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If you are one of those super organized enviable people who is always on top of things, you have probably already planned your party and everything else for the holidays. If you are more like me, you just realized the holidays are here, and once again you are behind on your holiday tasks! I have organized multiple holiday parties for multiple purposes, and I thought I would share some tips i have learned on how to plan the perfect holiday party. While there are different types of parties (office, cocktail, family dinners), most of these parties have a lot in common, and the same process can be used. And it’s OK if you are just getting started. Seriously, it’s really not that hard to pull together a party at the last minute!
What is the Purpose of Your Party?
Basically, what do you want to accomplish with your party? For example, do you want a small gathering of close friends for cocktails and appetizers? Or are you planning the office party for 200 of your co-workers? Will there be children present, or only adults? Do you have a theme in mind? For some offices, “holiday” parties are specifically non-religious in nature, while some offices prefer no alcohol. Also, if you are planning a party for your office, the first thing you need to do is find out what the guidelines are, and what has (and hasn’t) worked in the past.
Who? When? Where?
The next thing you need to decide is who you are going to invite, when you will have the party, and where the party will be. The purpose of your party will determine the “who”. For smaller parties, “where” will likely be your home. For office parties, the party may be at the office or some restaurant location that the office regularly uses. Where the party will be will likely determine “when” you can have it. Secure your location as early as possible to ensure that you will be able to use the facility at the time/ date you desire.
What is your budget? This will likely determine how many people you invite, what you will serve, and how elaborate your decorations can be. I suggest you decide early on what you want to focus on within your budget. For some, this will be food. For others, an open bar. And if you are like me, the focus will be on the décor. Try to guesstimate costs early on so that you can designate portions of your budget to each area of consideration.
Have a plan
I always try to have a plan written down so that no detail slips through the cracks. I have created an Excel spreadsheet that you are welcome to download here. This spreadsheet can easily be edited to include items specific to your party. I have filled in some ideas, and some mock dates based on a party to be held the week before Christmas. If this format doesn’t work for you, it’s very easy to create one. I simply used a template from my computer, then changed categories and tasks to meet my needs. I have a place to list each of the tasks I will need to accomplish and a deadline to complete these tasks. It’s very important to try to remember everything and have it written down because once the holidays start, everything gets hectic.
I like to break down tasks into categories. My categories are as follows:
Most times, a CD or MP3 playlist will do the trick. What type of mood do you want? Mellow holiday jazz or lively sing-along carols? Soft classical music, or fervent electric violins and full orchestra?
This will go back to your party purpose. One of my favorite holiday parties was held at a manufacturing plant where I worked for several years. They would decorate the company gym with garland, a Christmas tree with fake snow, and a sleigh for Santa. On the last workday before Christmas, the Owners of the company had a family Christmas party. All employees and their family members were invited. This was several years ago, in the South, and there was no “political incorrectness” involved in having a Christmas party yet. They had pizza delivered, a soft serve ice cream machine, soft drinks, and mini stockings full of candy.
Make it Personal:
I remember some employees bringing their spouses, children, and grandchildren. It was so nice to get to see these people who you passed in the hallway at work every day in this setting. You got to know their families, their newest additions, and how they interact with the little ones. I distinctly remember seeing a burly old dyehouse manager (that was how I perceived him) coddling his granddaughters who were running roughshod over any of his attempts to calm them down. The smile on his face was priceless, and I had never seen him smile prior to that day. One more thing they did that I think was priceless was they hired a Santa Claus. Kids could sit on Santa’s lap, and someone (usually me) would take their photo. I used a Polaroid camera, so they got their photo in a “keepsake” company frame to take home.
What will be served? Who will provide it (will you be cooking or will you have a caterer?) Will someone be helping with the cooking? Has the item been purchased? Will there be a bar? What is the cost? Do you need to hire a bartender? How much ice will you need? Do you have an adequate cooler or freezer space? If you are going to do most of the food yourself, I strongly suggest a visit to Sam’s or Costco. They will have a lot of prepared food perfect for parties, especially around the holidays. I got everything for a housewarming party at Sam’s, and 3 people asked me for the name of my caterer. Also, make sure you have enough serveware, i.e. serving platters and bowls, ladles, spoons, and forks, carving knives if necessary. I like to lay out my serving ware with all plates/bowls, etc. labeled with the item that I will be serving. I make labels for all the dishes, then I know if I am missing any serving pieces if I have any labels left over.
Other Supplies and Incidentals:
One thing a lot of people forget is to plan for everything they will need. This includes things like cookware, seating, a place to hang coats, and trash bags. Will you need a coat check? Will you need somewhere to put gifts? If you are exchanging gifts, who will pass them out, and what will the order be? Who will get everyone to the table? Who will say the blessing? Where will you locate the trash cans? It’s best to work this stuff out ahead of time to prevent unnecessary last-minute stress.
Ask for help
Whenever possible, try to enlist some help. There is no rule that says you have to do everything yourself. If you are serving dinner, consider assigning dishes to guests that you know like to cook. If you know someone who loves to decorate, ask them to help with the holiday décor.
One other thing I like to plan is photography. I have found that if it is not planned, it’s merely good luck if I get the photos I want. When I got married, my photographer asked me to create a list of photos that I wanted to include, and I thought that was brilliant! It had never occurred to me before that to have a list of photos. It’s also good to enlist a helper in this area because while you can plan out every shot you want, there will always be situations that are unplanned that you will want to document. The more photographers, the more likely every good shot will make it to your photo album.
A favor, please
I love to find creative and meaningful favors to send home with guests. A lasting memory of our evening together. Some things that I have seen that people really like are:
Candles: A simple scented candle with some type of holiday decoration (a ribbon and a sprig of rosemary, maybe?) make a lovely and useful reminder.
Glassware: If this is a celebration of a particular milestone, you may want to consider ordering customized glassware to give as favors. For a more personal event, you can paint wine glasses, mugs, or the like (find the right kind of paint and process to ensure the paint will stay) and label them for each individual guest. Plastic cups can also be appropriate. One of the most useful favors I ever got was a double insulated extra large plastic mug with a travel lid from a “safety milestone” cookout I attended at a manufacturing plant. I would still be using it if it hadn’t disappeared a couple of years ago.
Soap/bath product: This is more appropriate for feminine guests. Scented soap, bath salts or bombs, lotion, and bubble bath are very popular with women. Mini manicure and pedicure kits do well also.
Candy/Cookies: Preferably boutique style or handmade. The packaging can make all the difference, so make sure your package is up to par with your party!
Hot cocoa mix with mug: There are so many hot cocoa packaging and flavor combinations, you can surely find something that your guests will love! Include a bottle of Bailey’s for a cocktail party, or a plastic cocoa cone decorated to look like a reindeer for a younger crowd. Choose mugs that are large and coordinate with the feel of your party.
An ornament: Whether you make them yourself, or purchase them, include a tag with the date and name of the party for memories that will recur year after year!
A picture frame: Even better if there is a picture already in it, either from the party or an event from the preceding year (like a wedding or baby shower)
So there you have it. My quick and easy guide to planning a party. The most important thing you can do is not stress over it. A party should be fun, not be taxing. If you forget to do something, it’s not the end of the world (and chances are you will be the only one who notices). So plan your party, prepare as much as you can, then relax and enjoy the holidays! You deserve it!
Until next time,