Entertaining for the holidays means decking the halls, and often in the process, all but decking each other.
There is the big-tree versus small-tree battle. And then the fight over the lopsided tree--branches huddled together on one side -- which one partner finds endearing and the other appalling. There is Scotch pine versus Douglas fir, rope tinsel versus icicles, twinkly versus constant-shine lights, a tree neatly done up with chic red bows versus one laden with a lifetime collection of scruffy ornaments.
Perhaps the way to survive is to turn the annual battleground into a party, with the main combatants lost in the crowd. They may be too embarrassed to shriek at each other, "The tree is CROOKED!"
Pop plenty of popcorn to make into balls (see recipe), or thread each little kernel laboriously onto a string with cranberries and loop the result around the tree.
Bake plenty of gingerbread men, poking a hole in the dough with a toothpick so that a string can be threaded through to hang them on the tree. Then put out bowls of different colored icing to decorate them, plus lots of cake-decorating equipment to pipe the icing into place.
If you have a cat, dog or toddlers, tell your guests to decorate accordingly. Nothing breakable near the bottom to be batted off; gingerbread men around the middle of the tree. At least one dog of my acquaintance makes a habit of diving into the edible ornaments, as though the tree were a giant smorgasbord.
You can buy styrofoam balls and set them in a basket with tiny pins, scraps of velvet and lace and pretty ribbons to cover them. Dried flowers can be tied into bouquets with thin velvet ribbons to make nosegays for the tree (which should be trimmed with its lights, twinkly or solid, before the guests arrive; putting on lights is not a good group activity).
If you're feeling sentimental, buy a green felt skirt to put under the tree and ask each friend to sign their names in glue and glitter. Or turn your guests into ornaments by taking Polaroid head shots of everyone at the party and hanging the photographs on the tree.
You must, of course, have a kissing ball. What is Christmas without a buss or two? The easiest way to make them is to use embroidery hoops (either singly, or insert one at right angles inside the other). Decorate with holly or other greenery, dangle a sprig of mistletoe in the center and hang it over a doorway.
When the tree has been decked and the kisses kissed, settle down with cups of wassail for the Christmas grab bag. One hostess has refined the process to make it a true grab. She asks that each of her guests use their ingenuity to find gifts under $1. As each guest deposits the gift under the tree, they draw a number. Number one chooses a present and opens it; number two can choose a wrapped present or take the gift from number one, who then chooses another wrapped present, and so on down the line. Each person can take one of the already opened gifts away from someone or choose to take a chance on a wrapped package.
By the end of the grab the spirit of good will among men may be slightly frayed but it will make for an interesting evening.