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Your guide to hosting the best Christmas party

  • Delicious food, great décor, cheery music and like-minded guests—it’s the recipe for the perfect Christmas party
  • But if you find the planning a bit daunting, Lounge speaks to three hosts with decades of experience to help you out

Alex and Namita Kuruvilla with their daughters; and (left) a part of their tropical-themed Christmas spread.
Alex and Namita Kuruvilla with their daughters; and (left) a part of their tropical-themed Christmas spread.

If the stress of finishing a hundred chores before Christmas isn’t enough, the added responsibility of hosting a party can often mean merry times for your guests but a migraine for you. While Christmas parties are all about the food, the kind of guests you invite, the décor and tiny details such as the table setting can elevate your evening. We speak with the seasoned hosts of three varied Christmas parties—a classic Goan party, a Mumbai house party, and one of Delhi’s most photographed soirées—to share the details that make their parties memorable.

Classic is the best (Namita and Alex Kuruvilla) Mumbai

For over 20 years, managing director of Condé Nast India Alex Kuruvilla and wife Namita have been hosting a Christmas party at their Altamount Road residence in Mumbai. “There is nothing fashionable about our Christmas. On the contrary, everything is old-fashioned. Even our Christmas tree is as old as our daughters (in their 20s). It’s bald in places but laden with memories. We usually don’t even follow a theme. It was only last year that our daughter Rhea followed a tropical Christmas theme for the table," says Namita.

The family doesn’t party on Christmas eve, so the event is usually hosted a week before. And if you were to go to the Kuruvilla residence on the day of the party, the first thing you would hear is Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt, accompanied by the bustle in the kitchen. Precious parts of the décor are little cardboard stars and trees made by the Kuruvilla girls when they were children. The overriding fragrance is cinnamon. The decorations on the tree include ornaments that have been gifted by friends and collected on travels—there is even a haiku poem.

Christmas cupcakes
Christmas cupcakes

Let there be cake

Namita believes there is comfort in repetition. So the Christmas cake comes from a family bakery in Kerala every year, with nuts and fruits that have been soaked months in advance. The pièce de résistance is a turkey by chef Rahul Akerkar. Everything else is home-made from scratch. In early December, the tree is put up and the cakes are ready. In fact, anyone who drops by during the month gets a slice, to be washed down with wine. Creative WhatsApp invites are sent to guests, and Namita follows up with a phone call.

One of the highlights is Alex cooking in the kitchen. “He is an amazing cook. He can cook for up to 40-60 people and he enjoys it. So when I say that there’s bustle in the kitchen, it’s Alex with a glass of wine in his hand, cooking away," says Namita. The menu is always traditional. In addition to the turkey and ham (often made by Akerkar), you will also see leg of lamb, Christmas pudding, and large chocolate Christmas cupcakes made by a home baker in Breach Candy, something every guest loves to take back. “They are not hip and cool, nor are they vegan. Just good old cupcakes, which we have been ordering for two decades."

All that jazz

Namita says she would ideally love to host a choir but they are usually late in booking one. Instead, all the friends join in and sing, followed by jazz and Christmas songs. “Sometimes the words are forgotten, sometimes someone’s off-key, but it is a lot of fun," she says.

There’s no pressure to carry gifts—they believe the best gift is time spent together. But all the guests get to take home the best gifts, goodie bags filled with food.

A recently-instituted tradition is formal and pyjama-dress family portraits to remember each year. This includes their dog, Luna.

“I think the party is enjoyable as the host and the hostess are enjoying themselves. The best compliment that I ever received is when we were planning to travel for Christmas and someone said, ‘You can’t leave, you are our Christmas plan,’" says Namita.

Nayantara Mascarenhas De Lima Leitao (centre) with her family.
Nayantara Mascarenhas De Lima Leitao (centre) with her family.

Christmas for all (Nayantara Mascarenhas de Lima Leitao) Goa

Hosting a party of a hundred people can be daunting, but not for Vasco resident Nayantara Mascarenhas De Lima Leitao. For the 57-year-old Goan, the annual Christmas party, indeed the entire month, is the most joyous time of the year. “My husband was a big party person and we would often host dinners at home. When I got married and came to Vasco from Dona Paula, we would make traditional sweets and distribute them to the whole village, just like people do on Diwali. When my kids started growing up, we started hosting the party at home, especially because a lot of our friends and our children’s friends were Hindus and this would be the ultimate homely Christmas experience where everyone would come together. And we have continued doing it for almost 30 years now," says Leitao.

Guests include family members based abroad who come down for Christmas, and friends of her children. Christmas parties used to be extra-special earlier—her late husband’s birthday was on 20 December.

“When hosting a big party, it’s important to introduce your friends to others, that is what keeps the conversation going, especially when you as a host are busy in the kitchen bound by a host of other duties," says Leitao. The reason behind the calm, she says, is the fact that she is organized and has a list of chores for each day leading up to the party.

