O Christmas Free

Recession-proof party plans

Monday, December 8, 2008


Illustration by Patrick Giroux

With the economy in a seemingly endless nosedive, many holiday parties are being scaled back or simply canceled. Even Vanity Fair is planning to tone down its standard-setting Oscar bash. In light of all the news, whatever is a humble holiday house party (and its broke hosts) to do?

No need to cancel – just get creative and keep in mind that tons of money spent does not a great party make. A few good ideas and some friends and/or family are really all that is required.

With enough creativity, a great party can even pay it forward. Take Ramsey Mohsen—three years ago, he and some friends began throwing ugly Christmas sweater parties. After two years of success, the group decided that its next effort could be used to help others. This year, proceeds from sales of tickets will benefit Operation Breakthrough, a charity that helps children in the KC area.

Whether you’re in for a big benefit like Mohsen or hosting just a few friends at home, a little inspiration can keep you from breaking your budget, all while avoiding throwing just any old forgettable get-together. Readers of lawrence.com offered these tips for inexpensive, original fetes…


Safia Kerr and Ramsey Mohsen

The Motley Yule

As Mohsen and his friends know, one cornerstone of the American holiday season is the Cosby-style ugly Christmas sweater. The more jangly, lit-up, sparkly and bedazzled, the better. Try creating a little ugly sweater photo booth for your friends – procure said sweaters from Goodwill, your mom or grandmother and create a little scene complete with props and Christmas tree or fireplace. Pose your friends with hands on shoulders, heads a-tilt and click away.

Come All Ye Broke Ass

Secret Santa gift exchanges can be fun, but the potential for office party-style awkwardness always looms, even if it’s among friends. This year try an alternative to your *yawn* annual Santa exchange.

“I’m always looking for a new book to read. How about a Recycled Book exchange?!! Yes. I win.” –Billy Smith

In terms of a game—well everyone does White Rabbit. What I did one year is once everyone was over I made them go out to their car and come back in with a gift. It could be anything in the car—I mean a six month old Cheeto if that is all you got. But most people found it awesome to get something out of their car to pass onto someone else. I got a plate. Once they have the item, I had bags, boxes and string to wrap the packages and then we did secret Santa with them. – Jacki Becker


Beg Nog

Among our compatriots, Holiday punch comes out on top for being cheap without seeming too cheap, and provides a lot of options.

Vodka mixes well with just about any juice—for that touch of fancy just add champagne, sparkling wine or soda water. Other ingredients might include sherbert ice cream and fresh or frozen fruit.

Or hey, why not just make your own hooch? “My girlfriend and I are making mead to give out as Christmas presents. We’ve never done it before but we thought it’d be a fun and interesting project, not to mention cheap. There are tons of recipes on the web, but we settled on one from some British knight from 1699. We were experimenting with some labels, and everything we came up with was hokey and tacky, i.e. pictures of our dogs. But I think we’ve settled on using random pictures from a Smithsonian Institute desk calendar I saved from years ago. It’ll probably be classier.” –Shelby Thomas

Let Them Eat Fruit Cake

Apart from drinks, food, of course, is key when it comes to Holiday parties. We say forget fancy here and go for the fatty, cheesy goodness your friends will actually want to eat.

Sugar cookie decorating! It might sound lame, but creative friends and plenty to drink=fun – Paul Fleming

Go for a Potluck. Cook a big, yummy pot of chili (cheap!) and everyone else will bring the rest. –Elana Gordon

You can have a big bowl of mashed potatoes already made and ready to go and have the fixins all chopped up too like chives, bacon, cheese, butter, sour cream, salsa, whatever. We made potato sundaes in a martini glass. It was super fun, easy and cheap. –Lisa Cantrup

Let’s start with the three basic Midwestern food groups: meat, cheese, and bread/pastry/chips—and plug them into the Midwestern love of culinary cliches. First to mind are Lil’ Smokies and Velveeta. In principle, this is disgusting food, but it tastes great! Confederate flags and firearms are appropriate table decorations for Smokies and Velveeta. To tart things up a bit, try Fondue. You could also try a salad party. Amass all the fixings for a super-deluxe chef’s salad: cold cuts, cheese, vegetables and greens, pickles, croutons, etc and whomp up a selection of dressings. If you get enough stuff (plenty of bread, please), it makes for an abundant and attractive table. You could have guests bring ingredients if it’s a pot-luck party. And, underneath all that ranch dressing, there’s food that’s more or less healthy--once again, fooling your guests into thinking you care. You can make soup from the leftover vegetables. –Tom King


Tim and Melissa Wheaton

Gaudy and Nice

A little frill can distinguish your holiday party from, well, any other get together. You don’t have to go bananas Hallmark-style and set up a forest of Christmas trees in your house – a few strings of lights and a couple of other small touches can really create a cozy, seasonal feel.

“Take the pictures hanging on your wall, cover them in wrapping paper with big bows and hang them back up.” – Chelsea Anderson Wagner

“We had a party one time where we didn’t allow presents, but everyone had to bring a homemade ornament to put on the tree. It turned out pretty extreme—our friends were way more creative than I ever gave them credit for!” –Lydia Boenig


The Ugly Christmas Sweater Crew (counterclockwise L to R): Stephanie Frost, Ramsey Mohsen, Safia Kerr, Cory Fisher and Scott Aripoli

The Economy Outside Is Frightful

Finally, it doesn’t have to all be about you, y’know, and in the spirit of the season, it probably shouldn’t be. Turn your get-together into a way to help out. Incorporate a food drive into your celebration - drinks supplied if people bring canned food or other non-perishables! The word is that ECKAN shelves are looking bare and requests are way up this year.

“Get a group of people together to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. Or a toys for tots thing. You can see a trend of anti-Christmas.” –Nate Barbarick

And of course, don’t forget your friends at kcsweaterparty.com. It’s this Friday, December 12th at Tower Tavern (31st and Oak) in Kansas City. Holiday sweaters are required, but you can also rent one if you need – that money also goes to charity.

See? Who needs chocolate fountains and ice sculptures when there is homemade hooch and a sweater with a snowman that lights up? Take that, Vanity Fair. «