local nursery for leftover seasonal plants to combine with flowers.
Make use of your surroundings. Celebrating the Christmas holidays by the sea? Try creating a centrepiece using driftwood.
Don’t go overboard with pine – this tends to create a fair amount of mess. Instead look for greenery with large leaves, or arrange pine cones along the mantelpiece.
I love arranging simple red pepperberries – without adding any greenery. Sometimes simple is best.
Favours and take-home parting gifts
Disposable cameras (remember to hand these to your guests before the party kicks off so that they can capture the evening).
Tiny little plants with herbs such as rosemary or basil. Handy and cute.
Something homemade: lemon curd or jam, or a small batch of cookies.
Hand written copies of a recipe that you prepared that evening.