We turned an Iowa barn into a gathering place for old-fashioned merriment— complete with a 10-foot fir tree as the guest of honor. Keep the party simple with our entertaining tips and decorating tricks; the barn is optional.
A little planning will make your party seem effortless. Before your guests arrive, set up the tree and string the lights. Take ornaments out of storage and place them in baskets so guests can hang them easily. Create a buffet with stay-fresh foods that won't make fingers messy: snack mixes, nuts, fruits and veggies, peanut butter for dipping, Christmas cookies and chips and salsa.
Cut dove shapes out of white paper; when guests arrive, ask them to write peace wishes on them and hang their doves on the tree.
Music sets the party mood. Have each person bring a favorite holiday CD for a variety of festive tunes. Or find out guests' favorite seasonal songs in advance and create a playlist that caters to everyone— including the kids.
For an eye-catching tabletop, try our garden hook idea. Place iron shepherd's hooks inside sturdy, tall glass vases. Weight the vases with sand, and fill them with dried Spanish moss and wood fibers (available at crafts supply stores). Hang large ball ornaments, cutout snowflakes or tin lanterns on the hooks.
Set up an adult beverage bar (we used an antique wood washing machine as a serving piece) and offer bottles of wine, beer and soda. Accent the area with greens. For kids, create a hot chocolate station with marshmallows, peppermint sticks and sprinkles.
Design a wreath with handmade ornaments, such as these 3-D paper stars. We made the stars with a pattern from a crafts supply store and pretty papers.
Keep kids busy during the party by creating their own crafting (and snacking) area. Pick a playful theme, such as barnyard animals, and prepare coordinating activities and refreshments. Spread brown paper on a table for coloring. Provide supplies for making ornaments, and let kids decorate their own miniature tree. To add easy decor (that doubles as a sweet treat), fill glass cookie jars with red-and-white peppermint sticks, licorice and hard candies. Don't forget a plate of Christmas cookies!
Minneapolis artist Roger Sisson, who specializes in repurposing materials and making Christmas ornaments, suggests searching crafts stores for shapes that would make whimsical ornaments. Animal-shaped cookie cutters, for example, can be used for barn animal ornaments. Trace them onto fabric or felt, and cut pieces to glue together. Or find similar wood shapes and paint on colors. Glue yarn or twine to the backs.
Your guests will love these garden gift pots. To make them, fill peat pots with natural wood fibers, three or four flower bulbs and seed packets. Add a mini ornament for color. Punch two small holes in front, and tie a bow with yarn. Place them on a tray for guests to take as they leave.
(Originally published in Midwest Living® November/December 2007)