Hosting a Holiday Party? The Most-Important Thing to Serve: Yourself

Melissa dishes on the details of her annual Mother-Daughter Holiday Tea and shares how she came to learn that the most-important thing we serve at a party is ourselves.

Our annual Mother-Daughter Holiday Tea is a treasured tradition that marks the start of the holiday season for me and my four young daughters. Every year, we invite the women we treasure into our home to eat, drink, laugh and connect on the first Saturday in December. My girls set their holiday calendars to the Mother-Daughter Tea, and so do I.

This year was shaping up to be a perfect start to the holiday season. For the first time in years, I wasn’t traveling the week leading up to the tea, so I baked at my leisure, planned my menu and relaxed. Philippe and I made Potato-Bacon Tortes like crazy one night. Margaux and I made hundreds of Buttermilk Scones (rosemary and chocolate chip scones, as well as lemon zest-vanilla bean-cardamom scones) in advance and froze them uncooked, ready to be baked up fresh on Saturday morning. Valentine and I made another round of scones another day, but gluten-free. (Get my bake-ahead tips and more baking recipe ideas here.) I bought special chocolate to melt for the kids’ favorite chocolate fondue fountain. I planned out the party logistics with the confidence of someone who had done this all dozens of times. I even had the creative space to brainstorm a genius addition to the d’Arabian tradition: a fully stocked hot chocolate station. It's a veritable buffet of goodies like marshmallows, whipped cream, caramel sauce and mini chocolate chips to pile on top of steamy hot cocoa. I knew I was headed for the Best. Tea. Ever.

That was until Friday, when everything fell apart. It started with my husband, who was traveling for work, texting that all of his flights home were canceled. Suddenly I had no one strong enough to pull out the banquet table from the garage, no one tall enough to reach my carefully stored stock of adored mismatched teacups from the top storage shelf, no one to put together the requisite chocolate fountain. The details are too boring to share, but trust me that the logistics just never quite recovered. When my first guest rang the doorbell at 9:50 Saturday morning, I quite simply did not feel ready. Any glimpse of smooth sailing of the previous week was gone, and in its place were mini crises (“Mom! Charlotte spilled hot chocolate on the carpet upstairs!”) and general logistical clunkiness (who knew the girls would each put a tennis-ball-sized dollop of whipped cream on their hot chocolates, leaving the house whipped creamless an hour into the party?). I kept a smile on my face, but I’ll admit that inside I felt a little defeated and outmatched by fate.

Then, magic happened. About halfway through the party, I looked up to see my two nieces walk in the door. They live just a few houses away, but they are teenagers, and with their fantastic social lives and my work travel schedule, we just hadn’t seen each other in weeks. The minute I saw them, tears filled my eyes, and I hugged them probably a little too tightly (eliciting a slightly embarrassed but kind “Auntie, don’t cry.”). And I was suddenly reminded that the most-important thing we serve at a party is ourselves — our attention and our hearts. I stopped worrying about the little details that weren’t perfect and focused on what was perfect: more than a hundred women and girls coming together on a Saturday morning to celebrate the holidays and each other.

I don’t think the guests noticed, but Saturday was, truth to be told, a bit of a disaster for me in some ways. But I was surrounded by the women I love most, and that made it the Best. Tea. Ever.

Calling all Melissa fans! Just in time for the new year, she'll release a brand-new cookbook, Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot. Click here to order your copy now.

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