When I was younger, I remember helping my mom make oodles of Christmas cookies every year. The majority of the cookies were destined for our friends, neighbors, mailman, bus drivers, and our schoolteachers. It was an inexpensive, homemade tradition in my family.
These days, my own family hosts an open house for our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We started doing this in 2005 when my husband and I couldn’t wrap our heads around having a more-formal holiday party that might combine his PhD-program friends with my toddler-playgroup friends. Not only would the two worlds not necessarily have much in common, but we weren’t sure everyone would fit into the house at once.
In 2005 we came up with the “open house” idea. We’d open up the house for a 6-8 hour period, welcome everyones’ kids, and offer a more-laid back food plan. This is totally my family’s style and we have really enjoyed doing this every year.
Eight years later, we have our annual open house down to an art form and I would love to share the best practices we’ve learned in case you’d like to host a holiday open house of your own.
There are two things that we have to take into account when we set the date for our open house. First of all, we attempt to have our open house on a Saturday. This usually means deconflicting with holiday piano recitals, office parties, and other friends’ open houses. We also try not to have it too close to Christmas itself, so we can catch many of our friends before they head out of town. Secondly, we usually start in the late afternoon and allow it to extend into the late evening. This way, families with young children can come earlier, and then those without younger kids can stay later. This worked out well when our sons were toddlers and preschoolers: they could celebrate with their friends.
We do the same thing every year: two kinds of fondue with all the goodies for dipping. Cheese fondue and chocolate fondue are universally appealing, and we offer a variety of breads, cakes, fruits, and vegetables to dip.
In addition, we have an assortment of Christmas cookies and dips, such as my mother-in-law’s very popular shrimp cheese ball.
In 2010 we went to a fellow Air Force member’s open house and learned a new favorite: bacon roll ups! The first year we offered these I couldn’t make them fast enough! We have learned to make up a double recipe the night before and bake them in small batches.
While we certainly don’t ask it of anyone, we have learned to count on our guests to bring their favorite treats, dips, spreads, and snacks. We welcome all of it and it adds to the festivities.
We typically have alcoholic beverages available at our open house. I wonder if the convention at an open house is to not overdo things, because we’ve never had a problem with drunk guests. <Knock wood!> We have beer and wine available, and I try to come up with a unique beverage to offer in our punch bowl, Crock Pot, or Christmas-tree-shaped glass dispenser. In years past we’ve offered hot mulled cider in the Crock Pot and “real” egg nog in the punch bowl.
For those who choose non-alcoholic option, we have plenty of non-spiked cider, soda, juices, and egg nog, as well as multiple options for the kids.
I always set out a bowl of Silly Bandz for guests to use as wine charms!
One of the perks of this being an “open house” is that very little else is expected of us as hosts. We are free to mingle and talk. Usually, I’m in the kitchen monitoring the bacon roll ups in the oven, or refilling the egg nog punch-bowl, but I can enjoy visiting with friends during all of that. We aren’t the least bit formal! For the kids (and adults!) we have plenty of board games and video games.
A couple years ago, I learned to put all of my recipes on a Pinterest board for easy reference and easy sharing with friends. Pay a visit if you need ideas for your own open house.
Thanks to uprooting ourselves every 2-3 years, we are able to have the same menu items every year and it seems like a fresh new party! This has made planning for our open house much less stressful… and more of a holiday tradition!