Before celebrating the real deal on 25th December, some of us choose to throw an alternative Christmas party. Whether you’re hosting a festive student supper, Christmas party for friends or an intimate ‘dinner a deux’, we have tips for making it as special as the big day itself.
For those of us who live away from home, Christmas is all about train journeys to see loved ones then the hubbub of family, gargantuan piles of food and the promise of opportune slouching on arrival. But December is also a month of non-stop jubilance and running through the month like a golden thread is the option of hosting and attending numerous, less-traditional parties. The idea of a ‘fake’ Christmas dinner for adopted family members is one we’re fully on board with – after all, this is the season of excess. Read our ideas for an ersatz extravaganza and spread the love beyond the family dining table…
Ideas for ‘fake’ Christmas…
First, get the drinks situation in hand…
This year, we’re all about Prosecco – it’s reasonably-priced but still special, the right side of dry and easily available. Encourage everyone to bring a bottle, then let people loose on building their own drinks by setting up a DIY cocktail bar. Our 10 snappy cocktail ideas just need a Cointreau splash here and a raspberry garnish there, keeping things simple and tidy. If you don’t want to spend money on lots of liqueurs, opt for cordials, fruits and herbs instead.
Since buying Christmas presents is still the top of the agenda for most people, keeping costs down will be welcomed with open arms. 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 by scouring for supermarket deals on turkey, or better still hit a local butcher who should have more options, plus a good selection of cheaper meat cuts like pork shoulder - ideal for making into pulled pork - lamb shoulder, beef brisket or one of our other alternative centrepieces.
If you really can’t embrace a turkey-less Christmas roast, go for a smaller bird and bulk out your spread with meaty stuffing – these recipes can be made into chunky loaves to serve 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 – flash blanch them to quickly defrost before using in one of our delicious serving ideas.
Be resourceful by emptying cupboards and using up odds and ends of leftover storecupboard goods. You’re bound to find stock cubes and flour for homemade gravy, icing sugar for quick snowy finishes and dried fruit which can be added to pretty much anything at Christmas.
Take the pressure off
Bring-a-dish parties are one way of remaining a cool and collected host. Assign roles to the group – a shared Excel spreadsheet will help with this – by asking each person to bring either a side, dessert, starter or snack, giving enough freedom for people to ad lib and go their own way.
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 version of 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 the drooling masses flocking. Serve with après-ski style boozy hot chocolate.
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 options for cold serving than lamb or pulled pork, which are better reheated. If you have a slow cooker, be sure to dust it off for an overnight session. Recipes like slow-cooked Irish stew, barbecue ribs and Brazilian feijoada were made for entertaining.
The season of giving…
If you really want to make your friends feel loved, whip up some super-quick gifts. These ridiculously easy sweets require scant preparation besides melting chocolate:
Add an element of pot-luck by encouraging everyone to bring a homemade Secret Santa present. You'll find hundreds of simple recipe ideas in our edible gifts section …
Rather than make a whole three-course meal, opt for lots of small canapés but pick up wise ingredients to save you the hassle of tricky assembly and arduous cooking. Flour wraps can be utilised to great effect – just spread them with cheese and your favoured 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 for 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 right in season, and choices like guinea fowl and pheasant are the perfect size for serving two people. If you really want to make a day of it, serve a brunch and selection of snacks to dip into too – our complete Christmas menu for two will offer inspiration.
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.