How To Actually Enjoy Your Own Holiday Party: 8 Tips for Entertaining with Ease

updated Dec 1, 2023
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Credit: Leela Cyd

The perfect party host can gracefully float through groups of guests, effortlessly socializing while still carefully catering to their guests’ needs. They sweep up spilled cookie crumbs, laugh with their guests, ensure everyone’s drinks are topped off, and look fabulous the whole time. But if you’re spending all your time and effort worrying about pulling off the world’s holiday party, chances are you won’t have an opportunity to enjoy your own party.

Rather than worry about trying to throw the event of the season, remember that the point of a holiday party is to socialize with people you care about. Chances are your visitors would rather spend quality time with you than watch you flutter around worrying about whether everyone has enough to eat and drink.

We spoke to professional party planner Lisa Lafferty to find out how to relax and have a good time while still hosting a memorable holiday.

1. Start prepping early.

While some of the best gatherings are spontaneous in nature, it never hurts to plan early, especially at this time of year. From bulk-buying booze to cooking-and-freezing food ahead of time to save time, a day of prep here and there will make the lead-up to your party much more manageable. “Do the bulk of your shopping the week before or the week of the event,” says Lafferty.

2. Get the nitty gritty details out of the way.

Consider your playlist, holiday decor, lighting, and coat storage ahead of time, in addition to the obvious food-drink-guests triad. “Hosts can also create a detailed timeline, schedule, or checklist for the day,” notes Lafferty, adding that it “should include buffer time so they have a few moments to relax and refresh between hosting duties.”

3. Visualize your ideal design.

“Create a visual storyboard or mood board to keep you on track with your aesthetic,” suggests Lafferty. “This serves as a guide for you and a helper (if you have one) to ensure every detail is planned and aligned with your desired ambiance.”

“Holiday decor can be as simple as you want it to be,” says Lafferty. “Holiday pine and some warm twinkle lights can do the trick. You can also go for a winter wonderland theme with all white-glistening snow with silver accents and white lighting for an icicle feel.”

4. Have a (loose) theme.

Maybe not strictly necessary, but come on— everybody loves a theme! You might decide to play mainly 90s music, play fun group games, or serve only mid-century-themed drinks; a theme doesn’t have to be prescriptive, and can add to the fun.

For example, if your party is on a Sunday, you could give it a “holiday brunch” vibe; from scones and strata on the menu to an apropos “sweatpants and sequins” suggested dress code. This way, you can artfully combine lazy Sundays and partying with friends.

Although themes are fun, it’s best not to go overboard Lafferty advises, “Try not to be too focused on a particular theme. Holiday in itself is a theme, and many people have their own interpretation of what the holiday means to them.” She advises you simply allow guests to come dressed in their own holiday finery. “Whether it’s a specific holiday color, design or fabric, guests feel at ease when they know they don’t have to go to great lengths to dress in specifics for the occasion, especially when many will attend multiple parties during the holiday season.”

5. Get busy the day before.

You don’t want to be left stressing to get everything ready the day your guests are set to arrive. “Pre-set and stage as much as you can the night before,” says Lafferty, who recommends you use this time to prepare your decor, set your table, put together your bar area, and cut veggies for a holiday crudité or cheeseboard. “Pick your bowls and platters for each item,” she suggests, noting you can “even add a sticky note to remind you what food item goes in where — this helps keep you organized the day of, for an easy setup.”

6. Do a signature drink.

People will bring wine to your party, that’s a given. Have some beer in the fridge for those who don’t like wine. Sparkling water and sodas for kids and those who don’t want to drink alcohol, of course. But the real draw to the drink station should be unique to your party: something festive and fun, that you can make in a pitcher or a punch bowl so you don’t have to be playing bartender all night.

“Signature drinks are a great idea to guide guests on what to drink,” says Lafferty. But that’s not the only benefit to creating a drink just for your event, “It also helps organize what you are offering and what you need to buy and plan for. Also, guests love to see a well-crafted, bespoke cocktail menu.”

Don’t forget to put some thought into how you serve these cocktails. “You could opt for adding sophisticated glassware for each cocktail served with a creative and festive garnish,” says Lafferty.

7. Have a couple of small memorable details.

It’s the little things that make people smile, and that they’ll remember when the hangover wears off. Decorate one wall with a “photo booth” backdrop for festive selfies, hang some mistletoe over the mirror in the bathroom, place strategic bowls of chips or plates of cookies around your home. Lighting is a big one: the more candles or string lights strewn about, the better.

8. Remember, it’s just a party.

The whole point of a party is to spend time with your guests in the spirit of celebration. If one of the dishes is burnt or if the prosecco runs out early, no one will care. Chances are, no one will notice. Pour yourself a drink, put on your favorite track, and chat with a friend. You deserve it!

If you feel that familiar holiday-party-planning stress creep over you, take a step outside and get some fresh air. It’s better to go missing a few minutes than to be so anxious you miss all the fun.