The prep for the party and the festive season begins on 1 December. Everything is cooked at home, and it is traditional. Leitao starts with soaking the fruits in rum for the cake, which takes the longest. Earlier, they would send physical invites. Now, WhatsApp invites are sent, with a secretary following up with confirmation phone calls.

A feast that shouldn’t be missed

Every year, Leitao cooks about 6kg wood-fired ham in the open space behind her home. All food is typical Goan Christmas fare. The centrepieces are close to eight whole chickens stuffed with crumbs, chicken liver, herbs, onions and cut apricots. These are baked with the skin, which is buttered and cooked till crisp. There are several pork dishes too, such as pork sorpotel, and of the 12-15 dishes, five are vegetarian. All the dry snacks are vegetarian too.

Vegetarian dishes include layered zucchini and baingan (eggplant) in yogurt, with mild spices and a sprinkling of cheese, Goan pulao, palak paneer bake, and some Deccani dishes made by her cook, who is from Bagalkot, Karnataka—for example, stuffed capsicum in peanut sauce. Leitao says that it’s important to know how many vegetarians are expected because she likes to make the whole meal—dry snacks, gravy and rice. Meat-eaters have a host of options—a red snapper, which Leitao often cooks whole in specially designed copper pans, prawns and crab cutlets. There are a minimum of seven desserts, including Goan favourites like bebinca, sannas, coconut soufflé and chocolate mousse.

“Always remember to ask your guests if they have any allergies when you send your invitations. You don’t want any accidents," she warns.

All in the family

It’s a big drinking and dancing party, Leitao tells us. “My brother has a band which plays through the night, but we start with carol singing. Music later varies from contemporary, retro to even Bollywood at some point."

Children are a big part of the parties. “In Goa, everyone brings their children to parties. I remember once my son was just three months old and we had a party. It’s good because when children are raised going to parties, they know how to behave and don’t throw tantrums. We keep two bedrooms with toys aside for children, plus the help at home is there all the time to look after them too. And kids love dancing, so the live music is a big hit with them."

Leitao makes it a point to inform the bar not to give anything to children, not even aerated drinks.

Dilip and Devi Cherian.
Dilip and Devi Cherian.

Love your guests (Dilip and devi Cherian) Delhi

Every year, communications consultant Dilip Cherian pulls off a political coup, hosting some of the country’s top policymakers, even bitter rivals, at his annual Christmas party. The key, says Cherian, founder of Perfect Relations Pvt. Ltd., is genuine affection for the people you invite.

“(One has to be) non-partisan about politics, economics and social profiles of people. We invite friends whom I have known from school and college, friends from my wife’s childhood spent in Himachal Pradesh, people who have been in major takeover battles against each other, and severely opposing sides, like Arvind Kejriwal and the late Mrs Sheila Dikshit. It doesn’t matter as long as they are people with whom either of us (his family) has a long and abiding relationship, it’s not about newbies and wannabes," explains Cherian.

Friends of their children are invited and the final mix of guests includes people of different ages, people who know each other, and people who only meet once a year—everyone who has been invited before, stays invited, and the Cherians host as many as 200 guests. “It’s a place where there are no judgements and expectations, people just hang out and love that. It is high premium in Delhi to have no pressure to be the light of the party, no pressure to perform."

This is also why he doesn’t keep a dress code or accept gifts and flowers. As hosts, though, he ensures that his wife, Devi, and he are dressed in red and white.

Eat and chat

Since the family Christmas party happens on the 25th, this party is held a week or so earlier. Cherian shares a block-the-date a month in advance and sends a reminder a week or so ahead of the party.

Cherian, a foodie, sees to it that there are enough options for vegetarians and the newly emerging set of vegans in his group. Since many people are perennially on a diet, they are careful that the food isn’t too oily. “Don’t try and mix different cuisines. All Indian is the easiest to do, and even if we have other cuisines, like Lebanese (a crowd favourite), we always have a few dishes on the menu for people who are traditional and prefer only Indian. Make sure that you know what your friends like to eat. We try to not showcase excess and overabundance as people are tired of that post-Diwali. That you have to overfeed your guests is an exaggerated notion," says Cherian.

There was a time when Cherian’s mother would bake a Christmas cake—age has put a stop to that. The mulled wine is a highlight now, he says. So is the fresh trout sent by his brother-in-law a night earlier from Himachal, something everybody loves and looks forward to. “Repetition and boredom are good."

The décor is simple, with Christmas carols playing softly in the background. “I believe that on large occasions like this, music distracts from conversation," he explains.

How does he manage so many people? “I am always on the move. The trick is to helicopter on groups that form on their own. I would say, people, food, soft sounds and lots of love is my recipe for a successful large Christmas party. As for the occasional gatecrasher, we gently lead them to the door."

Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based fashion and lifestyle journalist.

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