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A guide to holiday party hosting: part one
10 tips on decorating, curating the vibe, and setting the mood for your party
The holidays, quite literally, are my time to shine. I revel in putting on my party pants, a sequin dress, or a red lip, and blasting Mariah’s seasonal tunes from November 1 through January 1.
I have been hosting holiday parties since I was 20, except back then they involved ugly sweaters and writing your name on your red Solo cup. These days, our holiday house party has evolved to a slightly more elevated affair, and while generally nobody goes home without their shoes anymore, I like to think all of our guests still have a pretty good time.
Since you asked for it—more hosting content!—today, I’m sharing the advice I’ve gathered along the way on holiday party hosting. In part one, we’re chatting all things decorating, curating the vibe, and setting the mood for your party.
My hot take on holiday party themes
Conventional party planning wisdom will tell you that you need to choose a theme for your party. My personal opinion is that holiday parties do not need a theme*. If you want one, yay! Themes are fun (for other people—I’m bad at themes). But at my house, HOLIDAY PARTYING is the theme. Looking festive and being cozy? The theme.
For those who want to fight me, tell me: Did your wedding have a theme? No, the theme was YOUR WEDDING, aka looking hot and celebrating love! Unless your wedding had a theme, then disregard. I don’t want to fight you.
*This is not to say they can’t have a curated palette, mood, or vibe… By theme I mean, say, a holiday hoedown or a Christmas luau.
Ooh, more controversial content like this? Sign me up:
10 tips on decorating for your holiday party
OK so. Your invitations are out, the RSVPs are in, and hopefully everyone who you’ve invited is someone that you could forgive for spilling wine on your white 100% New Zealand wool rug.
Now you’ve got to decorate your house for your (non-theme) holiday party. Where to begin? Here are a couple of tips on sprinkling your home with someholiday magic for an evening of festivity.
1. Deck the halls with lots of garland.
There’s no such thing as too much greenery around the holidays—more is more is more! Realistic faux garland is pricey, so I collect a few faux garland each year (the real-touch Norfolk are the indisputable best—sold out at Afloral but still available in a 15 ft. version at Kirkland or for a bit more at Darby Creek Trading).
You can mix in some more budget-friendly fresh garland and wreaths from Costco or Trader Joe’s. These little wreaths are also an affordable way to sprinkle greenery around the house: use them to dress up a mirror, the backs of chairs, cabinet doors, etc.
2. Use ribbon to tie everything together.
My tree does not look like it belongs at a department store—that is, it does not have 300 matching baubles in a carefully curated color palette. Poke around and you’ll find an orangey felt fish from a Durango souvenir shop alongside a framed pic of my baby doodles from our first college-aged dogsitter.
For us normal people who are not completely reinventing our holiday decor theme each year, an easy way to switch things up year to year is to buy $20 worth of ribbon to tie onto your tree, front door wreaths, and staircase garland. Voila, thematic excellence. This shop has a well-priced and wide selection of colors and sizes.
If you like a sparse tree, we love our Norway spruce tree! This year, we bought this balsam fir tree to better fit our higher ceilings. (Do we need an in-depth Balsam Hill faux tree review, Y/N? Let me know in the comments.)
3. Strategically accent your greenery with fresh floral.
While greenery will do most of the work to transform the home, floral arrangements make everything look just a bit more special and elevated: set an arrangement or a bud vase on the entryway table, in the powder room, on cocktail tables, or on the bar, or mix in fresh flowers with more traditional holiday greens.
4. Rent any extra tables or linens that you need.
Cocktail tables provide additional surfaces for guests to set their drinks and plates down on, and encourage the spread of guests throughout your entertaining area. Party rentals are surprisingly more budget-friendly than you’d imagine—like $30/cocktail table—though the linens are where it can get costly.
5. Turn off all of the overhead can lighting.
That’s it—that’s the rule.
6. …and then light everything with candlelight!
I like real candles for anything safely sitting at eye-level, and flameless for everything else. Pillar candles look beautiful on a staircase or fireplace, taper candles on your island or appetizer table, and tealights or votives on a cocktail table.
Since regular tealights only last ~3 hours, opt for these taller 8-hour tealights. If you’re looking to invest (I have not but I did investigate these closely in the name of research), Luminara makes the most realistic flameless candles. Recent brides on Facebook Marketplace are also your friends.
7. Light a wintry holiday candle.
I love to splurge on a single fancy candle for the holidays, which I burn verrrry slowly throughout the winter months. A few for your consideration: Thymes Frasier Fir, Nest Holiday, Nest Birchwood Pine, Hotel Lobby Holiday, Diptyque Feu de Bois. Most of these are really lovely layered, too.
8. Stock the powder room with luxurious hand soap and single-use hand towels.
Whether you’re at a restaurant or at a friend’s house, it’s always a delight to happen upon a fancy hand soap in the bathroom. I’ve rotated through a few, but always come back to Aesop Resurrection for the chic packaging and luscious scent. For a budget-friendly option, pour a yummy soap into a refillable glass bottle.
9. Curate a holiday playlist.
Outsource to a friend with good musical taste or borrow from a Spotify curator if needed. For our last party, I asked my friend Gen to help put together a party playlist that was holiday-inspired, but not overtly Christmassy. Ideally, it’s as long as your party and then some, since chances are you will run later if all are having a good time.
10. Play music throughout the house.
Nothing kills a vibe like awkward silence. We play music from built-in speakers, but in their absence, I’d use a few UE speakers—they are reasonably priced, offer high quality sound, and can be linked together to play in different areas of the home.
Rounding up all of the sources mentioned above for you:
15-ft Norfolk pine faux garland at Kirkland’s (currently 25% off)
Norfolk pine faux garland at Darby Creek Trading (currently 25% off)
Faux Norway spruce tree (currently 30% off for Black Friday)
Let’s chat in the comments
Drop a note in the comments below: How are you decorating your home for the holidays? What are your tried-and-true decor finds? Let me know if you have a fave appetizer recipe to share or any f&b questions we should discuss.
A guide to holiday party hosting (part two):
Planning the menu, setting up the bar, and easy ideas for party food and drink
Read it here →