‘Tis the Season, RevGals and Pals! In addition to Advent Wreaths and multiple special orders of service and making sure the Deacons have counted up the Christmas candles on hand, we have additional duties at home: pulling boxes from storage, decorating trees, mailing packages, considering writing Christmas cards, then ordering the ones that say “Peace in the New Year” instead.

But some duties cannot be postponed. If it’s a tradition of yours, or even one in your church, and whether you live in a manse/rectory/parsonage or your own home, you may be hosting a Christmas party for staff or leadership or, Lord love you, an Open House for the congregation. This week’s questioner turns to the Matriarchs, asking:

I am hosting a Christmas Open House at my parsonage.  It’s a mid-afternoon thing so I don’t need a full meal, but I am getting worried about the requirements and restrictions of diabetics and gluten-free and dieting/not dieting for the holidays folks.  I’d welcome any ideas and suggestions from those who’ve ‘been there/done that’. 


A devoted lurker

Dear Devoted Lurker, here are some thoughts from our panel.

First, from earthchick:


I have never hosted an Open House in my tiny home, but I do bake and cook for a Christmas party for our campus ministry students every year (which I host at our church), and here are a few of my tips:
1 – Variety. It’s okay if not everything can be eaten by everyone – with vegetarians, diets, allergies, and other restrictions, it is extremely difficult to cater every dish to every palate. Make up for that by having a good variety of options. Let people make their own decisions about what they can/should eat.
2 – Label. This will help people make those decisions. If you have the time, write/type up the ingredients of each dish, and display on a card nearby (along with the name of the dish).
3 – Strive for a balance of sweet and savory, light and heavy.
4 – Trader Joe’s is your friend. If you have one nearby, you can find all manner of Christmas treats, snack foods, and heavy hors d’euvres (check the freezer section for lots of great foods that can be used as heavy appetizers). You can get a lot of good-tasting food there without breaking the bank.
5 – The slow-cooker is also your friend. I usually have a big one full of meatballs (cooked with grape jelly and cocktail sauce) and a very small one filled with hot queso.
6 – Accept help. If anyone offers to make and bring something, take them up on it. You don’t have to make it a potluck, but even one or two people bringing homemade cookies or something else will be a help.
7 – Don’t forget the fresh fruits, raw veggies, and nuts. These can be great snacking options for people looking to avoid baked goods and heavy foods.
8 – Write out a plan for yourself so that almost everything is ready ahead of time, with notes about when things might need to go in the even during the party, so that you can spend most of the time during the Open House visiting with people.


I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best on your Open House!

Next, we hear from the Crimson Rambler:

Blessings upon your hospitable spirit~

My hunch is that folks who come to the parsonage are not looking for exotic and amazing things to eat and drink — sort of folks who come to lunches after funerals (in that instance, don’t mess up their minds with capers etc., stick to egg-salad, ham, cheese, — all IDENTIFIABLE and familiar).
Nanaimo bars. Make some.
Nanaimo bars. Make some.

So if I’m right — I’d have raw vegetables and two kinds of basic dip, crackers and four kinds of cheese, maybe a shrimp ring or two, familiar kinds of fruit (and dip, maybe), and fruitcake, shortbread, gingerbread men, and maybe one plate of “Square Brown Things” such as brownies, Nanaimo bars, matrimonial cake (aka date squares).  You could stand some candy canes in a Festive Christmas Mug.  Tea, coffee, decaf, and a non-alcoholic punch of great simplicity.  Freeze some maraschino cherries in ice cubes for seasonal joy.  MAYBE hot cider if you’re in an applacious part of the world.  MAYBE hot chocolate, if not.The diabetics and the gluten-free and the dieters then can make their own choice.  Hummus is a good gluten-free dip. Contact me for a smoked-salmon mousse recipe that is simplicity itself, goes nicely w. crackers AND veg., maybe not so much with the fruit?”Good and plain” would be my theme — lots of decoration — and a big ol’ smile.

And from Muthah+, who blogs at Stone of Witness:

As one for whom FOOD is always an interesting topic I would suggest:

  • easy to prepare foods like nut, olives, fruit and things that take little prep but are gluten free. Often grocery olive bars have items like stuffed grape leaves or the like. I avoid chips and dip because of the gluten thing. Homemade Chex mix can be gluten free.
  • provide sugared and un-sugared cookies or pastries.
  • savory and sweet offerings help those who watch sugar.
  • a variety of drinks rather than a single punch is better.
  • cooking from scratch is helpful for those who have specific diets. That way when someone with specific needs asks, I know what is in the foods I have prepared.

