How to Plan the Perfect Holiday Party

Summer get-togethers are fun, but autumn and winter are two of my favorite seasons for throwing a party. There are so many holidays and events to celebrate: Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and Hanukkah, just to name a few.

And there are so many ways to celebrate the holidays– from intimate gatherings with friends and families to large parties with long guest lists and everything in between.

Today, I’ll share a few of my tips for how you can plan the perfect holiday party.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Every great party starts with careful and thorough planning. It might not be the most exciting part of throwing the perfect holiday party, but I can guarantee the more time you invest in planning, the more you (and your guests) will enjoy your party.

But how do you plan the perfect holiday party?

Who? When? Where? What?

Before doing any other planning, ask yourself these questions. Who will you be inviting? When’s the party going to be? Will it be at home? What will you be celebrating? Think of these questions like the pieces of a puzzle– they’ll only fit together one way.

If your best friends work at night on the weekends, you’ll probably want to hold the party on a weekday, maybe in the early evening. Or if you suspect the weather might be too cold or rainy for an outdoor party (a likely bet in Portland this time of year), you’ll need to make sure you’ve got room in your house for all of your guests. Are you taking a family vacation for Christmas or New Year’s? Then consider throwing a holiday party in early December instead of later in the month.

Think About Theme

Christmas Cookies

Will your holiday party have a theme? My favorite parties are ones with a great theme that makes everyone feel involved.

Consider throwing a Holiday Cookie Swap. Everyone bakes a batch of their favorite holiday cookies and brings them to the party. Then you swap! All your guests get to take home one or two of a bunch of different kinds of cookies! Just make sure you keep your guest’s dietary choices, needs, allergies, and preferences in mind. A good tip is to have everyone write down their cookies’ ingredients.

Another popular holiday party is the Ugly Sweater Party. Everyone wears the tackiest, goofiest, most out-of-style holiday sweater they can find. It’s really fun and keeps your guests from wondering about how they should dress.

You can even have a vote for who wears the “best” ugly sweater and give them a silly prize.

Send Invitations Early

The sooner you send your invitations the better. There are lots of parties going on during the holiday season and the more notice you give, the more likely people will be to attend your party.

Don’t forget to make sure your invites include all the important info your attendees need to know. These details might include:

  • What’s the occasion?
  • When’s the party? How long will it last?
  • Where’s the party? Where should attendees park?
  • What should they bring– if anything?
  • Is there a dress code of any kind?
  • Should attendees RSVP? Should they email? Call? Text?

This may offend some traditional party purists, but I actually prefer taking advantage of technology when inviting people to a party. Facebook events are great, easy to use and they let people leave comments and share pictures from after the party!

Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful handwritten invitations sent through the mail, but for a holiday party, I like to keep things simple!

Serve Great Food

Holiday Party Food

Let’s talk about food– my favorite part of any holiday party!

If you’re making food yourself, there are plenty of simple, but delicious ideas available online. Here are a few of my favorite sources of inspiration:

  • –  A plan for a great menu with everything from appetizers to desserts.
  • – Great recipes for dips, appetizers, desserts, drinks, and more. Plus some really clever sweet and savory cookies.
  • – 52 ideas for great holiday party snacks! The spicy sweet pecans sound AMAZING!
  • – If any vegans or vegetarians will be attending, check out this vegan egg nog recipe, as well as other crowd-pleasing vegan dishes.
  • – Great gluten free recipes everyone will love!

If you’re not interested in cooking yourself, don’t worry! Local grocery stores like New Seasons have great pre-made cookies and appetizers. Or visit a local caterer like Elephants Deli if you’re looking for more options.

If your friends and family love to cook, consider hosting a potluck where everyone brings their favorite dish to share. Just make sure everyone signs up for something different so you don’t end up with 10 plates of deviled eggs!

Use Decor & Design to Set the Mood

I love decorating my home before a holiday party!

It’s such a great way to set the mood and get people ready to have a good time. Use warm lighting, fresh flowers, and classic holiday decorations. Start a fire in your fireplace, if you have one, to add to the ambiance.

Start with your entryway and make your home inviting and open to your guests:

But you don’t need to go overboard. Even a simple wreath can be striking on its own:

Inside, let the style of your home dictate your decor. If you have a clean modern look, resist the urge to over-decorate. Let a few classic, understated decorations transform your space:

A more rustic home can be made even warmer with the right lighting and holiday decorations:

Look at how a few simple decorations and a warm fire can really make a space look ready for a holiday party:

DIY Decorations

If you’re the crafty type, or if you have kids, a holiday party is a great time to show off your skills and enjoy a fun family activity. and HGTV both have great ideas for DIY holiday party decorations.

Get Help from Friends & Family

If you feel overwhelmed organizing a holiday party on your own, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help.

Recruit a few friends or family members to help clean up after the party, choose music, show people where the bathrooms are, or any of the other little chores that come with hosting a holiday party.

Enjoy Yourself & Don’t Stress Out


Here’s the real secret for throwing the perfect holiday party.

Just enjoy yourself, enjoy spending time with your friends and family, and don’t stress out. Your guests will appreciate whatever work you put into organizing a get-together and they won’t judge you if your home doesn’t look like something out of a magazine or if your food isn’t straight off of an episode of Top Chef.

Just take a deep breath and look forward to inviting your friends into your home for a celebration!

I just know you’ll have a great time and your holiday party will be a wonderful success!

Photo Credits: Dorota Trupp