Fete Accompli--Planning a Great Party

Going to a holiday party where the host is running around like a skinned rabbit can leave a guest feeling uncomfortably burdensome. To avoid this at your own party, planning is a must. Starting a couple of weeks ahead, make a schedule for your bash. Visualize your party: what should it look like? Should you move your furniture around to accommodate the onslaught of celebrants? And what kind of music? Who is coming? Mom or a motorcycle gang? The more you plan ahead, the more you'll feel like a guest, not a butler, at your own fiesta. Here's a Santa's sack of options: Deck-o-matic Try a tree-trimming soiree. Have your tree set up with lights already glowing when your guests arrive. This way, they can place any ornaments they bring right on your tree. Or you can invite your pals to make ornaments on the spot. This gives idle hands something fun to do, and is a healthier icebreaker than the usual cocktail. Set up a decorating table, with glitters, glue, sequins, ribbons, and glass or Styrofoam ball ornaments. It can be messy, but you'll have these baubles for a lifetime, and what's a little gluestick on the linoleum between friends?Expect the unexpected At a party where gifts are exchanged, make sure you know exactly how many folks will attend. It can be embarrassing for a best friend's date not to receive anything. Stash a few Whitman's Samplers under the tree -- they're good for the unexpected tagalong. Monster bash If you go the loft-party route, say good-bye to your tree and the gifts under it, as well as to your jewelry and anything brain-fogging in your medicine cabinet. Santa's helpers often have itchy fingers. Also, there is the ever-present danger that you will spend Boxing Day scraping some stranger's half-digested fruitcake barf off your Jennifer convertible. My advice: forget the whole thing. (If you want to participate in a winter Woodstock, head for someone else's farm.) But if you insist on your right to invite the entire neighborhood anyway, play it safe and pack up everything portable, from sheets to knickknacks. And stay sober -- you can find yourself serving as bouncer at the drop of a punch bowl. Quality quotient At any intimate Christmas dinner, the quality of the food and music is vital. Save the Dunkin' Munchkins for the office party and break out the fancy vintages, even if your everyday house red is Night Train. Try cooking for your pals -- they'll love it. If you're a virgin chef, invest in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It takes you step by step through all the holiday classics and is cheap in paperback. Reality: deal with it Christmas Day gatherings in general require a lot of patience. You always have to cater to in-laws, your own relatives, or that unwanted boyfriend of your sister's. When your lover's parents come over, no matter how cool you might think his or her folks are, this is their time to judge you severely. No one will be too good for their little Billy Joe Jim Bob, however great a host you might be. So 'tis the season to eat crow and cope. Bough wow Table-setting idea: you can make a centerpiece worthy of a soap-opera set with a few sprigs of pine branches set freestyle among the plates. While you're buying your tree, ask the salesperson if you can swipe a few branches that are lying around. Festoon 'em with little birds and whatnot for extra glamour. You can also go to your local dollar store and grab a few plastic wreaths of various sizes to liven up your everyday basins of onion dip and guacamole. Dandy wipes You can personalize your table setting by making your own cloth napkins. Buy plain white napkins or hankies at discount stores. Pin the corners of the cloth to a piece of cardboard covered in plastic wrap (to prevent sticking). Use Deca Fabric paints to decorate these made-to-order napkins. You can repeat one consistent design for all your guests, or dream up custom designs for each person who will attend. For those who aren't confident with their artistic skills, there's always tracing. Place your target design under the Saran Wrap, or it'll stick to your masterpiece. Odorama Permeate your pad with the sweet scent of the season before your guests arrive. Make a hot potpourri by boiling six cups of water, three cinnamon sticks, and a handful of whole cloves with one cut-up orange. Let this brew for 30 minutes to saturate your flat with a whiff of Santa's