Welcoming the winter solstice

A party to illuminate the day

December 18, 2007

Religious and family-of-origin customs shape many holiday rituals, but the beauty of winter solstice is that it excludes no one and touches everyone. Who’s immune to the changing season, the growing cold, the days of dwindling light? What better way to lighten our hearts, when the days turn dark, than to gather with friends for a meal and good cheer?

Simple fare (see our ideas below), the coziness of whatever light we can muster (bright candles, a stoked fire), and the warmth of lifted spirits (both in the glass and of the guests) are all a solstice party requires. Call us romantic, or gluttons for punishment, but we also like dimming the electric lights as much as possible on the solstice.

A table laden with plates of good-tasting appetizers welcomes the darkest day of the year.

Here are two ideas for throwing a winter party. We favor the upcoming solstice, but both strategies lend themselves to adaptation for other winter holidays. After all, the emphasis is on making the most of the gathering.

The first approach is to assemble a table of appetizers, a balance of purchased and home-prepared foods, foods that make a big splash but take little preparation time. Planning and shopping for this party may take more of your effort than the actual cooking.

Alternatively, you could set the theme — Spanish tapas, antipasti — and invite everyone to contribute. Either way, the intent is to make a meal out of lots of small plates and sparkly glasses of bubbly. This is the perfect party to throw during the afternoon, just as the light is beginning to dim.

Smoked fish with pickled onions and horseradish-spiked crème fraîche.

The second approach is to cook a big pot or pan of something that takes little time to pull together once the party has started — soup, lasagne — and then serve it family-style.

Everyone nibbles on crackers and cheese, someone opens the wine, you toss a salad, and all while the main course is heating on the stove or in the oven.

Dessert for either party is elegantly simple: a plate of toffee, chocolate truffles, and holiday cookies.

Both menus minimize the efforts of the host, allowing everyone to enjoy the festivities. Today we feast, and tomorrow we cherish that extra minute of daylight that comes with the passing of the shortest day and the longest night.

Prosecco cocktails

Small plates

Toffee brittle


Also on Culinate: Deb Perelman’s party-planning tips.

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