Holiday cocktail parties are simple.
Invite friends. Decorate the house. Set out food and drink.
The problem with simple parties, however, is that they're simply forgotten.
This year, plan your holiday party with a theme and let it play out. Announce what you're up to with your invitation and your guests will feel connected to the group and the spirit of the season.
— By John Tanasychuk, staff writer
Nostalgic Christmas Guests should wear holiday sweaters, holiday vests, holiday you-name-it. Ask each guest to bring a holiday photograph from childhood. Using two-sided tape, create a gallery and then match the photos with the guests. The one who gets the most correct answers wins a door prize.
Nothing says Christmas like the scent of mulled wine. Williams-Sonoma mulling spices ($10, 6 ounces) make it foolproof. Serve hot in mugs garnished with a cinnamon stick or chill and serve over ice as a cooler.
Costco specializes in traditional (some would say retro) prepared and frozen food. Shrimp with cocktail sauce is $9.99 for 16 ounces. A 112-ounce platter of turkey-and-Swiss rolled sandwiches is $27.99. Just transfer them from their plastic containers. In the freezer section, check out the Nantucket Supreme Bacon Wrapped Scallops, $17.39 for 30 pieces.
Search for the holiday songs of your childhood — your parents' albums. Think Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. Or what about Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass Christmas Album?
Vintage games — Operation, Candy Land, Sorry — wrapped in ribbon will set the nostalgic mood. Set them on your buffet table. For a centerpiece: Fill a few tall clear vases with candy canes. At the end of the party, pass them out as party favors.
Green Party Being green is all about reuse. Ask guests to bring metal cookie cutters (Williams-Sonoma has $8 copper angels, gingerbread people and trees). Hang them on the tree. Make cookies. Let guests take cutters home. Walk the green walk by replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
Organic and nitrite-free wine (Stellar Organics cabernet sauvignon, $9.99 and Frey Vineyards chardonnay, $13.99, from Whole Foods). Bring out your dishes, glassware and cloth napkins. No plastic cups, napkins or plates, please.
Try to use locally grown produce to support local farmers and businesses and reduce fossil fuels transporting food from far places. Some great appetizers from Whole Foods: Deep Sea salt and rosemary crostini ($1.99 for 6 ounces), Cedars roasted red pepper hummus ($5.49, 16 ounces) and a holiday Brie stuffed with caramel and walnuts ($14.99 per pound).
A Very Green Christmas features new age arrangements of traditional carols. Consider also A Winter's Solstice featuring Windham Hill artists or Enya's five-track The Christmas EP, on which she sings Silent Night in Gaelic.
Use native pine cones, coconuts and fruit in your centerpiece. Topiary-style fresh rosemary plants not only smell good but can also be reused in the kitchen. Buy a real Christmas tree because those fakes are petroleum-based. Just be sure to recycle and decorate using lights made with light-emitting diodes. LEDs are 90 percent more efficient than traditional lights.
Hanukkah Holiday Insist your guests wear blue and white, the colors of the flag of Israel and the unofficial colors of the holiday.
Stock your fridge with a selection of beer from He'brew The Chosen Beer ($8.99 a six-pack at Whole Foods). You might also consider bright blue cocktails. Go to drinkalizer.com, search cocktails by color and you'll find 38 blue cocktails with names like Smurf and Blue Elephant.
There's no such thing as a good store-bought potato pancake, traditional Hanukkah fare. Use your bubbe's recipe and face the fact that you'll spend the beginning of your party making latkes. Likewise, Hanukkah Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are best served hot out of the pan. Go to marthastewart.com for a good recipe. For dessert, serve dreidel-shaped sugar cookies. You can get them at most grocery stores.
Hanukkah music has moved way beyond Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. Consider The Klezmatics: Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah orHanukkah Swings by Kenny Ellis. If you're putting together your own playlist, include Hanukkah Blessings from Barenaked Ladies and Adam Sandler's hilarious Hanukkah Song.
Along with your menorah, celebrate the Festival of Lights with lots of candles — battery-operated are safest. We found some that actually flicker ($20 to $40) at Project Earth Design (901 NE 20th Ave. Fort Lauderdale). Use white table cloths and fill glass bowls with blue glass ornaments. Scatter foil-wrapped chocolate gelt on tabletops.
Tropical Shindig Let it snow elsewhere. Embrace the tropics by asking guests to wear Hawaiian print shirts, animal print and anything Lilly Pulitzer.
Brewed-in-Florida beers include Native Lager and Hurricane Reef. Pour Cruz Garcia Real Sangria over ice or serve carambola, mango or guava fruit wines from local Schnebly Redland's Winery.
Nothing says tropical like Cuban pastelitos, empanadas and tamales. Find them at your neighborhood Cuban bakery. Pick up sweet plantains at Publix or even Pollo Tropical. For a Jamaican feel, look for cocktail-sized patties filled with chicken or beef at Jamaican bakeries.
You'll need Jimmy Buffett's Christmas Island and Feliz Navidad Christmas in Cuba from the late queen of salsa, Celia Cruz. We also like any Christmas tune played on steel drums.
Head to The Tropical Room at A Christmas Place (800 NE 13th St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-763-1403, achristmasplace.com) for strings of lights featuring palm trees, flamingos or tropical fish ($10). Target has pretty, festive palm tree ornaments ($3.99).