"Entertaining is a lot like gardening," Linda Burghardt said. "You can't make mistakes."
In other words, no matter what you do, it's OK.
Just as each combination of flowers produces a different garden, each approach to party planning results in a unique gathering. Through these suggestions, hosts can reinvent Chanukah parties or weave in new ideas with established traditions:
1. Make a guest list of family and friends who light up your life. Celebrating the holiday with friends is fun for people with small families.
2. Using construction paper, show children how to cut out dreidels or candles and create one-of-a-kind invitations by filling in the time and date.
3. If you want to do something fancier, buy plastic dreidels with removable tops and put a note inside each one, explaining the party details.
4. Make a centerpiece by turning a large cardboard box into a dreidel and letting children decorate it. Fill the dreidel with party favors wrapped in blue and white paper, taping mesh bags of Chanukah gelt or real money on top. Attach long ribbons, so it's easy for children to pull party favors from the centerpiece.
5. If you enjoy grab bags purchase them, make gifts yourself or ask guests to bring something to exchange. Organize two sets of grab bags -- one for children and one for adults. Set a price range to ensure fairness.
6. Plan a manageable menu and prepare as many dishes ahead of time as possible.
7. Experiment by making latkes out of sweet potatoes or vegetables such as carrots, zucchini or turnips.
8. For extra-crunchy results, drain latkes on brown paper bags from grocery stores rather than on paper towels.
9. Make Chanukah gelt by melting chocolate and spooning it into rounds on aluminum foil coated with a no-stick spray. When they've cooled, wrap individually in silver or gold foil.
10. Create a lovely ceremony by asking guests to bring menorahs from home. Provide candles in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes, including some from Israel.
11. Place menorahs around the dining room table at the appropriate guest's place. Say the blessing and light the shamashim (the central candle) together, followed by the other candles. Prepare to be dazzled.
12. Explain each step for guests who've grown fuzzy about Jewish customs or who are learning about Judaism for the first time.
13. After dinner, read Isaac Beshevis Singer's delightful "Zlatch the Goat" from his collection of stories by the same name. Young and old alike will be entertained by this charming tale.
14. Sing songs such as "Rock of Ages." Remember to copy song sheets and distribute to guests, so they can join in.
15. Before the party, take a long bath. Allow 45 minutes to relax. Remember your role as host is to extend warmth and welcome people into your home. Forget perfectionism -- it has no place at Chanukah.
From "Jewish Holiday Traditions" by Linda Burghardt (Citadel Press, 2001).
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