A fresh look at holiday parties

Ralph Stewart

Hosting a holiday fete is a lovely way to connect with friends and neighbors, say thank you to employees, and brighten up the dark, cold days of a New England winter.

Planning and executing a party can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be headache-inducing, labor-intensive, or cost-prohibitive. Consider teaming with some of our Island’s artists, experts, and characters to create an event that you can actually enjoy from start to finish.

Let a pro take care of it

If you dread decorating, cooking, and cleaning — but like the idea of hosting, dressed in your finest, why not let a local eatery plan and house your party? Many Island restaurants are ready, willing, and able to feed and entertain your guests, which will allow you to enjoy your party without donning an apron. Consider your Vineyard favorites from the simple elegance of State Road, to the funky coziness of the ArtCliff Diner, to the easy warmth of The Wharf where you can take over the back room and take advantage of the regularly scheduled live music.

Happy, healthy holidays

Perhaps you’d prefer a party that doesn’t focus on food? What about a spinning party at OM of Motion where Kimberly Cartwright and her crew can decorate the space to your specifications, put together a rocking holiday music mix then get your group’s hearts pumping and wheels rolling, no matter what their age or fitness level. Or a yoga party at the West Tisbury Yoga Collective where local teacher Sian Williams can design a yogic evening that allows you and your beloveds to focus on the spiritual aspects of the season in a healthy and active way.

Share an adventure

What about the family fun of a sledding party, followed by hot cider, cocoa, or mulled wine? If snow is scarce you can still bundle in mufflers, boots, and blankets and take a sleigh or wagon ride with Bruce Marshard and his Percheron horses, or Freddie Fisher and his team. Maybe the ride starts at one house for appetizers then travels to a neighbor’s for cookies and eggnog. Plan a holiday hike — Felix Neck and Vineyard Conservation Society have excellent tour guides who could lead, or suggest a route, perhaps one that ends with an indoor picnic in front of a roaring fire?

Be creative together

If you prefer an indoor activity, gather your friends for a wreath-decorating party led by the designers of Martha’s Vineyard Florist and Gifts. Is your troop dramatic? Host a play-reading party. Choose a script that reflects on, or relates to the holiday, assign roles, provide a little liquid courage, and watch the drama unfold. What about combining creativity with the true meaning of the season and organizing a gift-wrapping party, where all the gifts are being wrapped for the Red Stocking Fund, or assemble food baskets of festive non-perishable items for the Island Food Pantry.

Something old, something different

Perhaps you like a more traditional party, and want to make it your own, while keeping to a budget? You could co-host with a friend, or a group of friends, sharing the costs and responsibilities. Try renting a non-traditional venue like a community center, museum, library, summer rental property, church or temple basement or common area, a yoga or dance studio, or theater. Go for that old Vineyard chestnut — the potluck and stipulate BYOB. Many catering companies and local grocery stores can put together appetizer or deli platters for a reasonable price. Entertainment can be as simple as a good iPod playlist or as unique as hiring a local band or musician like guitar teacher and artist Eric Johnson. As the evening wears on, you might roll back the rugs for a little dancing or lead your crowd in singing some seasonal songs.

Now that summer is fading into the past and there’s nobody here but us chickens, we deserve to make merry. Go ahead and deck the halls, light the menorah, sing about the solstice, and have a bash. There are plenty of ways to celebrate the season and plenty of people to help you live it up. Just be sure to invite my friends and me.

Elissa Lash lives in Vineyard Haven with her husband Chris Roberts, a member of The Times staff, and children Tobey and Carlotta.