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The Ultimate Guide to Planning Memorable Holiday Parties

It's that time of year when friends, families, and coworkers come together to celebrate and cherish each other's company. Holiday parties are an opportunity to share warmth and spread happiness. However, planning a successful holiday...

It's that time of year when friends, families, and coworkers come together to celebrate and cherish each other's company. Holiday parties are an opportunity to share warmth and spread happiness. However, planning a successful holiday party requires careful consideration and organization. In this ultimate guide, we will walk you through the steps to plan and execute a fun and festive holiday party that will leave a lasting impression on your guests.

When to Start Planning for a Holiday Party

An infographic shows when to send and host holiday parties according to size, based on the advice found in this post. Image: Infographic on when to send and host holiday parties according to size

Holiday parties typically take place in December, but the planning starts long before then. Planning in advance gives you access to more options, such as vendors, venues, and guest availability. Before you can begin booking a venue or addressing envelopes, you'll need to determine the date of your party. Early December is usually more doable, especially for company celebrations, as the final weeks tend to be reserved for family time. Sending out the invitations at least a month in advance is a good rule of thumb.

Depending on the type and size of your event, Christmas party planning may need to start several weeks or months in advance:

  • Small holiday parties: For intimate family and friend groups, start planning in the beginning or middle of November, when you're getting ready for Thanksgiving. By then, your Christmas plans should be well underway.
  • Large holiday parties: If you're inviting more than 20 people, start planning about two months in advance, or three months if you're expecting over 50 people. This will give you enough time to book a venue, arrange for entertainment, and follow up on RSVPs.
  • Corporate holiday parties: Start planning an office holiday party or gala as soon as you get your budget, ideally two to three months before the event. If you're gathering a department or two for an afternoon holiday mixer, one month of planning should be sufficient.

Holiday Party Planning Guide

A holiday invitation with a red drink in a coupe glass with holly garnish in front of a plaid backdrop; someone puts cranberries into Champagne flutes in preparation of them being filled. Image: "Christmas Coupe" holiday invitation by Paperless Post

Feeling overwhelmed about how to host a Christmas party that will be remembered? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Hosting a Christmas party can be a lot of work, but with careful planning, it can also be a lot of fun.

Here's a checklist to ensure you don't miss a step in planning your holiday bash:

1. Set Your Budget

Setting an event budget is not the most exciting part of party planning, but it's crucial to keep costs under control and avoid financial surprises. Consider the trade-off between the number of guests and the party size. More guests usually mean more costs, so cutting back your guest list may help with expenses. Factor in all the details, including ingredients, decorations, invitations, and party favors. If your ideal party seems out of budget, find less expensive alternatives. And don't be afraid to ask for help - potlucks or bring-your-own-food events can be a great way to cut costs and involve your guests in the planning process.

2. Select the Date

Once your budget is set, it's time to decide when to throw your holiday party. Naturally, weekends make the most sense for non-work events, but there are only so many weekends in the holiday season. Consider hosting your party in early December, so you don't interfere with family events closer to the holidays. If you plan to include families and children, hosting the party on a Saturday afternoon or early evening can help avoid bedtime struggles. For office holiday parties, consider a Thursday during happy hour, so employees don't sacrifice their precious weekend nights. Also, think about hosting a breakfast or brunch party or even a weekday evening celebration to ensure that more people can attend.

3. Make Your Guest List

The guest list determines the size of your party and subsequently the size of the venue you'll need. So, it's essential to finalize your guest list early on. For small parties, consider including only close family and friends and their significant others. For larger parties and galas, determine whether each guest can bring a plus one. Decide if your party will be child-friendly or adults-only. Remember that a large party of acquaintances has a different atmosphere than an intimate gathering of loved ones. Don't feel obligated to invite everyone - choose a select few to create a more personalized experience.

4. Find a Venue

Based on the number of people you're inviting, choose an appropriately sized venue for your holiday party. For fewer than 20 people, hosting the party in your own home is usually comfortable. If space is an issue, consider hosting an outdoor or virtual party. For larger guest lists, look for restaurants, bars, or event spaces that can accommodate your desired number of guests. Keep in mind that popular venues may need to be booked well in advance.

