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Sunday, January 23, 2022

The new rules for hosting that holiday party

If the 2020 holiday season was the year to cancel everything, 2021 is about figuring out how to get our groove back.

By: New York Times | New York |
December 6, 2021 10:30:28 pm
holiday party rulesIf the 2020 holiday season was the year to cancel everything, 2021 is about figuring out how to get our groove back. (Trisha Krauss/The New York Times)

By Ronda Kaysen

(Right at home)

Last year, Jeremy Wilcox and his husband canceled their annual holiday party. With COVID-19 cases surging, the couple could not imagine squeezing 40 guests into a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. But this year, with New York City reopened amid high vaccination rates, they are ready to revive the tradition, just on a smaller scale.

They whittled the invite list to 15, and their save-the-date email read more like a COVID-19 protocol explainer than a party announcement, asking guests if they’d be comfortable coming to the intimate gathering, where adults would be vaccinated and windows would be open.

Everyone seemed ready to celebrate.

“I love getting together with friends for the holidays,” said Wilcox, 42, a New York City tour guide. “I’m a very big Christmas person. It made me very sad not to do it last year. I’m very excited to go back to it and dip our toes back into the water.”

If the 2020 holiday season was the year to cancel everything, 2021 is about figuring out how to get our groove back. Weddings and bar mitzvahs have been back on for months, and families are gathering to celebrate the holidays with grandparents, aunts and uncles. But the smaller social events with friends — the friendsgivings, cocktail parties and New Year’s Eve bashes — have been slower out of the gate, as such gatherings often fall lower on the list of social priorities.

Add to the equation the recent rise in cases and a potentially troubling new variant, and some hosts and guests might pause before crowding into a friend’s apartment for eggnog and canapés. Event planners and caterers say that so far, the parties have been scaled back and the ones that are happening are organized on the fly, with little advance notice.

“People want to go back to living; they want to learn how to live with this thing,” said Seri Kertzner, the owner of Little Miss Party in Manhattan, who encourages her clients to keep their gatherings small and, weather permitting, to hold them outdoors. “We do also need to learn to live with it without being too alarming.”

And so, there are new rules for a gracious host to learn amid a pandemic. Making guests feel comfortable is no longer just about nameplates and signature cocktails. It’s also about hand sanitizer, seat spacing and vaccination protocols.

Communicate the ground rules

People have different comfort levels when it comes to COVID-19. So be direct and clear in your invitation about yours.

“The best host is the one who provides the most information,” said Mary Giuliani, a caterer in Manhattan. “The more information the better.”

She added: “We are all reentering at different phases. I find it’s really helpful to really lay out what you’re going to get.”

If the party is indoors, will the windows be open? If so, remind guests to bring a sweater. If the event will be maskless, let guests know before they arrive. Lay out your vaccination rules, too. If you plan to restrict the invite list to the fully vaccinated, tell guests, and explain how you will enforce the policy. Will it be an honor system or will you be checking vaccine cards at the door?

Many hosts of larger events have required guests to take a PCR or rapid COVID-19 test before the party, and to bring their results with them. You could set the same rules for a smaller gathering, or simply suggest pre-party testing, particularly if some of your guests are at higher risk for serious illness.

“You can just say to people, ‘Right before, let’s all get tested so we can feel at ease, comfortable and able to just hang out with each other,’” said Amanda Hudes, an event and wedding planner in New Jersey.

You could even hire a private company to test guests at the door. The cost will depend on the company you hire and the type of testing you choose. A company like A2Z Diagnostics in Eatontown, New Jersey, which provides rapid on-site testing and bills insurance companies, charges $75 per hour per staff member. According to its director of business development, Jason Gross, a typical at-home party would require one or two staff members for about one or two hours.

Room to mingle

Create an environment that feels spacious so guests can spread out. If you have outdoor space, make it accessible, even if the party is largely indoors. Set up a fire pit outside or outdoor heaters, and make seating available so people can get fresh air. If you’re planning a seated dinner indoors, don’t overcrowd the tables; and group people based on their households or with their closest friends, rather than mixing them up.

Create nooks in the space where people could comfortably stand off by themselves or with one other person without feeling like they’re hiding.

“It’s a good idea to have chairs separated a bit and to have sanitizers out and some windows open,” Hudes said. “Whatever is going to keep the air flowing and people feeling really good and comfortable with each other — to just be able to have fun again.”

If you decide to host a winter event that is entirely (or mostly) outdoors, include an activity, like s’mores for the fire pit. Hudes planned an event recently with a temporary ice skating rink set up in the backyard.

Give a nod to hygiene

As tempting as a charcuterie board might be, it’s wise to avoid shared platters. Instead, offer each guest an individual plate or box of appetizers. A personalized box “is adorable,” Kertzner said. “It’s got crackers, cheese, salami — whatever you want to put in it. It’s tied up with a cute bow.”

Rather than serve mixed drinks, offer individual cans of beer, wine or hard seltzer. With a wide enough selection, guests will be happy — and you’ll have fewer glasses to wash at the end of the night.

Put out bottles of hand sanitizer to make guests feel at ease. Leave some paper towels in the bathrooms for them to dry their hands after washing. And even if you have a mask-free event, set out a basket of disposable ones, in case someone feels anxious during the night.

“Keep it light,” Kertzner said. “If you end up wanting a mask, here’s a mask.”

And with that, you get to have your party.

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