Party Down, Winter Holiday Style
November 1, 2014 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I would like to host a holiday/Christmas party this year, but I have never done it before and I would like some advice on how to do it in such a way that (1) people will attend, (2) people will have a good time, and (3) it is fun for me as a host. Lots of specific questions and info ahead.

About the Hosts: My husband and I like to cook, eat, drink, and socialize, but we're introverted homebodies in our late 30s and don't get invited to a lot of parties or events. Rather than just feeling bummed about it, we're trying to take matters into our own hands. We have a nice, fairly large house that looks pretty good when we get all the Christmas stuff up (i.e., we have room for people, and can offer a pretty, festive atmosphere).

Potential Guests: Our potential guest list includes a mix of friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Most of the invitees will be people we work with (see "introverted homebodies" above) or met through work. It is a lot of engineers and IT types, from 30s to 60s in age. Our families live too far away to invite. Many have children of various ages. The total list is more than 20 people, less than 30.

Party Goals: Have fun. Create an environment where other people have fun. Further develop friendly relationships with people we like. Introduce people we like to other people we like. Maybe create opportunities to see some of the invitees socially in other situations. Maybe start a tradition of having parties.

Questions Ahoy:
What kind of party should we have? I'm certain I don't want a sit-down dinner party, but other than that I'm not sure. Do I need to specify a party type (open house, cocktail party) or just call it a party?

Is it horribly gauche to ask people to bring a dish or something to drink? Ideally I'd like to provide some basics (charcuterie and cheese platter with olives, crudites, a signature appetizer, plus red and white wine and a selection of good beers and soft drinks) and allow/ask/encourage people to bring something great they enjoy. I'm thinking about framing this as "bring if you like" so that people who like to bring things can, but nobody feels obligated.

What sort of line should we draw about children? We have a pre-teen daughter, and I think it would be fine for people to bring their older, well-behaved kids. Jeoc Jr. will probably be watching a movie or playing games upstairs with a friend or two, and we could send older kids up to hang out with them. However, some of the people I most like on our guest list have younger kids. Our house isn't super small-kid-friendly, and generally I think it would be better if small and rambunctous kids didn't attend. Is there a way to word this (older kids OK, younger kids not) politely and clearly?

We currently only have enough seating for about half the potential guests, counting sofas, chairs and dining chairs. Do we need to beg/borrow/rent/steal additional chairs (nice folding chairs?)?

What is the right way to invite people? Facebook? Evite? Letterpress engraved invitation?

Final Questions:
What makes a party fun for you?
What makes the bad parties you have been to bad, and what do you like at a party?
What good/helpful/fun things is a n00b host likely to overlook?
posted by jeoc to Human Relations (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I make glögg for my holiday get-togethers. My parties are held in high regard.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:00 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Two holiday parties I really like are my friend's cookie swap, and the open house/brunch thing my housemates and I do most years. What they have in common: casual, scheduled well in advance (holidays book up fast), guests contribute if they want ("bring something if you like" works fine for us, daytime hours (evenings get so overscheduled at the holidays).

We've never found it necessary to have as many chairs as guests - people standing tends to encourage circulation and mingling. We plan for finger foods, so guests don't have to sit to eat.

Our place is definitely not child-proof, which is what we indicate on the invitation. We have no problem having kids over, but we want parents to know what they're getting into. But we also don't have a house or yard, so there's limited space for kids to get out from under their parents' eyes.

We use Evite and Facebook for invitations. I don't know most of our guests' mailing addresses, and the automatic reminders in Evite and Facebook are nice.

Specifying a party type is good insofar as it gives people clues about what to wear, when to be there, and what to bring. Personally, I like open houses are at the holidays, since they're flexible.

As an introvert host, it's good for me to have things to do to get a little break from socializing. I'll sneak into the kitchen and wash dishes for a bit, or plan for a dish to come out mid-party that takes a bit of prep work.

We pretty much always forget ice. Don't forget ice, it's a nuisance to be scrambling for it early in the party.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:06 PM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

We have a steep driveway and snow in the winter, so we hold an annual "We Lived Through Christmas" potluck party. My spouse blocks the driveway with a mound of snow after people arrive, everybody brings sleds or snow cups, and we sled down the driveway. I put on a big pot of chili and make coffee, and everyone else brings something edible to add to the festivities.