homestead.Saints alive Religious candles aren't just for praying; they make excellent eggnog glasses. Look for those thick-glassed candles that sport Saint Somebody on them, the kind with the godly image silk-screened or plastic-laminated (paper decals tend to shred away). To remove the wax, run your hottest tap water over the candle glass for 10 minutes, turning periodically to distribute the heat. Slide out the wax in a soggy tube. Scrub your new cocktail container thoroughly, and wah lah -- a spiritual holder for glugg, grog, and 'nog. A set of four makes a great gift. Help! I live in a dollhouse! Living in a small apartment can make you dread the arrival of that hulking new roommate, the Christmas tree. Here are some swanky suggestions for those who call a tiny studio home: Small apartments can be decorated with garlands of spruce twigs wrapping doorways. Use lights and decorations just as you would on a tree. Or wrap your front door like a big present, with paper and wide ribbon. The neighbors will go crazy wondering what gift lurks behind red-wrapped Apartment 7. Wreaths can be brought in from the cold to your cozy, warm living room, where they'll scent your pad nicely. Turn a wall, or even a whole room, into a Winter Wonderland backdrop. Pin lights to the walls and tack up cotton pillow-stuffing fluff for a fairy-princess, cloud-like look. Hang silver stars from the ceiling, or add painted foam or cardboard cut-outs for a magical pose-with-the-angels set. See what they're selling at Woolworth for inspiration. The photos you make against your personal Disneyland will be instant treasures. And who knows: having a living room that looks like heaven might be fun until Easter. Liquid assets If you throw an extremely large party, you will, of course, make sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on hand. But it's worthwhile to remember that partiers who have run out of booze tend to be more, uh, expressive in their disappointment than those who've tapped the last of the Martinelli's. Here's a guide to ample people/alcohol ratios. Party of 50* Beer 6 cases* Wine 12 bottles* Liquor 4 quarts (1 each of Scotch, vodka, gin, rum)* Champagne 10 bottlesParty of 75* Beer 9 cases* Wine 18 bottles* Liquor 6 quarts (2 each of vodka, gin; 1 each of Scotch and rum)* Champagne 15 bottlesParty of 100* Beer 12 cases* Wine 24 bottles* Liquor 8 quarts (2 each of Scotch, vodka, gin, rum)* Champagne 20 bottlesParty of 150* Beer 18 cases* Wine 36 bottles* Liquor 12 quarts (three each of Scotch, vodka, gin, rum) * Champagne 30 bottlesMusical lairs Most people have only one X-mas album, and they play it over and over at their holiday shindigs. This results in restlessness, nausea, or suicide among the guests, depending on how sensitive they are to Don Ho's "Holiday Luau" on constant replay. Here's a list of Yuley tunes to groove by. (I want to thank my pal Joe, of the Village Voice, for turning me on and tuning me in to many of these holiday household must-haves.) Hipsters Holiday (Rhino) is chock full of the jazz and jive tunes that are mandatory for tree-trimmings. When Louis Armstrong sings "Is That You, Santa?," the frostiest icicles melt into puddles of Christmas cheer. Misa Criolla (Phillips) immortalizes popular sacred music from South America. Andean pipes meet the powerful throb of chanting choirs. There are two versions: look hard for the one without Jose Carreras; it's less sappy. Christmas in Eastern Europe, by the Bucharest Madrigal Choir (Laserlights), is full of magical melodies for World Beaters of all persuasions. Tony Bennett -- Jazz (Columbia) is not specifically a Christmas album, but it's my favorite. This double set of standards makes everybody happy, and not just old fogies. He swings like crazy with the likes of Count Basie and Stan Getz. It also makes a great present. Then, of course, Elvis's Christmas Album (RCA). What's a turkey dinner without this bird swooning "Blue Christmas"? Travis Tritt's Christmas (Warner Brothers) is a good one for all you barn dancers out there. But if country is your bag and for some god-only-knows reason you like Garth Brooks, stay away from his Christmas album: he not only looks like a Christmas ham, he sings like one. Fabio Unwraps for Christmas is what I want for Yuletide gimmickry. But hey, it doesn't exist! I guess there are some miracles that even Santa can't deliver.

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