Your Ultimate Holiday Party Planning Guide

Last year I hosted my first big holiday party for more than just a few friends and, I’ll admit, I was pretty frazzled. The prospect of feeding people, providing drinks, ridding our home of all the pet hair (which seems to accumulate overnight), making a fool-proof playlist, and maintaining a collected persona took a lot of wine, deep breathing, planning, and, did I mention, wine? While I’d consider it a success, it’s safe to say that I learned a thing or two after the fact. When I discussed the experience with The Everygirl team, we commiserated about the ups and downs of entertaining during the holidays. And thus, here is The Everygirl’s Guide to Holiday Entertaining.

Source: Monika Hibbs for Style At Home

The Location

Source: Apartment 34

We’ve all uttered the same excuses to forgo entertaining, and chief among them is the idea that you don’t have enough space or your home isn’t “nice” enough. Well, I’m here to put the kibosh on that theory! Listen, one of my favorite holiday parties of all time took place in a studio apartment of all places!

Instead of looking at your location as a hindrance or limitation, allow it to set the tone for the kind of party you host. If you’re in a small space, opt for something cozy and intimate with candles, floor pillows, and blankets around the coffee table for dessert and drinks.

If you’re in a large space and have the luxury of a separate dining area, go a bit grander with a big buffet or potluck dinner. Ultimately, the holidays are about bringing people together, not the square footage or finishes of your home. This is your mantra.


Source: Minted 

Between everyone on our team, we’ve gotten the word out about our holiday gatherings in pretty much every medium: Facebook invites, text messages, online invites and mailed ones! There’s an option to suit every budget and timeline (some are even free). We recommend sending out three to six weeks in advance since holiday social calendars fill up quickly! A few of our favorite invites around the web…

Digital Invites

Sparkle Soiree Holiday Party Invite

Car Full of Gifts Invite 

Eat Drink and Be Merry 

Printed Invites

Call Me Old Fashioned Invites 

Source: Grand Soiree Foil-Pressed Invitation 

Chavignon Holiday Party Invites 

2. Food

Source: Bon Appetit

I usually start my party planning by pinning 2,600 holiday recipes that I plan to make from scratch, and then later realize I only have about five forks and need to solve this before I can even think about making a pie crust. The good news? There’s no need for any of this stress.

Small Bites/Appetizers

Source: Port and Fin

Source: Popsugar 

Lately frozen appetizers have really stepped up their game (we rely on Trader Joes for any holiday party we throw). Opt for flatbreads and pastry bites so people can easily eat while standing and mingling, and you’ll save yourself a bundle of time, money, and all of your sanity! (Do not buy new ingredients for a single recipe! Too much trouble.)

Serve Room Temperature Foods

Source: Julia M. Usher

Including a few dishes that can be served at room temperature keeps you from having to time everything perfectly (if you’re anything like me, you won’t!) and assures you won’t have any hungry guests in case you have a catastrophe in the kitchen (if you’re anything like me, you will!).

Need help planning what actually goes on those gorgeous Pinterest cheese boards? We’ve got that right here. Investing in a nice cheese tray and knives to make the display extra special will further up the ante, and you’ll be able to use them during the rest of the season and beyond. (Shop a few of our favorite pieces below!)

3. Dessert

Source: Gourmantine Blog

Now isn’t the time to become a holiday hero: speaking from experience, I wouldn’t be tempted to experiment with an intricate pie recipe that you’ve never tried before. Instead, jazz up some classic chocolate chip cookies with sea salt and thyme, or set out some festive bowls of candy with a hot chocolate bar (just use a crockpot to keep it warm!).

A few of our favorite store-bought treats for the holidays: Macy’s Dark Chocolate Peppermint Cookies , Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark, World Market Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peppermint Joe Joe’s 

Source: Chelsea’s Messy Apron

3. Drinks

Source: Cassandra Monroe for The Everygirl

While I totally appreciate wanting to be the perfect host who provides anything your guests could ever want, I also appreciate that your bank account wants otherwise. It’s very likely that people will ask what they can bring, and it’s more than okay to suggest that they bring some wine or beer for themselves to drink.

Source: Kina Wicks for The Everygirl 

Source: Anne Sage 

Here’s what we recommend we having on hand (even if guests are also BYOBing!):

– A couple bottles of wine in case the first guests to arrive aren’t bearing any themselves (never underestimate the power of Two Buck Chuck).
– A signature cocktail as opposed to multiple types of liquor and mixers can save you money in the long run. A good cider or bourbon drink adds a festive flair, and you can make a big batch ahead of the party, making it easy for guests to serve themselves. Just be sure to try out the recipe ahead of time to be sure you’re happy with outcome!
– Ice, soda water, and Coke or Pepsi. If you’re feelin’ fancy, pick up a few sprigs of rosemary and mint for garnish.


Source: Bess Friday

Source: Cassandra Monroe for The Everygirl

Our whole team has used paper cups more times than we can count, but if you plan to entertain more than once or twice a year, it’s a good idea to invest in something that can stay with you for the long haul. Pick up a nice set of barware that you can use all year round, and ask close friends to bring a few of their own pieces so you can mix and match! We’ve also been known to take a trip to the thrift store when in need of some extra stemware, since they often sell great options for less than $1 a pop.

