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Holiday Party Primer: How to Host a Fun, Festive Fête

holiday party entertaining tips hosting how to host a party

[Post updated for 2016]

Everyone loves a great holiday party, but all the hoopla can be a little scary for hosts and guests alike! In part one of our ultimate holiday party guide, we’re spilling our secrets for throwing a stress-free shindig. You’ll have people talking for all the right reasons.

Holiday Party Planning Tips

  • Be clear on the invitations. Are children welcome? Furthermore, what’s the attire? A well-informed guest is a comfortable guest.
  • Clean your house from top to bottom. You never know who’ll open the wrong door in attempt to find the powder room. You don’t want any unfortunate surprises.
  • Create your grocery list well in advance. Do the majority of your shopping a week before your party. Produce can (and should) be purchased closer to the party date, but avoid leaving too much to chance.
  • Stash emergency cleaning supplies in a convenient place.  We always keep our Guardsman furniture care products close by. Don’t forget club soda, countertop cleaner, a dustpan, a small broom and masking tape, which works wonders on tiny shards of broken glass.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of room for guests’ coats, shoes and other gear. Clean out a hall closet or dedicate a bedroom to storing coats. Furthermore, consider adding boot trays and an umbrella stand to your entryway in case of bad weather.
  • Set your table the night before. This cuts down on the amount of work you’ll need to do the day of the party. In addition, it helps you avoid any last-minute surprises like less-than-pristine table linens or missing serving pieces. Plus, creating a gorgeous tablescape will inspire the rest of your preparations!

Holiday Party Table Settings

Make sure your table is set correctly. As a result, your guests will have everything they need within reach. The proper table setting will vary depending on the formality of the meal:

holiday party basic table setting

 The Basic Table Setting


Top row: bread plate, butter knife, beverage
Bottom row: napkin, fork, plate, knife, spoon


 The Informal Table Setting


Top row: bread plate, butter knife, water goblet, wine glass, coffee cup, saucer, teaspoon
Bottom row: salad plate, salad fork, dinner fork, dinner plate, napkin, dinner knife, teaspoon, soup spoon

Holiday Party Informal Table Setting

Holiday Party Formal Table Setting

 The Formal Table Setting


Top row: butter plate, butter knife, water goblet, red wine glass, red wine glass, champagne flute/sherry glass
Bottom row: fish fork, dinner fork, salad fork, dinner plate, napkin, dinner knife, fish knife, fruit/soup spoon, oyster fork


Create a seating chart and make fun, festive place cards for your guests. We like to mix up men and women and seat couples across from each other. As a result, you’re practically guaranteeing stimulating conversations. Plus, it’s especially helpful if your guests don’t all know each other.

Quick & Easy Holiday Party Appetizers Everyone Will Love

One key to making entertaining easy is to prep fuss-free appetizers that are great served cold or at room temperature. We asked around for the tastiest treats that don’t require a ton of effort, so they allow hosts to unwind instead of worrying about timing everything perfectly. Here are our favorites:

  • Hummus and crackers or crudités
  • Bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeños
  • Mixed nuts
  • Brie with fig dip and Parmesan
  • Fruit salsa and cinnamon chips
  • Chocolate and M&M pretzel circles
  • Chex Mix
  • Tortilla roll-ups
  • Antipasto

Rethink the traditional bar setup. We love the idea of a hot cocoa bar! It’s a fun, unexpected twist that’s sure to delight. Let guests customize their beverages with marshmallows, sprinkles, candy cane stirrers and cookies for dunking. The possibilities are endless!

Create a Holiday Party Playlist

Don’t overlook music. There’s no easier way to create a festive mood! The right playlist puts guests in high spirits the moment they walk in the door. In addition, great tunes will keep the party going all night long.

Kick off cocktail hour with catchy albums like these:

  • Hot Songs for a Cool Yule, various artists
  • Home For Christmas, NSYNC
  • Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey
  • Elvis’ Christmas Album, Elvis Presley
  • Any of Mannheim Steamroller’s holiday albums

Once dinner is ready, the mood gets a little more mellow. Choose songs that allow the delicious meal and dazzling conversation to take center stage:

  • A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra
  • Merry Christmas, Bing Crosby
  • James Taylor at Christmas, James Taylor
  • Christmas, Michael Bublé
  • A Very She & Him Christmas, She & Him
  • Silver & Gold, Sufjan Stevens

The most important part of throwing a great party, though, is to relax and have fun! The evening may not go perfectly. However, a deep breath and a smile go a long way in preventing minor mishaps from becoming full-blown disasters.

We’ll be back on Friday with part two of our ultimate holiday party guide! Make sure to stop by, because we’ll be revealing the key to being at the top of everyone’s guest list.

In the meantime, tell us—what are your top tips for hosting a holiday bash?

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  1. Pingback: Mastering the Art of the Holiday Party, Part II | Hm etc.

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