Some people spend all day outdoors and only come in to eat and warm up, others like to hang out by the roaring fireplace and visit or play games. It's my favorite party of the year - easy on us as hosts, and our friends have a blast. Somebody just asked me this week if we were going to have it again this year because they didn't want to miss it!
posted by summerstorm at 5:09 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Introverted homebody here. Potlucks are pretty normal this time of year, I think. I would not be offended if I received an invitation that said "If you have a favorite holiday dish or beverage, feel free to bring it along. If not, there will be plenty on had to eat and drink!" (I'm vegetarian and like to know that there will be something I can eat and like on hand.)

The parties I have liked have places to chat and socialize and places to chill out a little and take a break from the activity. The parties I have disliked have been ones where I didn't know many people and/or was new to the group so I felt like they all knew each other and I didn't. So I'd say invite a number from each sphere so attendees will have someone to socialize with until they start to loosen up and meet the people they don't know.

Unless you are planning a sit down meal, I'd think you don't need seating for everyone. People tend to congregate in the kitchen and stand around being in the way. :-) So maybe seating for 3/4 of the number you expect.

Have plenty of toilet paper and fresh towels in the bathroom(s). And make it obvious where they are.

As an introvert host, it's good for me to have things to do to get a little break from socializing.

Absolutely. I actually did much better at parties I hosted. I had something to focus on, something to do, and didn't just stand around feeling anxious.

Good for you for reaching out. Happy (early) Holidays!
posted by Beti at 5:11 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

So I like to throw parties. Just had a big family Halloween party last night!

I usually mail out invitations as people seem more likely to RSVP and show up to a party with a real invite stuck on their fridge. It makes it clear you care about the party and it's "worth" attending. After the invites go out some people will ask you if there's anything they can bring. This is your opportunity to have a little list with items you can suggest ( a hot dip, a dessert etc...). Don't include any potluck info on the invitation.

For the first time I had caterers prepare a couple trays of apps and it was such a huge stress relief for me. I made up a veggie tray, a cheese platter, fruit platter and a few desserts. All the hard work was done by the caterers for only a couple hundred dollars. It was great.

For your guests with young kids it's tricky. If these are not people you often see socially outside of work they may not be likely to want to hire a sitter. But I do understand not wanting young children to attend. A later start time, 8 pm. Sends a clear message that the party is not for the young. You can also let the parents of older kids know that you are setting up a movie marathon of x,y, z movies for your child and similar aged kids.
posted by saradarlin at 5:19 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Potlucks are totally fine! My suggestion is that you get the basic elements of party food, and suggest on the invitation what people should bring. So if nobody brings anything, you still have chips/dip/soda, but likely there will be lots of extra. Bringing food helps people feel included, and it gives them something to talk about.

A group craft that is hard to screw up is also good for parties with people who don't already know each other. Paper chains or popcorn garlands might be fun for a crowd. Board games kind of fill the same niche.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:21 PM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

That sounds great and really fun. Engineers and IT types are often on the introverted/homebody spectrum as well, and appreciate a laid back type of atmosphere like an (optional) potluck, so I think you're totally on the right track in that. I've held similar type get togethers and they've always gone over well.

As to the invitations, I'd use probably Facebook or email, or maybe just in person invites if you could. PLEASE do not use Evite or another third party service unless you're positive that everyone else already uses it. I get pretty peeved with people giving third party companies my contact information, and have had issues with people using Evite before.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:43 PM on November 1, 2014

Have a pajama party/game night. Invite your friends to bring their favorite board games and wear their frumpiest flannel. Serve hot cocoa and cookies. Keep the little kid theme going with mac and cheese with cut up hot dogs mixed in. State in the invite, 'The adults will act like kids so better leave the kids at home.' I invite by facebook and text.
posted by myselfasme at 6:25 PM on November 1, 2014

If you're set on not having little kids there, the odds that people with little kids will come is virtually nil. So if you want to include those folks, think about that.

I reduce my own stress over party hosting by confirming with one close friend that they will come, ideally right when things start. That makes it less awkward if people I don't know well come or if not very many people show up at all.
posted by metasarah at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Call it a "Holiday Party." Say "finger-food and drinks will be served."

Please don't ask people to bring things. If you want that, change the name of your party to "Holiday Potluck." Most (not all) people will ask, "Is there anything we can bring?" You can respond, "How kind of you! If you feel like making an appetizer of any kind, that would be great, and/or bring an adult beverage. But if it doesn't happen, just bring yourselves--that's more than enough. We're so glad you can come!"

