Take Control of Holiday Party Season
learn from my mistakes
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I am currently mourning the loss of my ability to drink recklessly 4-5 nights a week with little to no recourse. Along with it, the loss of my youth, my tighter body, my deep well for socialization and ability to thrive on 5 hours of sleep. I’m not a girl, not yet a woman, I’m an unmarried New Yorker with no kids.
I don’t really mind—I’m generally happy at home on my couch with the 1st Dibs app and a pot of simmering beans with anchovies, a whole lemon and 76 bunches of dill or whatever “very me” thing I’m making that day. But the holiday calendar comes and doesn’t care how old you are (37 years young!), doesn’t care how many hours of sleep you need to really feel rested (11?), doesn’t care if you still, after all those holiday sales, have “nothing to wear.”
The calendar between Thanksgiving and January 2nd is a chaotic patchwork made of days where I need to get a blowout, days I clear my schedule because I may be hungover (emotionally or literally), days I need to find an outfit to wear on the days I’m getting a blowout, and the days I need to like, work and stuff. Lately, as a mature and grown person, my strategy is to drink less, go home earlier and say no more, but as we all know, that strategy is deeply, tragically flawed. Despite my best efforts, I’m still out more than I’d like and not enough as I think I should be. It’s a mess for us all, but we love it, don’t we?
We dread it, we look forward to it. We can’t wait and also can’t wait for it to be over. On this, the 5th day of December, it’s only a matter of days before we’re at our first party of the season, trapped behind the hours-old shrimp cocktail soaking in melted ice, talking to someone we peripherally know about how “this year was so wild” asking “how is it already December,” and telling someone who absolutely doesn’t care: “yeah, I’m definitely going to try and get to Italy next summer.”
In an effort to grip the reigns of MY OWN LIFE, I have found the best course of action is to throw my own party. If I’m going to dress up, I want the option to take my shoes off forty-three minutes into the event in the privacy of my own home. If someone is going to run into someone they don’t want to see it certainly won’t be me, because I will have been in charge of the guest list. If I’m going to be so hungover I want to die, it shall be by my own hands with my own batched 50/50 martinis.
My annual Holiday Ham Party has been dormant since 2019 and there’s been a giant ham-shaped hole in my heart ever since (although full transparency, this year for my birthday my friend Susan and I threw a joint Ham-centric party: “Ham and Melon.” There was a large ham and thinly sliced cured ham, several types of melon and many Midori sours. While there was ham, it had a decidedly summertime/birthday energy, very different from Holiday Ham Party).
BUT THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT. While my actual, real, HHP is coming up, a few weeks back I invited a few people to my house to re-create HHP on Halloween (technically a holiday?) so we could performatively DO HAM for the internet. If you’re counting, that means, god willing by the end of 2022, I will have successfully thrown three (3) Ham Parties.
But what is a Holiday Ham Party?
Assuming all other components of an excellent party (people, music, good lighting, a creamy dip), a successful ham party has four components: a batched cocktail, many mustards, lots of pickles and a big fucking ham. It takes place between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, the energy is decidedly “festive,” and really, you should dress up. I have more to say on the subject, but you’ll have to wait till tomorrow for the video, and with it, a newsletter with recipes and many very specific food-based tips for hosting your own Holiday Ham Party.
Until then, I leave you with a list of Holiday Ham Party hosting-specific advice culled from past mistakes:
1. No more olives with pits, sorry. As much as I believe them to be a superior product to the pitted olives, people simply can not be held responsible for placing the pits in an appropriate receptacle. Year after year, I put a few pits in a cute small ramekin to indicate “HERE, THIS IS WHERE THE PITS GO” and year after year I find pits everywhere. In crumpled up napkins. On the crudite plate. Flying solo on the dining table (can you even). Not this year. If you’re reading this and you’ve been to one of my ham parties, you only have your self to blame. What’s that? You won’t notice the difference between the pitted and unpitted olives? You’re delusional!
2. Get your ice delivered. Did you know it’s very easy to just simply get your ice delivered? No further comment.
3. Have more than one place for drinks and keep them away from The Ham. While a bathtub remains the perfect vessel for storing beverages (especially away from The Ham), some people aren’t ready for that level of intimacy and I get that. My new bathtub configuration is also less charming than my last apartment so I was forced to come up with an alternative. Some things I have found to work when filled with ice: Galvanized tubs, IKEA or Fresh Direct bags (set inside something else like a sink), large coolers, in an intentionally separate location from The Ham and all of the mustards. This keeps the party flowing rather than concentrated in one location, which nobody likes.
4. Dripless, unscented candles!!!!! But lots of them. Cheaper than re-wiring your entire apartment, the ambiance simply can not be beat, especially if you are fighting the terrible and somehow unfixable track lighting. Dripless is key here, as I am still scraping wax off several surfaces weeks after my last party. My friend John recently reminded me IKEA makes good ones (use the bag you carry them home in for ice, see tip 3).
5. Do less. I have included other foods like shrimp cocktail in the past but due to irresponsible consumption (see tip 1 re: olive pits) and rising costs/stress levels on day of party, I have decided the menu can be drastically paired down. I’ve bent over backwards to do things like “make my own special dip” which sure, is easy enough, but you know what’s easier? Opening a package of Lipton’s Secret Recipe (Onion) and adding some sliced scallion and extra lemon juice. After a lot of therapy I am closer to deciding I have nothing to prove. People know I can make a dip from scratch, I don’t need to flex that skill on this specific evening.
6. Order the bigger ham. When in doubt, just order the bigger ham. The amount of ham you think people can consume is much lower than the amount of ham people can actually consume, this I promise you. The worst that can happen is you have leftover ham, which is an actual gift (literally, if you want it to be).
7. Let people help with one very specific thing. Delegating can be tough, but a good thing to ask people (especially if they leave early) is to take a bag of trash or recycling out. Not as a punishment, just as like a genuinely useful thing to help yourself out the next morning. Did they offer? Not exactly, but it’s implied. After all, you did just provide all that ham.