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Simple Tips for Safe Holiday Entertaining

Simple Tips for Sage Holiday Entertaining
November 9, 2020

The following tips were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com or in her cookbook, One Pan Whole Family.

The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with loved ones, but with the pandemic still lingering on, many of our yearly traditions that include gatherings of large groups of friends and family may not be achievable.

Social distancing and family bubbles will be with us through the beginning of the new year, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t engage with people in smaller circles and virtual environments. We simply have to adjust our holiday plans in ways that allow us to celebrate safely without losing all the fun.

Because coronavirus still makes indoor celebrations a little dicey—and the new CDC Thanksgiving guidelines recommend celebrating indoors only with friends and family who live in your household—you have two safe options for planning your holiday celebration: an outdoor feast or a virtual get together.

Outdoor Celebrations

The CDC labels a small outdoor dinner with friends or family who live close by as a moderate-risk activity, so plan carefully to limit risk for everyone involved. Even though the weather can be a bit unpredictable at this time of year for outside parties, there are workarounds.

1. Take Advantage of the Daylight: Instead of a nighttime event, have an afternoon party when it’s warmer and there’s enough light to play outdoor games like cornhole, badminton or croquet. Have lots of protective gloves for people to use when playing and dispose of them often.

2. Move the Venue: It’s important to note that the FDA believes that there’s minimal risk for COVID-19 to spread by food or food packaging. Rather it’s the shared utensils and face-to-face contact that happens when everyone is crowding into the kitchen or into small unventilated spaces. So, perhaps it’s a good time to come up with some new traditions for the holidays. Porches, patios, decks and garages can be outfitted with heaters, blankets, TVs and a bar with warm drinks like mulled cider and hot cocoa (heated in a crockpot) or cocktails to warm guests up as well.

3. Get Creative with the Cocktails: Set up an open-air bar with premixed, individual cocktail servings to make it easy and require less handling. Even the ice can be prebagged into individual servings. As always, have a container with protective gloves and hand sanitizer for those who would like to use them.

Check out this recipe for a Cran-Cherry French 75 by local blogger, Lauren Schulte.

Cran Cherry French 75

4. Serve Single-Size Snacks: When it comes to snacks, individual servings are the way to go as well. Serve favorite appetizers like 7 Layer Dip in disposable cups with baggies of chips on the side, or purchase popcorn boxes online and fill with gourmet popcorn. Cookies can be individually bagged and so discourage handling as well.

5. Say Goodbye to the Buffet: For dinner, avoid the buffet line and utilize disposable aluminum pie plates for each person. Cover them with foil and keep them warm in the oven until serving time. Use heavy-duty disposable plastic utensils along with disposable cups and napkins. That way the kitchen mess can be done and over with long before guests arrive and everyone gets a piping hot meal. (This might be a great idea even beyond COVID).

6. Decorate and Share Gratitude: As hard as the year has been, there’s always something to be grateful for. Lay down a wide swath of craft paper on the table and have guests record their reasons to be thankful. Give the children crayons or markers to draw and decorate the “paper cloth” as well. Years ago, I purchased a roll of black paper and use it every holiday, handing out colored chalk to the kids so that they can decorate before we sit down to eat. This activity can also keep them busy when the adults are chatting.

7. Keep the Party Moving: Keep the energy alive by planning a game, nature walk or outdoor scavenger hunt to help shake off the post-meal stupor.

8. Bring Indoor Entertainment Outdoors: If TV-watching is part of your holiday tradition, a video projector can help you watch football, home movies, or a holiday-themed movie marathon.

Virtual Celebrations

The Coronavirus might have put a stop to hosting and attending in-person parties, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop gathering to celebrate completely. Virtual celebrations have become common over the last 6 months and with a little imagination and the help of web-based meeting sites like Zoom and Google Hangouts, we have the ability to feel like we’re with loved ones even when miles apart.

Multiple people trying to talk, plus background noise can make a virtual event noisy, to say the least. While your family might be used to that in person, something about the smaller screens makes it a bit more unnerving, so consider setting some ground rules. Assign a host who can act to step in and mute other attendees if things get crazy.

Use your biggest screen. The thumbnails of attendees can be small and you want to get a good look at every one. Memorable moments and quality time are most important in making a virtual party successful. Facilitate joyful experiences and plenty of memories with ideas and games that add structure and excitement to your event while leaving plenty of room for spontaneous laughter and socializing.

Virtual Holiday Gathering

Here’s a few creative ideas for making the most of a virtual holiday gathering.

  1. Coordinate your menu and share recipes so that everyone can enjoy similar dishes at dinner.
  2. Order the same centerpiece and have it sent to each family so that you all share the same flowers at the dinner table.
  3. Plan to sit down for dinner at the same time so that you can eat “together”.
  4. Set a place at the table for a laptop so that you can chat while streaming for at least a portion of the meal.
  5. Get creative with family traditions and have each family create a slideshow of happenings from the previous year to be shared on a PowerPoint Party. Set up a time to meet and send out the Zoom invitation ahead of time to eliminate glitches and share screens so that everyone can see what’s been going on in each family’s life.
  6. Sign up for a virtual Hanukkah or Kwanzaa party.
  7. Have a virtual cookie exchange. Each family can make a favorite cookie and mail a few dozen to the other families. Then schedule a virtual chat to eat them together and swap recipes.
  8. Have a virtual Secret Santa. Draw names, mail presents and then open them while on a virtual chat.
  9. Schedule a virtual wine tasting from sites such as A Virtual Toast or a beer tasting such as City Brew Tours for the adults. You receive a couple of bottles of wine or beer and suggestions for cheeses and accompaniments to go along with it. At the appointed time, everyone checks in and a wine tasting is led by a sommelier/host.
  10. Show up for the Zoom call in a themed outfit such as reindeer antlers or ugly Christmas sweaters.
  11. Have a Zoom gingerbread house decorating contest for the kids.
  12. Have a charcuterie or cheeseboard challenge where everyone makes their own board. After everyone shares tips and admires the boards, enjoy cocktails and devour them.
  13. If you’re looking for easy virtual Christmas games for younger kids that require no setup, musical statues are a good option. Blast some Christmas tunes, let everyone dance off some energy and periodically stop the music and yell “FREEZE!” and see who follows directions.

Whether you’re able to celebrate the holidays in person with family or virtually, it’s good to know that there’s still plenty of fun on the menu. Who knows, some of these ideas might even evolve into new family traditions.

Let’s all strive to embrace a safe, less hectic holiday, with a much slower pace and more meaningful moments. Happy Holidays, everyone!

By Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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