WHEN IT COMES TO ENTERTAINING, the holidays are open season, as in open hearts, open gifts, and, our favorite, open houses. The holiday open house--a laid-back party at which guests of all ages come and go as they please over the course of an evening or an afternoon--is the perfect way to bring folks together with a minimum of fuss. But organizing a party that's inviting to the whole family presents a unique challenge: Short of holding two separate events, how do you allow parents to relax and mingle without risking an outbreak of chaos or "When are we leaving?" boredom among the kids? Our party plan does just that. To enhance grown-up merrymaking, our open house features kids-only craft and snack stations manned by a neighborhood teen. We offer a range of party foods and activities that appeal to both kids and adults. And because we believe that hosts should enjoy the party as much as guests, we've made the whole affair super-easy to set up, from the simple but festive theme--stars--to a party activity that keeps on giving. Together, it makes for a holiday gathering whose fun is, well, open-ended.
Wrapping Paper Stars
These stellar but surprisingly easy party decorations (they come together with just a few cuts and twists) are made from all those odds and ends of holiday wrap you'd otherwise toss in the trash. Hang one or dozens to brighten up the house come party time. See our step-by-step directions here.
A Festive Holiday Spread
The best open-house recipes--like our Creamy Parmesan and Herb Dip, served in a bread bowl amid a star of colorful crudites--pack maximum punch with a minimum of prep. Add a store-bought ham and you're almost done. For more fun and fancy party fare, check out Pine Tree Fruit Kabobs, Mini Bagel Wreaths , and Sparkling Star Punch.
Here's a neat way to let your guests help you trim the holiday tree. Create a tree shape and star topper from colorful construction paper or poster board; mount it on a wall or door with double-sided tape. On the star, include instructions for your guests ("Please sign in!"), and set baskets of colored-dot stickers and markers nearby. To give everyone the idea, have family members provide the first signatures.
Personalized Punch Cups
Look-alike plastic cups have a way of losing themselves in a crowd. To save guests the bother of cup hunting (and avoid waste into the bargain), add large starburst stickers to each cup, along with smaller stars or other stickers for decoration. Next to an assortment of markers, set up a placard directing guests to sign and retain the cup of their choice. For the recipe for our accompanying Sparkling Star Punch, click here.
What better way to keep kids feeling jolly than to encourage them to play with their food--which is the whole point of our Snack-tivity Station. To help your guests create these festive Ice-Cream-Cone Trees, stock the station with paper plates, sugar cones, sugar cookies (your own or store-bought), store-bought icing (one batch of white, one batch tinted with green food coloring), shredded coconut, sprinkles, lollipops, and a selection of bite-size candies. To make a tree, spread a cone with green icing; spoon a dollop of white icing onto a sugar cookie, then gently push the cone into the icing. Top the icing with shredded coconut snow. Decorate the tree with sprinkles and candy ornaments, and crown with a lollipop star (nibble a hole in the cone for the stem). Provide flat-bottomed brown bags so kids can take home their trees (or tree pieces!).
Jingle Bell Bracelets
Take one plastic-covered card table, add a good-natured teen (well-compensated, of course), and throw in a healthy supply of colored beads, jingle bells, and pipe cleaners in a variety of colors and textures. That's our recipe for a foolproof kids' craft station--and for some great-looking wrist and ankle bracelets your young guests will love to make and wear. See our step-by-step directions here.
Have a Ball
When the party's in full swing, bring everyone together with an activity meant for guests of all ages. Partygoers take turns unwrapping this crepe-paper gift ball, snagging a small surprise, then passing the ball on to the next guest. Youll need several rolls of crepe paper (about 2 to 3 feet per guest) and enough mini gifts--charms, decorative erasers, small pieces of costume jewelry, tiny toys and books--to go around. Tape the first gift to the beginning of one crepe paper roll, wrap it 4 or 5 times, then add another gift, continuing to wrap so that you eventually form a large ball; tape on new rolls of crepe paper as needed.