Tips, Recipes, Crafts and Songs for Holiday Parties with Children
I love holiday parties. Not the corporate kind in stiff cocktail attire with your colleagues. The festive kind at home with friends and their family, good food and music. Every year we throw a big holiday party at home and there are a few staples that come back year after year. People tell me they enjoy the home-made feel, the traditional European take on Christmas, the atmosphere. Some of our friends even come to expect a particular type of cookie or a song on the piano – that’s how traditional the party is and both children and adults love it that way. Though it’s a lot of work, anyone can throw a fun holiday party and I’d like to share our recipe for a holiday party with children.
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I’m a baker and when I was a teen, our neighbors were German. They noticed I loved helping them for their German Christmas open house and when they moved, they offered me Christian Teubner’s Christmas Baking – Traditional Recipes Made Easy cookbook. It became the foundation of my Christmas parties and to this day, more than half of my recipes come out of that book. Martha Stewart Living and Sunset Magazine have become a very good source as well. I’ll try to type the recipes when I find the time but until then, here’s a list of my most successful and foolproof holiday treats. They’re all sweet because I ask people to bring a savory dish to share.
- Quince and walnut Christmas pudding – this gourmet spin on the medieval pudding has never tasted so good–dried fruit, rich spices and a dash of brandy. I make my pudding right after Halloween, store it somewhere cool and all I have to do is reheat it on party day. Here is my recipe.
- Vanille Kipferl – my husband’s and many people’s favorites. Melting almond-vanilla crescents that take ages to shape but that are oh-so worth the effort. I posted an easy recipe from Well Kiddos on Frog Mom’s Facebook page.
- Whole-wheat Pfeffernusse – from Christian Teubner’s book. Crunchy round spice cookies topped with chocolate glaze and candied orange peel.
- Whole-Wheat Spice Bars – from Christian Teubner’s book. A finger-size rich fruitcake iced with lemon and sugar.
- Butter Thins – from Christian Teubner’s book. They’re the children’s favorites. Buttery shaped cookies with a note of lemon zest. My girls love decorating those with colored icing and sugar pearls.
- Orange Cats’ Tongue – from Christian Teubner’s book. A real pain to make but the combination of almond paste and orange peel is a real treat.
- Hazelnut Dollars – from Christian Teubner’s book. My personal favorite, even better than Nutella in cookie form. Hazelnuts, butter, cloves and chocolate – what could possibly go wrong?
- Coconut Cranberry Chews – winning recipe from Sunset Magazine. My father in-law’s favorite.
- Florentines – from Susan Branch’s Christmas book. It’s the only cookie that my husband insists on making from A to Z.
- Gingerbread People – recipe from Martha Stewart Living. Another kid favorite. I try to make them in small sizes because it’s easier for the children.
- Cinnamon Stars – from Christian Teubner’s book. These are staples at Christmas markets all over Germany. A mix between a cinnamon meringue and an almond macaroon.
- Orange Cookies – from Christian Teubner’s book. Another one of my favorites. Chocolate, butter and orange – yum.
- Fruits Déguisés – the only French food in my buffet. This one is a tradition in Provence’s famous twelve Christmas treats since the middle ages. Recipe here from Chocolate & Zucchini.
- Star-Topped Mince Pies – welcome UK! Recipe from Nigella Lawson.
- Dundee Cake – I make mine in September for December so the flavors develop to perfection. Recipe from All Recipes.
I also add baskets of tangerines for a winter touch on the buffet.
When lots of kids are running around and you want your home to make it out unscathed, you have to be prepared. Here are a few things we’ve tried over the years:
- Paper Crafts – such as card-making or paper garland-making. Easy to set up. Budget-friendly.
- Toy Making – tried that last year for the first time. We did a full-blown Santa’s Worshop in our backyard. Kids actually made wooden toys by themselves with real tools. Bit of a hassle but great fun.
- Music – I’ll come to that in the music section below.
- Puppet show – When the girls were preschoolers, I put up ‘Twas the night before Christmas puppet shows with my mother’s hand-made puppets and felt sets. Great success.
- TV – I save that as a last recourse and set up our big-screen TV in our master bedroom so all children can watch TV quietly. I pick classics such as Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is coming To Town, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Polar Express, Frosty the Snowman or Elf.
I’m lucky that we have a piano and I can dabble a few notes. Ten years ago my husband and I created little Christmas carols booklets that we’ve used and re-used over the years, including the sheet music and lyrics of two dozen favorites. We hand them out to all our friends before I get on the piano and my husband acts as the choir conductor. We usually sing a dozen carols, depending on how people feel, and I’ve been joined on the piano by friends as well. To make it fun for the children, I hand out a few ringing bells for them right before Jingle Bells. If you want to find the piano/guitar music for carols, Sheet Music Plus carries a great selection.
Here are our favorites:
- Old-school ones to start – Hark the Herald Angels Sing, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, The First Noel, Deck the Halls and O Come All Ye Faithful
- Modern carols to follow – Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming To Town, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, White Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claus, Let It Snow
- As a grand finale – Good King Wenceslas, sung with two voices. Men sing the King’s lines with their deepest voices. Women sing the page’s lines with their highest voices. Other lines are sung in unison with gusto. It’s the bomb!
If you’d rather use a festive playlist., this one works every time.
A Christmas party wouldn’t be a Christmas party without mulled wine so we make big batches in our copper jam pan. For non-alcohol drinkers, we set out hot tea, herbal tea, juices and fizzy water. Children get non-alcoholic spiced apple cider and hot chocolate with marshmallows.
When all is done, we are truly in the festive spirit and ready for Santa Claus to come. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!