The Christmas season can be over-whelming for people who don’t entertain at other times of the year.
The thought of dozens of family and friends descending on you, expecting to be fed and watered can put off even an experienced host.
This week, I’m looking at ways to cut down on the work, so you can get to enjoy your party rather than become a frazzled wreck before it even starts.
1 Party time: people over-eat at Christmas and don’t expect a full meal at all gatherings. If it’s mid-afternoon or early evening, snacks, nibbles and treats are perfectly fine. A good mix of sweet and savoury and perhaps a punch rather than managing a full bar, is a welcome change. Will people be standing or sitting? Your food choices will depend on this.
2 No need for expensive decorations. Use a paper tablecloth with some ivy running down the centre (get the kids to spray paint it in the garden first!), sprinkle some glitter and wrap it all up to dispose of afterwards. Use same colour napkins, paper plates and candles for a cheap, themed effect. Make ice cubes using crushed berries in ice-trays - they look lovely tinkling in glasses.
3 Prepare in advance: set the table the night before; make and freeze batches of rice, bread and don’t even consider making everything yourself. Stick to the main course and buy canapes from the supermarket (see table for brilliant selection this year) with desserts kept to filled meringues, fruit salad or bought chocolate options. Buy salad dressings, prepared salad leaves and dips – you can’t do it all!
4 Get the kids working. Use them as waiters, coat depositors, empties-collectors – bribery generally works here (or threats of Santa watching!)
5 Don’t be a martyr. If people ask whether they can bring something, let them. Most have a ‘signature dish’ - something that, for them, is easily whipped up and they like to show off. Compliment it and ask them to bring it. If they don’t, ask for breads, cheeses or a bottle instead.
6 Make a one-pot meal. With chicken, beef, pork or fish as the base, a white, tomato, ethnic or gravy sauce, and some veg, you can construct a hundred dishes. If you don’t feel like making the sauce, buy it for goodness’ sake! Now isn’t the time to try something new from that Michelin star chef’s cookbook. Stick to meals you can easily make. Most people like the same food – pies, casseroles, pastas, stews. Avoid anything requiring constant stirring, checking and basting.
7 Start with an empty dishwasher and put a bin bag prominently in the kitchen to encourage empties to be thrown in. It’s a pain, but wash pots as you go – you’ll avoid a heap of washing up later on.
8 Arrange music in advance, rather than fiddling around during the party looking for CDs. Get an older child to download songs and hook up to a player. Make sure it’s your choice though and not theirs!
9 Some outside fairy lights and a note on the door inviting guests to let themselves in saves you running for the bell every five minutes.
10 Serve tea and coffee, cut down the music and turn up the lighting when you want to encourage guests to leave. They’ll take the gentle hint!
Finally, breathe out, pour a glass of something and congratulate yourself on a well organised event!
A recent column focused on the murky world of money lending. Even the licensed, legal ones sometimes have questions to answer.
The biggest, Provident, currently running a high-profile radio ad campaign, has just been fined by the Central Bank for serious breaches.
The company, British-owned but based in Letterkenny, was found to have not passed on full loans to some customers – instead deducting money from them to pay off old loans. This isn’t allowed.
Nor is refusing customers the ability to pay loans early if they can afford to, of which Provident was also found guilty.
The €105,000 fine might sound like more than a slap on the wrist, but given its parent company’s pre-tax profits were €247m last year, they won’t have to dig too deep to pay up, unlike their unfortunate customers, who pay up to 187pc per anum interest.
Burglaries are always more common at Christmas with opportunistic thieves taking advantage of people being out and about and lots of gifts in the house. In order to reduce the chances of it happening to you, I asked Dermot Browne of ‘Alarm Secure’ for advice:
* Cancel subscriptions/milk deliveries if you’re going away and ask a neighbour to park in the driveway. Get light timers fitted. Don’t advertise your trip on social media!
* Don’t hide keys outside; ask a trusted neighbour to keep a spare instead.
* Invest in a motion sensor flood-light or a photo cell light which comes on automatically at dusk and off at dawn.
* Uploaded photos of pricey Christmas gifts can allow burglars to go shopping just by viewing your Facebook profile.
* Don’t feed extension cables for festive lights through partially open windows; they can be cracked open more easily.
* One way burglars get into your home is to repeatedly trigger your alarm until you deactivate it out of frustration. If you think it’s faulty, call your alarm company.
* A quality Irish wireless burglar alarm can be installed for as little as €599 for two door sensors, three motion sensors, a panic button and an external sounder unit. This can be expanded on at any time.
* Landline monitoring can be obtained for €160 per year or €13.50 per month.
Don’t give the burglars a chance this Christmas – keep the festive cheer at home.