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Photography by nicole franzen photography

by Cora L. Diekman

Start with a plan (and keep guests in the loop)

Holiday parties can be tricky – especially when guests are left guessing about the details. For example, this is the one time of year when the dress code can range from tacky sweaters to cocktail-formal, so be informative. Before you begin inviting guests, know what you want, have a plan, and be prepared to let your guest list in on complete details up front. Answer key FAQ’s within the invite, like how formal the event will be, if kids or plus 1’s are welcome, and whether guests should bring a side. This will seriously cut down on back-and-forths, speed up RSVP’s, and prevent any awkward moments come party time.

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Photography by the crafted sparrow

Greet guests with stations

To instantly welcome guests to party scene, greet them with stations that are easily visible once they enter (a place for stashing coats, a serve-yourself bar). This will relieve the host from giving each arriving guest a tour of the party layout, and also lets guests know they’re welcome to help themselves to the festivities.

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Photography by sortature

Forego complicated decorations

Here’s a tip for any glam party, no matter the occasion – all you need are string lights. Period. Nothing provides a celebratory feeling of warmth and love like the sparkling glow of string lights, especially around the holidays. Hang them from your walls, string them from the ceiling, or bunch them together in glass bottles for an inexpensive holiday-inspired lighting alternative.

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Photography by hector sanchez

Master one signature large-batch cocktail

Unless you’re hosting a cocktail party, there’s no need to set up a full bar (or even a mini-bar, for that matter). Master a single cocktail that can be mixed in advance large-batch style, and set out so that guests may serve themselves, freeing you up to enjoy the fun! We’re loving this Holiday Milk Punch, which calls for few ingredients, and delights with a deliciously sweet bourbon-infused kick. To prep, simply mix 2 cups of milk, 2 cups of half-and-half, 1 cup of bourbon, ½ cup of powdered sugar, and 1 ½ tsp of vanilla extract. Serve over ice and top with grated nutmeg.

Get the recipe. 

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Photography by urban outfitters

Skip the old-school playlist

Music is a must, but who has time to assemble a playlist? Let Spotify do the work for you with prepared playlists complete with holiday music favorites to suit any taste. That’s a brilliant time-saver!

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Photography by kym rodger

Swap flowers for DIY evergreens

There’s no rule that a holiday party needs a centerpiece, but if you generally decorate with flowers, try swapping them with simple winter-inspired greenery or even bare twigs decorated with string lights. Since materials can be sourced outside, this tip not only saves a trip to the flower shop, but it keeps your party budget in check too.

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Photography by david meredith

Set the stage for conversation

To keep conversation humming and your guests mingling, a little strategy is in order. Set up different stations within the party area (say dinner in the dining room, drinks at the bar, dessert in the living room) to ensure constant movement. Guests will feel comfortable serving themselves, moving about, and mixing with different party-goers. This approach relieves the host of awkward ushering and the constant fear that guests aren’t comfortable or (oh, no!) having fun.

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Allow guests to serve themselves

Serving meals family style is the single biggest relief on a host, and (bonus!) it injects a feeling of ‘make yourself at home’ into the dinner scene. Whether your guest list numbers 4 or 40, this is a major do. For smaller parties where guests will be seated, serve dishes in large platters on the table, so that guests can help themselves. For larger guest lists, set up a buffet. Guests will feel welcomed, and you will be free to enjoy the festivities, free from serving and topping up drinks.

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Photography by inspired taste

Glam up store-bought eats

Guests won’t have more fun at your holiday party just because everything was homemade. Learn the art of glamming up store-bought goodies with a little extra attention to presentation and detail, like hummus. By simply replating, creating presentation with the swirl of a spoon, and topping with olive oil and paprika, this store bought app looks delicious and scratch-made.

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Photography by cox seafood

Consider a one-pot meal

Everyone knows chili. Think outside the one-pot-meal box with a dish that will surprise and delight, like a Low Country Boil. If you’ve ever been to Savannah or Charleston, you may be familiar with this southern ‘delicacy’, which is nothing more than shrimp, potatoes, corn, and smoked sausage cooked in crab boil (think Old Bay) until tender and delicious. It’s zesty, spicy, and definitely an upgrade on chili night. Bonus points for serving the traditional way – piled up center stage over newspaper (easy cleanup)!

Get the recipe.

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Photography by passports and pancakes

Rethink potluck

If ‘potluck’ makes you cringe, rethink your strategy. Forget those old-school potluck parties full of identical, nondescript casseroles (that no one really wants to eat anyway). Select a simple theme (like ‘Desserts Only’) and allow guests to bring what they like. We’re loving a ‘Wine and Cheese’ theme because all of the accompaniments are no-cook (cheese, olives, grapes, crusty bread), and guests will love that you’ve taken most of the guesswork out of potluck planning. Still not convinced? Another useful tip for modernizing your potluck is using an online signup sheet, like Signup Genius or Bring It, which allow you to create live signup sheets that update in real time – and they’re free!

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Photography by love my dress

Make friends with your local bakery

This is obvious, but it bears repeating. A top-notch local bakery is indispensable during the holidays. Not only can they do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to party sweet treats, but you can make a serious dent in your holiday shopping list by browsing the bakery case.

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Photography by apartment therapy

Keep it rustic

Skip the white tablecloths and go with a rustic winter theme for your holiday soiree. Guests will love the relaxed, nostalgic feel and you’ll love the easy prep and cleanup. Simple greenery and votives set the scene, and you won’t be stuck soaking wine stains out of your good linens.

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Photography by martha stewart

Gratefully accept help (and hostess gifts)

Resist the urge to do it all. Holiday parties are supposed to be fun, and when friends or family ask to help, chances are they genuinely want in on the planning prep. Maybe your sister loves to bake or your BFF is skilled at flower arrangements. If they’re enthusiastic about lending a hand, take them up on their offers. It will relieve some of the hosting burden, and make for a more well rounded event where guests can let their skill sets shine.

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Photography by celebrations at home

Prep ahead for kids

If holiday festivities will include little ones, a bit of advance prep is the shortcut to party success. Designate a special area for kiddos to congregate and set up some age appropriate activities, which can include anything from movies to a Christmas cookie decorating station. Parents will LOVE you for including their little ones in the fun, and for allowing them a little kid-free party time. You’ll love a stress-free party scene with less kid-induced chaos.