guests gathered around table at annual Christmas party

Ultimate Guide to Party Planning: Christmas Part 1

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – the snow, the family and friends, the caroling, the cheer, it’s all beautiful. That is, until it comes time to plan the annual Christmas party.

Then, the stress kicks in. How many people are coming? How early do you send out invitations? How much food do you need and does anyone have any allergies? Is your second cousin going to crash the party with her vegan boyfriend and their annoying kid? Where in the world did you put the decorations away last year? Will the family feud be put on hold or will you have to worry about drama during dinner?

Okay, take a breath; we have a guide that will help you plan
your best Christmas party yet, from the first “maybe I should host a party this
year” thought to the final hug goodnight at the end of the party. From
invitations to food to decorations to games, and even what kind of party to
plan, we’ve got you covered.


The first step is always to determine a budget. How much can
you comfortably spend on this party? Then you make your guest list, starting
with the people you most definitely want to be there, followed by the people
you would like to see there, and the people you could leave out if needed. This
will allow you to calculate how much food you’ll need and what that will cost you
– and then you’ll know where to draw the cut off on your guest list. If you do
this early enough, you can watch for prices to drop in the grocery store or for
something to go on sale, and then buy it while it’s cheap, even if it’s months
in advance. If your budget is small, or if you’re worried about having enough
food, you can always ask for help. You can ask all guests to bring a dessert or
side dish, or you can ask just a couple guests you are closest with to bring a


Your next step is to find a venue. If you’re using your home
or a relative’s home, you’re golden. If you have space in your budget and want
to rent a venue, you should reserve it as soon as possible. There are pros and
cons to both options, of course, so you’ll need to consider all the options
thoroughly before deciding. Some of the most common cons about renting a venue
are cost, rules about decorations, and restrictions about food and alcohol. The
benefits include not having to do as much clean up, more space, and possibly
having a caterer. The pros and cons for using your own home are pretty much the
opposite – you may or may not have less space, but you’ll have to do all the
cleaning, you can decorate any way you want, and you can determine the menu and
decide whether or not to hire a caterer. Not to mention you’ll save quite a bit
of money!


Now that you have a budget and a venue, it’s time to pick a
theme. You may think “Christmas” is a theme in and of itself, and, well, it is,
but it’s pretty vague. Christmas means something a little different to
everyone, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you have too many options. It’s
easier to focus your decorations, music, and maybe even food when you have a
more specific, narrow theme. Keep in mind if you are renting a venue, they will
likely have rules about decorations, and you’ll have to work with any
decorations already in the venue. Here are some fun theme ideas:

  1. A holiday movie, like “Polar Express” or “Elf” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or even just the classic “Frosty the Snowman.” Use imagery and themes from the movie in your own party. You can kick things up a notch by serving the same foods they serve in the movie.

  2. Your favorite Christmas song: again, use imagery in the song lyrics to determine your decorations and, if possible, food.

  3. Minimalism: keep things simple and focused. Incorporate only one or two colors, opt for a table runner instead of a table cloth, and clear the party room(s) of any clutter. Guests’ attention will be on each other and the meal, rather than decorations.

  4. Maximalism: on the other hand, go all out with decorations and colors. They shouldn’t clash, though; they should still look united and thematic.

  5. Pet Holiday Party: bring your furry best friends into the mix by making your party pet-themed. Puppies in Santa hats – need we say more?

You’ll also need to decide if you want your party to be formal or casual. There’s something to be said for attending a party in comfortable clothes, but it’s also so much fun to get dressed up for an elegant party. If you opt for a more casual style, consider having an ugly Christmas sweater contest. For a fancier party, assign each guest a celebrity and instruct them to not only dress like that person, but do their best to act like them all night too!


Send invitations at
least 2 weeks in advance, but more time is better. The holiday season is
full of parties, and you don’t want people to miss yours because you sent
invitations out too late and they already RSVP’d to a different event. If you
can send invitations out between Thanksgiving and the end of November, you’ll
be ahead of the curve. These days, more and more people are using e-vites or
Facebook events instead of print invitations, but anything works! If you have
elderly or non-tech savvy guests on your list, you should mail them
invitations, even if you invite everyone else over Facebook.

The look of the invitations should match your theme. Here’s
the information you should include, at a minimum:

  • Date and time
  • Location
  • If you want guests to bring a dish (if you do, you may want to assign a specific dish to each person, so you can guarantee there won’t be any overlap)
  • RSVP deadline
  • A reminder for guests with food restrictions to let you know ASAP so you can plan the menu

Don’t be afraid to follow up with guests on the RSVP by date
or the day after. It’s important you know how many people are coming.

Check back in a few days for part 2 of our Ultimate Party Planning: Christmas guide! We’ve got advice for you about planning your menu: appetizers, entrees, desserts, and drinks.

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