For children, you have to respect the intelligence of the people you are inviting and not say anything about this. They know you and your family structure, and people with little kids know that a house with only older children will have fragile objects. If you see someone come in with a toddler and let the kid loose, you can go ahead and say, "Forgive me, but you're going to have to keep an eye on little Tommy, there are a lot of things at his level that he might hurt himself on. We're not childproofed anymore, as you can imagine!" I've brought my toddlers to the homes of people without small children, and believe me I watch my kids like a hawk. If you say "no small kids" I'm just not going to come. If it's "adults only" then I will definitely get a babysitter, but your pre-teen changes the dynamic as much as a younger kid would, and I am not going to pay a babysitter $15/hr so that I can hang out at a party with other children of any age. If you want to exclude young kids naturally, plan your party for kid bedtime (e.g. after 7pm). People will probably come stag and leave one parent at home with the kid.

You definitely don't need more chairs. Do you have carpet or rugs? We live in a small apartment, and people have no problem sitting on the floor.

We invite people via Evite, but do whatever you are comfortable with. Don't get offended if people don't respond until the last minute. If you really want to know if someone is coming, text or call them directly and ask nicely (don't get an attitude about them not RSVP'ing).

The only not-fun parties I've been to have been outside in bad weather, usually involving little kids, no adult drinks and bad pizza. The bar is pretty low for parties for most of us. We are always thrilled to be invited!

Extra tips: Make sure the garbage/recycling is fairly obvious in the kitchen so that people can take care of themselves. Have nice non-alcoholic beverages for people who don't drink. As each guest arrives, escort them around introducing them to people they don't know with a point of connection. "John, this is Mary. She works in the XX department at XX. Didn't you go over there for the XX conference?" or "I know you are both musicians, I wonder if you know the same people in the wedding band world."
posted by tk at 7:15 AM on November 2, 2014

You've gotten good advice above, but I want to add that if you are throwing a party around the Christmas season, you're competing with many other gatherings -- work, family, church, friends -- that happen during a very limited number of weekends.

If you want to maximize turnout, an open house on a weekend afternoon would be your best bet. Alternatively, you could throw a New Year's Day brunch or open house which would still be holiday-ish but maybe a little less pressure on your guests who may be juggling multiple commitments.

Seconding tk -- don't ask your guests to bring things to a holiday party. You are giving a gift of hosting a gathering with yummy snacks; they are giving the gift of their presence. If they offer, great, then suggest something, but don't throw a "Potluck Party" unless you know everyone really well.

(Many years ago I hosted a 'Twelfth Night' party in early January that was a hit too.)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just seconding that scheduling for holiday/Christmas stuff is hard, and the closer you get to the actual holiday the harder it is, especially on a weekend and particularly when people may not be used to socializing with you, it sounds like. We have our annual party in mid-November for this reasons. It's a brunch, and very informal, and tons of people show because it's low-stakes and in a not-busy time of the year when outside activities are marginal at best.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:21 AM on November 2, 2014

Response by poster: These answers are GREAT, but are also making me feel like a weird outlier in terms of social life. I pretty much never have anything scheduled on weekend evenings, even during the holidays. Weekend mornings and afternoons are pretty busy with errands and kid-related activities, but in the evenings I'm just sitting in my house by my Christmas tree reading MeFi or a book or something. I guess I thought that was the case for a lot of other people with similar lives to mine (working professionals with kids).

Maybe this is some sort of confirmation bias? People who have advice about parties get invited to a lot of parties and/or have a lot of parties, and therefore think that everybody has a busy social schedule?
posted by jeoc at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like to throw parties, and I have some feelings about all of this! The most enjoyable parties for me (as a host and guest) have a relaxed atmosphere, where I don't feel any pressure to do something, and have delicious things.

I vote that you make glogg/mulled wine, have some winter-y snacks (deviled eggs, bacon wrapped figs/dates, cheese, etc?), and send a facebook invitation. Don't worry about additional chairs, and don't say anything about children and see what happens.

I am voting for this setup because:

-- Glogg + winter snacks will create a sort of theme (themed parties are good as long as you don't take it too far. it gives people something low-key to unite on). Typically people will bring things even if you don't request, but overtly requesting people to bring things is a bit forced.

-- Facebook invite will give you a good RSVP count and keep the party top-of-mind for people (+ at this point everyone uses facebook, email etiquette is too awkward, printed invitations are too formal, and evites sometimes go to spam).

