How to Host a Holiday Party (and still enjoy yourself)

  • How to Decorate Team
How to Host a Holiday Party

How to Host a Holiday Party

It really is possible to pull off a festive affair with just a little pre-planning and no stress. Whether you’re hosting a low-key soiree after work or a cocktail party on the weekend, the key is to keep it simple. You might just find that you enjoyed yourself every bit as much as your guests.


‘Tis the season for holiday entertaining, so be sure to send your invitation at least three weeks prior to your event. These days, invitation sent by email or Evite is socially acceptable. If your event is more formal, then send invitations by mail.

A good start time for a weeknight party is 6 or 6:30, so guests can come straight from work and still get home at a proper time. For a weekend party, a later start time is fine.

How to Host a Holiday Party


It’s a simple truth that after politely greeting the host, guests tend to make a beeline for the bar.. Make their choice easy with a streamlined bar. Offer a single pre-made specialty cocktail, wine and beer. Mix up a large batch of the house drink beforehand and serve in pitchers or a large glass beverage dispenser with spigot. Remember to set out a little sign to let guests know what they’re drinking.

Unsure about how much to have on hand? A good rule of thumb is to plan on two drinks per person the first hour and one drink per person every hour for the remainder of the party. Having two to three bottles of wine for every four people is a good idea. If you’re still at a loss, Google “drink calculator” for additional help.

Don’t worry about not having enough matching glasses. In fact, we say serving a variety of glasses or even a mix of vintage and new glasses makes a house party feel cozy and less formal.

Find recipes and suggestions for a signature holiday cocktail.

How to host a holiday party


Sure, you could make an impressive (and expensive) full-course meal and worry about seating arrangements, but why? Instead, opt to serve finger foods and let your guests merrily munch and mingle their way through the party. Plus, there’s less cleanup without utensils.

Choose a few easy recipes you can make ahead and pop in the oven if necessary right before the party. Not the cooking kind? Pick up your favorite takeout or prepared artisanal foods and arrange in your own dishes.

For a basic no-fail, super-fast and universally pleasing buffet, prepare a fruit and cheese platter, an antipasto plate and hummus drizzled with olive oil and served with toasted pita triangles. You can’t go wrong.

Whatever you decide to do, we recommend only serving appetizers that take two hands. Otherwise, what are guests going to do with their drinks?

Create a buffet with your main dishes on the table or kitchen island. If you have room to spare, position the buffet away from the bar to avoid overcrowding in one area. Scatter a few bowls of no-cook munchies, like salted almonds, olives and cheese straws, around on side tables and the bar, and you’re done.

Find recipes and suggestions for easy, make-ahead appetizers.


It’s up to you to set the mood for your guests. Start with dimming the lights. Set out clusters of votives near the buffet and bar for some ambiance (metallics are really in). You don’t have to spend a lot of money on decorations for a festive look. Tulips in a vase, a wreath hung over a mirror or pretty ornaments hung from door knobs are small touches that make a big impact.

It’s not a party without music. Create a playlist before the party, so you can enjoy mingling with guests and not spend your time playing DJ. A mix of holiday favorites, jazz standards and popular party tunes are sure to please any party.

Rules to Remember

To ensure your party is a hit, keep these five simple rules in mind:
1. Clean out your coat closet or prepare your guest bed for storing coats and purses, so guests don’t have to hold on to their things.
2. Crack a window or turn the temperature down a few notches right before guests arrive. A big crowd combined with drinking will make any room feel stuffy. Adjust the temperature during the party if necessary.
3. Resist cleaning while guests are still partying. It’s perfectly acceptable to stack glasses and plates on trays and place in the kitchen, but putting on a pair gloves to wash a few dishes or sweeping up crumbs behind guests is the fastest way to kill a party.
4. Encourage mingling. Make introductions by finding things your guests have in common.
5. Try to finish getting ready at least 15 minutes before your party starts. Pour a glass of wine, sit and relax. Greeting your guests relaxed and happy is a great start to the party.

Select a signature cocktail and a few easy make-ahead appetizers, and you’re well on your way to creating a memorable and festive party.

How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Jennie Diaz

    December 9, 2010

    This article expresses those ideas that make a great party for the host and the guests. Simple foods I find can help me in my next holiday party. Thank you

  2. Jennie Diaz

    December 9, 2010

    Everything sounds so wonderful. Thanks for the tip.

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