There's something festive yet casual about a Christmas Tree Decorating Party. It's an occasion that celebrates the fun of the holiday season, built upon one of the more enduring holiday symbols. Yet, by its very nature, things don't have to be perfect. When guests attend your party, they expect to find a naked tree, and a house that is not quite ready for Christmas.
Before your guests arrive, you should have purchased your tree (!) and set it up in its stand. Light a fire in your fireplace and play Christmas carols as background music. If you have a piano, place Christmas sheet music on it in case any of your guests feel inspired to play. Serve your food buffet style, since this will be an active party with your guests moving around decorating, or at least admiring, your tree.
The party can be held any time of the day, and you have many menu options. The simplest choice, and one that really speaks to the kid in me, is to have plates of cookies and sweets with festive holiday drinks to accompany them. You can do this on a weekend afternoon from 2:00pm - 5:00pm, or invite guests to come after dinner from 7:00pm - 10:00pm. Indicate on your invitations that cookies and drinks will be served so that your guests don't arrive expecting more substantial food.
You can also expand on the cookie buffet by adding hearty appetizers. This way you are still keeping things very casual, holding down the expense of the party, and in my opinion, offering the two most interesting courses.
A weekend brunch is another relaxing alternative. You can offer a selection of fresh bagels, muffins, cut up fresh fruit, and one or two breakfast casseroles, which can be made the night before, and baked that morning before your guests arrive. Serve orange juice, coffee, punch and eggnog, with optional champagne and rum.
You can always make any of these buffets heartier by adding a roast turkey and trimmings or a baked ham. Or, to keep the mood very casual, arrange a large crockpot of chili on your buffet table, and serve it with sour cream, chopped onions, grated Monterey jack cheese, chopped cilantro, tortilla chips and salsa.