The holidays are here at last. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s my schedule is packed but my bags are not — this year we’re staying in town for Christmas! If you’re hosting at home like I love to do, read on for a quick checklist of my favorite tried and true tips for throwing a great party.
Whether we’re hosting dinner for a dozen or creating a few cocktails before going out for the evening, I like to throw together a couple of crudite boards that are sure to offer something for everyone: cheeses that range from a mild farmers’ varietal to truffled-studded sharp cheddar, little pots of honey and jam, bowls of seasonal berries, nuts and candied fruits, and a baguette or sampling of crackers. Another thoughtful and simple gesture: Check in with guests a few days before you go grocery shopping to see if there are any food allergies or dietary restrictions you can help accommodate.
When guests ask if they can bring something along to a soirée, I usually reply, “Just bring your sweet self!” or offer up something easy and inexpensive like bag of ice or a bottle of their favorite libation.
Every now and then it can also be fun to invite friends or family to join in on baking or cooking. If you’re going for a theme like a cookie swap or potluck, ask in the invitation if anyone would like to bring a certain kind of dish or drink along with their RSVP. This way, your guests will know what they’re getting into before they commit to attending. Not everyone is into certain party themes, be it a bar bottle swap, Secret Santa, or massively sugar-coma-inducing sweets exchange like the (delicious) one Olivia and I just hosted. The people who are into the idea will not only be excited in knowing what to expect off the bat, but may also have a few great ideas to make the party even better!
This one is something my husband, CPR, and I are both into — we love to go over the top with the bar options! When it comes to wine, I like to have something red, something white, and something sparkling on hand, chilled in the refrigerator or out in an ice bucket (which also makes for a handy spot for guests to stick any bottles they’ve brought along).
If the party starts before noon, go light and offer up some berries and a couple of pitchers for spritzers and mimosas — orange juice, lemonade, and San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa are easy crowd pleasers. If it’s a smaller group, try out something a signature option like this colada-inspired frozen cava.
CPR likes to handle the spirits and keeps a full bar ready to make American classics — this season we’re all about simple cocktails and toddies. If we’re expecting a crowd we like to pre-batch a cocktail or two into a dispenser so guests can easily self-serve. Pre-batching worked out really well over our big Thanksgiving dinner this year — I warmed up a pot of apple cider and cinnamon sticks on the stove and CPR dropped a couple of spirits options beside it: his company’s white whiskey and a baby bourbon they’d just released. Separating the mixers from the spirits was also great for anyone who wanted a sweet sip sans alcohol.
Be sure to have a pitcher or two of water around and some extra cups, as well. Most guests will drink whatever’s out and will either forget to re-hydrate or drink straight from your kitchen tap unless you’ve set up a dedicated watering hole. A decanter of iced water garnished with some simple lemon slices will keep everyone hydrated and refreshed.
To bake or buy…
While it can be fun to spend a morning in the kitchen baking and cooking before a party, that fun can evaporate into pure stress when you mix in cleaning and prep, grocery runs, receiving guests, and trying to find moments to enjoy the party itself. I like to pick one or two homemade options that are easy and can be made in advance, then refrigerate or warm them in the oven as friends trickle in (Nigella Lawson’s flourless chocolate cake is a favorite option).
There’s also zero shame in opting for delicious store-bought options from a local bakery, restaurant, farmer’s market, or grocery. For our recent cookie swap, I knew my schedule was too tight to bake something great for 20 gals, so I ran by St. Germain Bakery the morning of our party. Everything was freshly-made and baked to perfection, and no one minded that the sweet treats were someone else’s handiwork.
If you’re heading to Trader Joe’s, Google TJ’s recipe hacks before you shop — this one little trick has had our guests asking for recipes each year we’ve hosted Thanksgiving.
Details, details, details
Instead of grabbing a ton of festive disposable decor, I love to focus on a few reusable pieces to jazz everything up — vintage linen tablecloths and napkins, candlesticks, a few soft throws for the sofa and back deck.
Simple touches like candles, great music, and a little selection of table and yard games will also go a long way. Dedicated stations for everything from coats to cutlery, drinks to food, host gifts (like my friend Kenan’s cute vanilla bottles!) to take-home containers will also help everyone who shows up easily relax and have fun without the obligation to run you down to find a fork.
Share your phone number, directions, and parking details if you’re expecting a crowd; and remember to thank your friends and family for coming out to spend time with you. People will rarely remember what you wore or what they ate or if they couldn’t find the toilet paper or that some side dish that came out cold, but they will always remember how you made them feel in those moments. When you have trouble handling something gracefully, aim for grateful and generous — those are my favorite ingredients for a perfect party.
From the cheeseboards and cuppas to the cookie boxes and candles, the festive touches sprinkled throughout this post are in stock at Scoutmob, an Atlanta neighbor who lent some serious holiday cheer to this year’s cookie swap. Every product Scoutmob sells is hand-built by independent makers in the USA.