For those of us who live away from home, Christmas is often about train journeys, the hubbub of family, huge piles of food and the promise of relaxing on arrival. But if you can't travel to family this year – or just want to host an alternative gathering – there are other ways to celebrate.
The idea of a ‘fake’ Christmas dinner or festive party for adopted family members is one we’re fully on board with, as it gives you the opportunity to spread the love beyond the family dining table. Here are our top tips for an early or late Christmas get-together.
Prosecco is a safe bet for as a Christmas tipple – it’s reasonably priced but still special, the right side of dry and easily available. Encourage everyone to bring a bottle, then let people make their own drinks with a DIY cocktail bar.
Find more inspiration with our 26 Christmas cocktails & mocktails.
Budget ideas for Christmas
Since buying Christmas presents is still top of the agenda for most, keeping costs down can be key. Encourage a collaborative element with everyone throwing in an equal amount of money, then use the total to pay for a carefully planned menu.
If you’re going down a traditional route, the bird will be the most expensive component. Shop around for supermarket deals on turkey, or visit a local butcher – they'll have more options, plus a good selection of cheaper meat cuts like pork shoulder (ideal for making pulled pork), lamb shoulder, beef brisket or an alternative centrepiece.
If you really can’t embrace a turkey-less Christmas, choose a smaller bird and bulk out your spread with meaty stuffing. These recipes can be made into chunky loaves and served in satisfyingly thick slices.
Head to the frozen aisle for broccoli, carrots, sprouts and peas, but don’t fall into the trap of overcooking them to an unpalatable mush. Blanche them to quickly defrost, then use in one of our delicious recipes.
Be resourceful by using up odds and ends of leftover storecupboard ingredients. You’re bound to find stock cubes and flour for homemade gravy, icing sugar for dusting over desserts and dried fruit, which can be added to pretty much anything at Christmas.
Bring-a-dish parties are one way of remaining a cool and collected host. Assign roles to the group – a shared Excel spreadsheet can help with this – and ask each person to bring a side, dessert, starter or snack. Give everyone enough freedom to ad lib and go their own way.
Try choosing a theme
If you prefer to keep things streamlined, choose a theme. The food scene is ablaze with all things Scandinavian, so think home-cured salmon, quick meatballs, rye bread toasts and glögg – a mulled wine with added almonds and currants.
American-style feasts are a safe bet when catering for a crowd – who doesn’t love macaroni cheese? Team it with a Christmas ham, winter slaw, eggnog and pumpkin strudel. We’d never turn our nose up at a 70s-style fondue party either – this baked pumpkin with oozing cheese will bring things up to date and have the drooling masses flocking. Serve with après ski-style boozy hot chocolate.
How to plan ahead for a party
If you have constraints in terms of general floor space, oven capacity or time, take the pressure off by selecting dishes that can be cooked the night before and served cold or quickly heated in the oven. Meats like ham and turkey are better for serving cold than lamb or pulled pork, for example, which are better reheated. If you have a slow cooker, dust it off for an overnight session. Recipes like slow-cooked Irish stew, barbecue ribs and Brazilian feijoada were made for entertaining.
Edible Christmas gifts
If you really want to make your friends feel loved, whip up some super-quick gifts. These ridiculously easy sweets require little preparation besides melting chocolate.
Add a potluck element by encouraging everyone to bring a homemade secret Santa present. You'll find hundreds of simple recipe ideas in our edible gifts section.
Quick and simple canapés
Rather than make a whole three-course meal, opt for lots of small canapés – choose clever ingredients to save on tricky assembly and arduous cooking. Flour wraps can be utilised to great effect – just spread them with cheese and your a topping, then roll into spirals or rotollos.
Ready-made Yorkshire puddings are great for quickly filling with pastrami and horseradish, while crackers and rye bread make instant toasts. If you don’t have time to hit the shops, our storecupboard canapé ideas use up everyday ingredients – remember, ready-made pastry rolls and cases are your friends.
Christmas for two
If you’re throwing a pre-Christmas dinner for a partner before you part ways later in the month, push the boat out by throwing a three-course feast. Game birds are in season, and choices such as guinea fowl and pheasant are the perfect size to serve two. If you really want to make a day of it, serve brunch and selection of snacks too – our complete Christmas menu for two will offer inspiration.
Try these guides for more advice on Christmas parties
Do you throw a 'fake' Christmas party for friends? How do you like to celebrate? If you need more inspiration, visit our expansive Christmas kitchen.