How to Host an Easy Holiday Party

Group of people in a toast
Photo: Stetten Wilson

While there's a lot that goes into hosting loved ones, it is possible to host an easy holiday party—one that doesn't make you feel overwhelmed and out of control (two details that aren't compatible with the spirit of the season). To do so, it's important to give yourself enough time in advance of the celebration to plan out as many details as you can, so you don't feel overworked on the day of, says Mindy Weiss, a celebrity event planner based in Los Angeles and New York City.

Weiss suggests prepping little by little each day so you're not making last-minute décor adjustments or just-in-case side dishes with just minutes to spare before your guests arrive. "You want to enjoy it just as much as they will!" she says.

Of course, there's more to executing a seamless holiday celebration than simply preparing the food or your home's decorations ahead of schedule. We asked experts to share their best-kept secrets for pulling off an easy and enjoyable holiday party.

01 of 10

Send Invites Early

woman writing in blue holiday card
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You might not start thinking about the holidays until Halloween has come and gone, but your friends' and family's seasonal calendars will fill up fast, especially on the precious few Saturday nights in December, says Allison Pieter, a Los Angeles-based event producer. "Inviting them with advance notice ensures the guests you really want there are available," she says. Pieter recommends sending invites via an online invitation service, which is faster, easier, and cheaper than sending invitations by mail.

02 of 10

Choose a Theme—and Stick With It

Place setting with candles and flowers
Stetten Wilson

Whether it's a color scheme, a seasonal fruit, or even a holiday song, choosing one design element to lead the rest will create cohesion throughout your event, explains Kristine Cooke, owner, event planner, and designer at Simply Charming Socials. "For example, if cranberry is your common thread, choose floating cranberries and candles on your tablescape, a cranberry spritzer cocktail upon guest arrival, and a goat cheese and cranberry tartlet for dessert," she says. "Nothing has to be too matchy-matchy, but if you have two or three nods to your theme, it will look so thoughtful to your guests."

03 of 10

Utilize What You Already Have in Your House

christmas entertaining wreath decor
Stetten Wilson

Before you spend hundreds on groceries and party supplies, take a look at what you might already have in your pantry, cabinets, and storage spaces. "Whether it's the fancy plates you received from your wedding or the stack of holiday cards on the table, make it easier on yourself and use what you have on hand for décor," says Weiss. If you do have to purchase new décor, don't go overboard. Weiss recommends taking advantage of empty wall space and displaying garlands on the wall using removable clips.

04 of 10

Always Overestimate When Buying Food and Beverages

guests toasting with holiday drinks
Stetten Wilson

The last thing you need to worry about in the midst of entertaining is running out of food or drinks, leaving your guests hungry and thirsty. Sure, you may wind up with a heaping pile of leftovers, but Weiss suggests sending your guests home with them in take-out boxes or donating remaining meals to the nearest shelter (that's certainly one way to give back this season).

05 of 10

Don't Stretch Yourself Too Thin in the Kitchen

woman cooking on gas stove
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Even if you love to cook, attempting to make everything for your party from scratch is a recipe for disaster. Whip up a couple of signature dishes, but make your life easier and buy the rest.

The same goes for cocktails, notes Joe Moller, owner of Joe Moller Events. "You can prepare a wonderful holiday punch in advance, which also makes for a great visual, but all your other bar elements can be placed on a table for guests to help themselves or make their own cocktails," he says. "This should free up some time that can be reinvested in decorating your holiday table and bar."

06 of 10

Arrange the Party Wisely

Woman standing in front of food table with cup in hand
Stetten Wilson

Be mindful of where you place your food setup itself, notes Katie Benson, owner of #TableSettingIsMyLife. "Just as wild animals gather at the watering hole, your guests will always gather around food," she says.

Put your food stations where you want your guests to socialize. "If you put the food in the kitchen, people will stay in the kitchen," says Benson. "For the best flow, place appetizers in different locations, forcing people to move around and mingle."

07 of 10

Ask for Help

family placing food table with holiday decor
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Once friends and family hear that you're hosting a holiday party, chances are they'll shortly begin asking how they can help. Accept your aunt's gracious offer to bring her best cookies and your best friend's suggestion that she arrive early to help you set up. You could also consider hiring outside help, such as a cleaning crew. Being open to an extra pair of hands will help you relax and enjoy the party (and its aftermath) much more, explains Cooke.

08 of 10

Stick to a Timeline

christmas entertaining gathering
Stetten Wilson

Even if you're not the type to follow a schedule, it's smart to incorporate some kind of plan for the day (or night) of the event. This will help make the party feel seamless, notes Weiss. "From the time that guests arrive to when dessert will be served, you'll feel calmer if you plan ahead and stick to your schedule," she says. "While we can't always plan for the unexpected, you can tack on a few minutes for any interruptions that might occur."

09 of 10

Don't Forget the Music

Person looking through records next to Christmas tree
Getty / Stanton j Stephens

There's no reason to hire a DJ for your holiday party, but you also don't want to forget about music completely. If you're looking for holiday-themed songs, you can use an app like Spotify or Pandora to play a fitting playlist. That way, you don't have to think about what to play—and you'll always have melodies in the background to enhance the festive mood.

10 of 10

Provide Plenty of Trash Cans

Person taking plate at a party
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Make cleaning up that much easier by strategically placing small waste cans throughout the party area—one by the buffet, one by the bar, and one in the restroom, suggests Moller. "Place extra liners in the bottom of the waste cans before you secure the liner to be used over them so you can easily remove the top bag, take one of the extras from the bottom, put it in place, and move on," he says. "A clean party space is important and easy to manage with this system."

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