Food Display

Source: Danielle Moss for The Everygirl 

Set up a big buffet and dessert table, making sure its stocked from the get-go so you can enjoy mingling. Small space? A coffee table or TV stand can double as a food buffet! Keep the screen off (unless you opt to play a classic holiday movie on mute) or turn Yule Log fireplace on in the background.

Pro Tip: If you’re offering food that needs to be warmed up, enlist the help of a close friend or two to be in charge of making sure things get in and out of the oven on time (you can keep most foods warm in the oven at 200 degrees!).


Source: Hank & Hunt 

No matter your timeline or budget, holiday greenery and candles make a huge impact without costing a fortune or taking a ton of time to style. I’ve picked up fresh wreaths and garland from the grocery store for as little as $10, but if you want something that you can use next year as well, there are plenty of options that you can keep and store until your next holiday shindig.

In the mood for something a little more whimsical? Trade the garland for some sparkly tinsel instead.

Source: Style Me Pretty

Source: Martha Stewart 

Source: The Jungalow 

Source: SMP Living

Source: Liz Banfield for Martha Stewart Weddings 


Source: Wit & Delight 

Consider this item checked off your list, because we’ve created the perfect holiday soundtrack (if we do say so ourselves) so you can forget about playing DJ and focus on enjoying your party. If you don’t have a computer or speaker system, ask around and see if you can borrow one before the big day. The only exception to this rule? If you can snag a record player, there’s nothing cheerier than vinyl and cocktails for the holidays. 



Games and Activities

Source: Camille Styles 

It never hurts to throw in a few icebreakers to help your guests relax and enjoy themselves. A few crowd-pleaser board games can do wonders for your mix of friends who don’t already know each other. I’m also a big proponent of the photo booth (I mean, who isn’t?). Grab an instax camera (we’ve had luck borrowing from a friend if you don’t have one of your own!) and a few fun holiday accessories to easily create one in any viable corner of your home, no matter the size.

Your turn! What holiday entertaining tips do you swear by? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

  • Libby Parker

    My boyfriend of two years and I (both in our 30’s) had been friends since we were teenagers. We were well acquainted with one another before we started dating and I, personally, don’t see going any other way. There was none of the “I’m just trying to impress you so I’ll pretend that I like your band or your cooking or your jokes” because by the time we got together-together, we could already detect the BS in one another. I think I’m more myself because I’m in love with someone who’s always known the whole me. 🙂

  • LoganDrayton

    Hmmm. I’ve always thought the other way around. Women put men in the ‘do I want to French you category’ and forever they reside. I’ve never been able to imagine being sexually attracted to someone I wasn’t initially drawn to in that way. How can sexual feelings develop? You either want him or you don’t.

    On the other hand, I think men see all women in a sexual light in some way. I may be stereotyping, but men are primitive and every woman is a potential sexual mate. And if there’s that potential, they may be more willing to just ‘try’ dating to meet those aims.

    • vetiarvi

      Yet another stupid feminist bitch

  • kmadden

    I became friends with a guy right after I moved to a new city. We were both single, and didn’t know a lot of people. We started hanging out and eventually became best friends. Though we dated other people off and on throughout the next year, we always ended up hanging out with each other more than anyone else. Finally, we had a long talk about what we were doing (fake dating was the correct answer) and decided to just take the plunge and see if we would work…. it has been the best thing that has ever happened!!! We already have the best friend base, but now we get to add the romantic side! We were both scared of moving forward, but now, I would not have it any other way. I have never been so happy, and I know he feels the same. Best decision we have ever made…thus far!

  • sberry

    My now husband and I started out as friends! We hung out in the same group in high school and worked together a couple summers in college. He did in fact have feelings for me all along. I just wasn’t interested in him, so we stayed friends. After college I moved away for a few years and when I moved back, we reconnected and this time I was willing to give a romantic relationship a chance. And wouldn’t ya know, we got married! I completely agree with the author, men either are attracted to women or they aren’t. Women however can flip-flop. Initially I didn’t think of my “friend” as attractive. I mean he was good looking I just wasn’t attracted to him. But as time passed and I started to see him in a different light and get to know him in a different way, I became utterly attracted to him. I think this has to do with the fact for women non-physical characteristics can affect their level of attraction to someone.

    • Lyndsay Rush

      That last sentence is dead on!! Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

  • max

    This is the first I have heard of men having “friend zones.”

  • Alyssa Greydon

    Hi, I know I’m only 17 now and yes I have exactly the same thought with you when you’re 16. Crazily I really liked one of my best friend and it lasted for about 4 years and I never tell him because I’m afraid of ruining our friendship. And now here I am, I have bunch of guy friends and always keep in my mind to keep them that way. I really do wanna change my mind about it specially after I read this post, but its hard. I really liked my friend back then, and I moved on from him already, but I always think I’ll ruin my friendship everytime I like a guy. I guess its more like trauma?

  • Jhaylz

    no!!!! never!!!

  • Jessica I

    Love this! Next year hoping to see some Hanukkah friendly decor for your Jewish readers!

  • Nikki Laraja

    I absolutely love this post, holiday party prep is my fave!

  • SarahV

    Love this! Really appreciate that everything is low stress and attainable, and that the focus is about enjoying good company. And these tips could be used for hosting any kind of large party – perfect for a newbie host!

  • Love the ideas on food, food display, and party invites! Holiday party planning isn’t far way..