It can be tricky to see friends during the holidays. On the one hand, folks have time off from work and are in the mood for visiting and celebrating, so it seems like it’s prime time to see each other! On the other hand, it’s a time when family takes priority, and many folks go away to be with theirs.
We wanted to visit with our friends and neighbors this Christmas, but we were among those who were out of town for a good chunk of time. If we were to facilitate a time together with local Manchester friends, I knew it had to be simple. We have limited resources, after all (December is expensive!), and we were just coming off of a long trip away, so I was going to have to catch up on things at home and freshen the apartment; I wouldn’t have a lot of time for cleaning and cooking for a full-on party.
So we decided to host an Hot Cocoa Party open house on the 10th Day of Christmas (that was the day that fell on a Sunday afternoon) so that we could catch up with our friends and neighbors in that happy time after the preparations are done but the festivity continues.
It was a hit: easy to put together and easy to clean up after. Our friends all had a good time (or so I believe!) and it was a simple enough concept that I really did get to visit with everyone instead of bustling during the party.
So I thought I’d make some notes, so I can remember what we did — we’re hoping to make it an annual tradition.
Invitations — I sent out an email to our neighbors and a notice on our Pocket page to invite everyone well before Christmas day. I just wanted to put it on everyone’s radar:
~~ Subject Line: 10th Day of Christmas Hot Cocoa Open House ~~
Come by anytime between 1-4. It’s BYOM — Bring your own mug!
We cleaned up our kitchen, living room, and the nursery. We removed all extraneous items and stowed them away in our bedroom. In the nursery, we left out only some basic toys: building blocks and a few baby things. We did our best to make our little apartment spacious for the influx of folks.
I made sugar cookies (from the Joy of Cooking cookbook). That was all the baking I did. I was determined that it would be very simple and the focus would just be on sharing a drink.
I did a bit of recipe research, and finally made two crock pots full of This Hot Cocoa Recipe, one of them using dark cocoa and one of them using regular. The second crock pot was borrowed from my mother, and we did need it (we had about 36 adults and children come through, and I replenished the crockpots about halfway through the party). I recommend the recipe – I heard from a couple guests that it was the best hot cocoa they’d ever had!
(There is this Coconut Cocoa recipe, which could be adapted for dairy-free folks. I’ve made it and it’s very tasty, but I recommend thinning it out somehow or not using all the condensed milk, as I found it a little cloying.)
Just before guests arrived, I lit the candles.
Note: I should have started the cocoa earlier, as it really needed a good 1 1/2 hours to mix up and heat up. Our guests were very patient and bore with me even though there was no cocoa immediately available at the beginning of the cocoa party. Oops.
The Open House —
We decided on the Open House format since we were apprehensive about our space fitting everyone whom we wanted to invite. Folks felt free to come by for just a short time; a couple families showed up right towards the end (they’d been waiting for their babies to wake up from naps), and we were definitely pleased to see them just for a little bit rather than not at all!; the flow worked out and people came and went, without it ever getting too crowded in here. The kids enjoyed playing the blocks in the nursery and cocoa supervised by their parents.
A few friends had asked if they could bring anything, and I’d said no, thank you – it was just going to be simple cocoa. A couple others kindly brought small contributions, which I put out along with the spread.
Bring Your Own Mug —
The BYOM thing was key. You know how everyone has that one mug that they’re attached to or proud of? Well, they don’t get to share that mug outside of the home, but it is actually a great conversation starter! We had total strangers connecting over interesting mugs and the stories behind them. For another thing, everyone took their mugs with them when they left, meaning very little clean-up for us (which was good, because we were still lagging after New Year’s Eve and not up for much labor that evening)!
I put some crushed-up mint candies on the table and they tasted delicious mixed into the cocoa. I’m sure you could come up with lots of other fun additions besides the marshmallows (whipped cream was on my mind but I just didn’t get to it).
I won’t be surprised if some of you have had this idea already – what are your suggestions for a fun Hot Cocoa Party? Or what is a low-key way you like to get friends together during the cold months?