December 24, 1999
The last half of December is when every meal seems to be served
on a cracker. The party season is in full swing, and we won't
get any rest until New Years Day.
There are lots of guides out there to being a good host. Every
magazine has articles about how to make festive centerpieces,
low-fat hors d'oeuvres, and your own wrapping paper. I however
draw the line at getting into the holiday mood by hot-gluing
cranberries to the family pet or slow-moving relatives.
Yes, the relentless spirit of Martha Stewart has every aspiring
host and hostess whipping up their own eggnog and making Christmas
ornaments out of tissue paper and spare car parts. In short -
making life generally miserable for the rest of us who see the
holiday as a chance to relax.
But before you call me Scrooge, I'd like to point out that
my wife and I are no strangers to entertaining. Our annual Christmas
open house had a paltry 89 people show up at our small home this
Even so, I still think it's easier being the host than the
guest. Especially since my wife does most of the work.
It's actually very challenging being a guest especially
a good one. A friend's mother used to say: "The host throws
the party, but it's up to the guests to make it a success."
My friend Rob is a great guest. He mixes with everyone, has
a story ready to tell and keeps the glasses filled. As the politicians
say, he works the room.
A good guest doesn't say anything when you're given the same
scented candle you gave your host last year. Besides, if their
memory is that bad you can always wrap it up and give it back
to them next year.
Some parties are like being dropped behind enemy lines. As
a guest you should be prepared by bringing a survival kit. Some
hosts are slow to offer a life-sustaining drink. Rather than
be a burden, wrap up a bottle of your favourite hooch and say
it's a present for your next stop. If things get bad, say your
imaginary friend will understand if you open it up.
A good guest doesn't let a party get below critical mass.
If it does, help your host deal with that last problem guest
who has no intention of leaving. Lure them outside with an offer
to drive them home, then claim your car has been towed.
Special note for guests with children - don't let them handle
everything on the buffet. Fingerprints in the pate and toothmarks
in the cheese can ruin all but the heartiest appetites. I make
it a policy to only eat the things at the centre of the table.
Don't say anything when your hosts refuse to lock the cats
up. After all, there's nothing so appealing when you arrive as
seeing the cat on the dining room table sitting in the butter.
I was a guest at a beautiful dinner recently given by cat
people friends. During dinner one of the pussycats jumped on
the sideboard and brushed up against a candle. After a spirited
chase down the hall, the feline meteor was extinguished without
I like to think we were all good guests. Even though the only
thing you could smell was the aroma of slightly singed tabby,
we carried on with dinner without anyone mentioning it.
Martha would have been proud.