A gathering of friends

As November days flipped by, soon to be December's, I found myself planning, as so many are in these pre-holidays, for a gathering of friends. There’s something about the shorter days, the colder nights that draw us inside toward warmth and conversation…and dessert. Yes, that, all of that. But if this evening of dessert was going to happen, it had to happen almost without effort (these are November days, soon to be December’s, after all). As a host, I wanted simple and beautiful; I needed fellowship, not fuss. Here’s a peek at how I planned the evening:

It could be something as delectable...

...as cherry pie, I reasoned (which is not as daunting as it sounds), or, it could be something as simple (and simply as good) as pumpkin bars (I’m imagining them served with mounds of freshly whipped cream, speckled with grated nutmeg).

I’ll host it on a Friday night, since Friday follows Thursday, the day the house gets clean. That way, there won’t be much to mind about the house - just a bathroom check and a quick pillow fluff before my friends arrive.

When they arrive, the porch light should be on and candles should be glowing in the windows. Some bluesy tunes should tumble out the door when I open it upon their knocks. This may sound storybook, I realize, but it’s just a light flipped on, they’re just wicks put to a flame, and every house has windows. Storybook, indeed, right this way.

Hmm. Should I make mulled wine? Nah. When I send the invitations, I’ll write, "Could you bring wine?" in the postscript of two. Coffee and tea I’ll have ready; which is to say, I’ll have filled the tea kettle with water and put it over a high blue flame; steaming hot water for the French press or tea bags, whichever. The simple white mugs we use every morning will work just fine in the evening, too. And of course there’ll be cream in the stoneware pitcher, sugar in the sugar bowl, and honey in the honey pot, because, hello, coffee and tea.

About those invitations, since there’ll only be four going out for this evening with drinks and dessert, I should put effort where effort is due (I send enough email and texts the rest of the year). They’ll be made of the plain white cards I keep upstairs in that plain wooden drawer. Stamped one way, then another, and written with sure black ink, they just might be impossible to deny.

The table should be draped in the long white cloth (creases and fold lines remaining) and set with stacks of white dessert plates (really, they’re salad plates, but not tonight) and natural linen napkins, unironed and simply folded. I’ll put a handful of spoons and forks in the tarnished silver julep cup (that’s sitting on the potting bench right now) and set it near the napkins and plates. I’ll be sure to hot-wash the wine glasses, because spotless wine glasses are a must. In the middle of all this, a centerpiece, made of just two things: a red-flamed branch in an old green bottle.

Friends will come. Through the dark, toward the light, they’ll come. Welcome. Smiles and hugs and hellos; shaking off the cold and coats, leaving both by the door. Over hand-wrapped mugs, warmth will rise, and conversion, too. Words will come, full and sweet, with time enough for all of them. And we’ll eat in the living room, sitting deep in the cushioned places; shoes kicked off and legs curled under. Respite, reunion, and belonging.

What are your ways of holiday hosting with ease?

GATHERINGOFFRIENDSPhoto by Shawn Carpenter

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12 Comments

    • Carmella

      Sunday lunch is the best! I know it’ll be lovely

  1. Dulcimer

    Lovely. So simple and casual, yet intentional and beautiful too.

    • Carmella

      In the end, I made some modifications, but have so enjoyed the process leading up to the event, which is actually happening tonight!

  2. monique zing

    Thanks Carmella for sharing! I am for sure keeping my gathering very simple. It will be just like yours except that my gathering is family only since we live close to family. I will plan something with friends after the holidays. I am also saying no to a lot of holiday invitations this year in order to carve time for my family! My house will be full of candles, a compilation of Christmas music in the background which i got for free on utube, lots of Paleo diet meals from pinterest and assorted teas and healthy deserts from my favorite store Aldi.

    Monique zing

    Mclean VA

    • Carmella

      It sounds wonderful!

  3. Karen

    Ohhhh Carmella, Simple and
    Beautifullllll!!!

    I am going to go with Less is More
    this year in the holiday decorating.

  4. Lina

    Loved this. I felt so cozy just reading this!

  5. Ellen

    This has me longing for the days when I can have an adult gathering in a house that isn’t constantly bombed with the debris of 3 little boys. Moms of little kids reading this, don’t get discouraged! One day for us! Just not now! For now, my last minute gatherings involve another couple with kids in their PJs roasting marshmallows over a fire in our fireplace with a couple of beloved story books.

    • Carmella

      My husband’s work has taken him away from home for long stretches of days from the time our three boys were littles. I actually began hosting girls’ nights back then, after I’d sent them to bed – that way I could stay up (“out”) as late as I wanted and didn’t have to worry about babysitters, when to get back home, etc. Those memories of past girls’ nights are some of my most treasured. It was just what I needed during the little people phase.

  6. Lori

    Lovely and inspiring!

  7. emily

    this is so lovely! so beautiful, warm and inviting. love love love.
    my dear friend and i decided we wanted our families to get together but without the fuss and effort of a big meal … so we decided to do coffee, games and dessert at 4pm on a sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. it was perfect! she served coffee, we all brought treats, played a fun game, kids ran and played, adults laughed and visited and played. perfect.

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