5. Choose Your Holiday Party Theme

A theme sets the tone for the entire event and ties together activities, decor, and even food. Decide on a Christmas party idea before sending out invitations. This will allow your guests to know what to expect and how to dress. Choose a theme that is fun and unique, as guests are likely to attend multiple holiday parties. If you want your guests to fit into the theme, include attire requests in your invitation, such as ugly sweaters or Christmas character costumes.

6. Send Invitations

Now that your budget, venue, date, guest list, and theme are set, it's time to send out the invitations. Send them as early as possible, preferably at least a month in advance. You can use online invitation platforms like Paperless Post to create and send beautiful digital invitations. Consider adding guest questions to collect dietary restrictions, use photo gallery blocks to include inspiration images, and make it easy for guests to RSVP. Send and share your online invitations via email, text message, or shareable link to conveniently notify everyone about the upcoming event.

7. Plan the Menu

Are you planning to serve a full meal or just drinks and light appetizers at your Christmas party? When creating your menu, gather dietary restrictions from guests in advance. Choose a variety of traditional and modern dishes, especially if you're hosting a non-denominational holiday party. Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients well in advance and start prepping early. Determine which dishes can be made in advance and frozen. If you prefer a potluck-style party, use your invitation to assign dishes to different guests or gather responses on the dishes they would like to bring.

8. Plan Your Christmas Party Itinerary

With the right combination of music and drinks, your party is already off to a great start. However, to keep your guests entertained and engaged, plan some activities that suit your party's theme. Here are a few ideas:

  • Play holiday games like charades or board games to energize and entertain your guests.
  • Organize a Secret Santa, White Elephant, or Favorite Things gift exchange.
  • Have an ugly Christmas sweater contest.
  • Watch holiday movies and plan a trivia or drinking game to enhance the cinematic experience.
  • Decorate the Christmas tree together, creating a festive atmosphere.
  • Set up a holiday photo booth with fun props for memorable pictures.
  • Sing karaoke or Christmas carols for a holly jolly singalong.
  • Decorate or swap Christmas cookies for a sweet take on a potluck.

9. Pick Out Decor

When choosing decorations for your Christmas party, consider your chosen theme. Your usual home decor will likely suffice, but you may want to adjust it to match the theme. Incorporate herbs and evergreens for a fresh scent and use stockings, twinkle lights, and candles for a cozy ambiance. Scatter baubles or string up dried orange slices, popcorn, and cranberries for a traditional touch. Don't forget to include holiday party favors for your guests. Explore modern trends and classic traditions in holiday decor at Paperless Post Party Shop.

10. Have Fun!

Finally, don't forget to enjoy the party you've worked so hard to plan. Once the guests arrive, take the time to mingle and enjoy their company. Keep an eye on the clock to ensure your party agenda is running smoothly, refresh the appetizer table as needed, and consider hiring a bartender or enlisting a friend to help with serving drinks. Capture the memories by taking lots of pictures and send them to your guests after the party is over.

Holiday Party Planning Tips

To make your Christmas party truly seamless and stress-free, here are a few additional tips:

  • Break up your shopping trips by categorizing your list and getting everything as early as possible.
  • Prioritize tasks that are most important to you and consider outsourcing others.
  • Set aside time for yourself to get ready before the guests arrive.
  • Enhance the holiday mood by lighting candles, dimming the lights, and playing festive music.
  • Send guests home with holiday leftovers by having compostable to-go containers handy.
  • Take notes for next year's party to improve and remember what worked well and what didn't.

Paperless Post for Every Holiday Party, Big or Small

Whether you're hosting an intimate candlelit dinner or a grand Christmas gala, Paperless Post has everything you need to customize your invitations, track RSVPs, and communicate with your guests. Choose from a wide variety of designs and add the perfect wording to create the perfect invitation. With Paperless Post, you can make your holiday party planning even more special and convenient.

Ready to get started? Browse Holiday Party Invitations and find all the decor and supplies you need for holiday entertaining at Paperless Post Party Shop.

Hero image via Thibault Jeanson.