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A Gingerbread Party

This easy party is a festive way to greet the holidays. Kids and adults will love decorating gingerbread houses (and sneaking some candy!). Once the houses are bedecked, reward everyone's hard work with a hearty feast  -- everything is make-ahead and family-friendly. Keep things simple: Sunday afternoon (after everyone's nap) is a good time for a party, since it allows you a full day to get ready.

And have guests dress casually  -- they're bound to wind up with a few icing smears. Read on for more tips and recipes.

Party primer

"What started out a few years ago as a cute weekend activity for my then-preschooler son Will has blossomed into an annual holiday gathering that also includes my younger kids Eliza and Lucas," says Parenting staffer Maura Rhodes, who offers these how-to-do-it tips:

* Assemble the gingerbread houses (available at [XREF {http://www.wilton.com/} {www.wilton.com}] or Trader Joe's) the night before so the icing dries and they're sturdy. (Ditch the mix that comes in the kits; tubs of white icing are easier and faster to use.)

* Lay a plastic tablecloth atop your regular one before putting out decorating items. When the houses are done, lift off the now-messy top one and your table is ready for setting out the feast.

* Ask guests to bring candy to add to your own. Good choices: M&Ms, ribbon candy, candy canes, licorice, gummy bears. Rhodes's favorite: Fruit Stripe gum, which makes the best "shutters."

* Keep a few pairs of safety scissors on hand for little decorators who want to customize candy sizes and shapes.

* Sprinkle decorated houses with "snow," if you like: Use confectioners' sugar in a shaker-top container or a sieve.

* Plan ahead for next year's party! Post-holidays, stock up on gingerbread-house kits  -- they're usually marked way down.

[XREF {/parenting/article/0,19840,832537,00.html} {Read on for fun and festive make-ahead recipes}].

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