My go-to recipe place is foodtv.com especially the offerings of Ina Garten. Her food tends to be yummy and generally simple.

But I am sure that we have enough recipes among us to give you help.

Sistahs, do we have recipes?

I suspect we do. RevGals and Pals, if you have a recipe to share, particularly one that would coordinate with the concerns of our questioner, please post or link to it in the comments.

Our queue is empty, so I encourage you to send your questions, holiday or otherwise, to Ask the Matriarch.

12 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Christmas Parties

  1. We host an Open House each year for my husband’s congregation (I am sans congregation at this point, and I’m not sure the Open House would happen if I were working full time, BTW). I think you have good advice from the matriarchs. We have mostly sweets (homemade candies and cookies). Veggies and dip. Crackers, cheese, and summer sausage. Nuts. I have labeled them before, and people like that, but I don’t always get that done. Depending on the weather, we have iced tea, coffee, lemonade, wassail, or some combination thereof. We always offer water, of course. People are free to eat as much or as little as they want. It runs from 1:30 to 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. And…it’s this Sunday. I need to get busy in the kitchen!


      1. You’re telling me. And due to a unfortunate scheduling snafu, I’m preaching Sunday morning in another town. *Someone* had better get off the internet and into the apron.


  2. People who have severe food restrictions tend to also have control needs. (I’m saying this with love). For example, if their kid has peanut allergies, and someone says “there’s no nuts in this” but then their child has a reaction because it did have nuts in it, they prefer to be able to really know what is in a dish.

    So I’ve found that if I go to them and say, “I have no idea what to prepare that you can eat. Could you give me some ideas? Or do you have something you’d like to bring?” they usually are glad to bring something.

    If you don’t already bake gluten free, the week before Christmas is NOT the time to start. It isn’t as easy as switching from one flour to another. It’s a science experiment.


  3. As a Rev who is allergic to dairy gluten and caffeine (sob!) yes, I do host, and because I know how difficult it is, and indeed I do have control issues, (having hidden dairy can make me ill for 7-10 days), I also label!
    Tend to buy some freezer snack trays which can be heated up and served – nice nibbly things. I can concur with hummus – great gluten free dip, and to avoid any uncertainty, get the plain one. All those lovely flavours sound fine, but any additions I am always wary of.
    Do not attempt GF baking this week! It is not simply a swap out thing, the GF flours are very different to handle, and I am still perfecting recipes.
    Ours is an evening do, invited guests, mostly all the session and other volunteers. who make such a difference over the year.
    I serve wine and beer, and soft drinks. And most years, we end up with more wine that we started because folks are so generous!
    My principle has always been keep it simple
    We host on 30th December – not Hogmanay itself as folks tend to want to be with their own families that night.


  4. I am known as the ‘Punch Queen’ at my church. Here is the recipe and I ‘stole’ it long ago from a Junior League cookbook but cannot remember which one to give proper credit.
    1 large can pineapple juice
    1 2 liter bottle of ginger ale
    1 can of frozen lemonade

    I usually add a freezer ring of frozen lemonade with cut up fruit like orange, lemon, lime.
    If you want it more festive, you can add 1/2 carton of frozen sherbet.

    hope this is helpful.


  5. oh! I thought of something else. If you expect children, have some kid-friendly items to eat and drink (we made some gingerbread folks, for instance). If you don’t have children (and thus toys) at your home, you might want to provide some activity for ones who come–coloring page, sidewalk chalk if it’s nice outside, prepackaged craft, etc. Their parents will bless you.


  6. I’m vegan (no meat or dairy), and people are always asking me what to serve at parties. The easiest thing to make for vegans: buy some hummus, pita bread, and grapes. Cut the pita bread into fourths, pile it into a dish, open the container of hummus, wash the grapes, and you’re done! If you’re more ambitious, lentil soup or vegetable soup or vegan chili are great options. And obviously — fresh fruits or vegetables are always good choices.


  7. Meringues are a nice sweet treat for people who are gluten free.

    On labelling, if you don’t have time to label thoroughly, then labelling those things that you are sure of as “nut free” or “dairy free” or “gluten free” could work. Then people with issues know to treat everything else with suspicion.


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