-- Chairs aren't really that important because usually people mingle/stand/wander/eat.

-- Restrictions on children might make things awkward (and people will likely ask if they are concerned) and to make this most enjoyable for yourself you want to skew low-key.

Send the invitation 1.5-2 weeks in advance. For the invitation text I would recommend something like: "As the days are getting shorter and colder, we'd like to invite you over for some light and warmth. We are making glogg and covering the house with Christmas lights, and would love if you could join us for some wintertime cheer. We will have plenty of glogg and winter snacks, but invite you to bring any winter favorites or traditions. Let us know if you can make it!"

If you want to add a level of complexity you could also make it a white elephant party with a $10 spending limit.
posted by aaanastasia at 4:49 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Send out invite at least 2-3 weeks ahead of event. I would say even longer because people will have many Christmas party invites in the month of December. I would use Evite.

If you don't want little kids, I would say no kids at all. You may change your mind and allow all kids. It makes things easier for parents who wish to attend.

I would call it a Holiday Party or a Christmas party. Make the invitation simple and festive: Join us for a Jolly Good Time!, etc.

I used to be more of a homebody (when my kids were younger) but saw my social life expand greatly when I started saying yes to invitations and stopped stressing over having people over. I entertain fairly often. My guest list is smaller but this is what I've learned:

Music. Definitely have music on in the background. It doesn't have to be loud but it must be there. Create a playlist of upbeat, festive music plus Christmas carols. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee type of music plus some popular upbeat music. You can probably find playlists on Spotify. Parties without music are usually dull.

I never ask my guests to bring food. I'm not against it and am not offended when I am asked to bring a dish but when I have a party I provide the food. You can't go wrong with stuff like meatballs, hot wings, pigs in blanket, chips and dips, shrimp cocktail, brownies, Christmas cookies, etc. You could even do a big tray of baked ziti or lasagna, a giant green salad, garlic bread, plus the appetizers. Everything buffet style on paper plates.

Relax and have fun. Don't worry if you're in the kitchen doing some last minute stuff when guests arrive. Be warm, welcoming, and relaxed, and your guests will be too.

Don't stress or worry too much if people are having fun or mingling. It causes unnecessary tension.

Definitely bring in extra seating. Arrange groupings of folding chairs.

If it's cold and you have a fireplace get that going. If you live in a warm climate and have a nice outdoor space, open that up. I like it when guests can mingle all over the house and have spaces to socialize in groups.

What makes a bad party:

Not enough food. Not enough drink.

An unwelcoming host. A host who doesn't offer drinks or fails to tell me where the drinks and food are.

Drinks that are in the fridge. Put drinks out in a prominent place with ice bucket(s) so guests can help themselves.

Too quiet -- no music.

Too hot or too cold.

Nowhere to sit.

Too formal or stuffy.
posted by Fairchild at 6:03 PM on November 2, 2014

Don't feel too much like a weirdo. I don't have a busy social schedule either, and my friends who do are the outliers. I'm pretty danged introverted, as are most of the people I know.

I have, however, thrown some fairly big parties, mostly for nerds and transplants and people like that, who often don't have anything else going on, especially during a major holiday season, when people who don't normally go to big social events might be inclined to do a once-a-year something.

But I do want to make sure I am really clear that when you use Evite, you are providing a third party with information tying someone's personal email address to their real life identity. I am solidly in your demographic, and I get really mad at people who've plugged my info into Evite or otherwise turned my identifying information over to a third party. I consider it a serious violation of trust.

Most people do seem to be either fine with it or already resigned to this sort of thing, but take a look at their privacy policy as it pertains to third parties.

In short, they take the personally identifying information you provide them about other people, and they freely sell it to anyone who will pay for it. A lot of people are very much not OK with that, and the people who are not OK with it tend to be people who work in technical fields and understand how services like this operate.

IOW, you are running a pretty good risk of really, really pissing someone off if you use Evite, especially within that demographic.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:35 AM on November 3, 2014

n'thing glogg.

Also, I have extended family living in Minnesota and they have a tradition of turkey bowling on Chirstmas. After a few drinks, everyone gathers in the long driveway outside to take a shot at bowling a frozen turkey 30+ feet into a few makeshift pins.

I hear its great fun.
posted by lalunamel at 8:13 PM on November 5, 2014

« Older Which data structures changed the world?   |   What is the most ridiculous thing I can buy for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.