So you’ve decided to have a few friends over for a little holiday gathering. If you’re anything like me, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s not until the day before everyone descends that you realize you may have made a critical error in judgment.
Entertaining is expensive! And hard work! And all of your friends are on Pinterest now, so their standards for what makes a fabulous party have gone way, way up. Lucky you, I’ve got a few shortcuts that will help you get party-ready in a flash, and impress even the snobbiest Martha Stewart devotee on your list.
Punch is a party pleaser
First things first: the booze. Skip a full bar (too much money, too much effort!) in favor of a signature cocktail. I’ve served this amazing Aperol punch to rave reviews at several gatherings. It’s a cinch to throw together, looks festive in a punch bowl, and serves a crowd. Oh, and you won’t have a pile of wine glasses to wash in the morning.
Another fun option is a DIY champagne cocktail station. Make sparkling wine available with a selection of mix-ins: black currant liqueur, Chambord, lemon and orange twists, pomegranate seeds, a bottle of bitters, sugar cubes, and maybe some Aperol. Set out champagne flutes, display handwritten recommended combos, and let your guests get creative!
Decorate your own glassware
Speaking of glasses, if your regular old glasses aren’t feeling sufficiently festive, pick up a few low-cost replacements and add a little pizzazz with metallic Sharpie paint pens. Added bonus: people can actually tell which glass was theirs if every one is different, so you’ll have fewer dishes to clean at the end of the evening. (I’ve also tried this trick with disposable plastic glasses, and let my guests do their own decorating. Works like a charm.)
Branch out — literally
If your house looks a little less merry than you’d like, dash over to the nearest Christmas tree lot and ask for a few trimmed branches (they’ll usually scrounge them up for free). I love to arrange them in a vase, or lay them out like a lazy garland on my dining table. Besides being festive, they’ll make the house smell fantastic. Add some metallic ball ornaments piled into clear glass vases (no need to make sure they match), and you’ll have a gorgeous centerpiece in less time than it takes to call the florist.
Make your gifts
While I’m always of the opinion that the person who hosts the party gets off without having to buy gifts, if you’re feeling generous, there are loads of DIY ideas that will have your friends swooning without your even breaking a sweat. Save your used coffee grounds for the rest of the week and make a batch of Coffee Scrub. Pack it in Mason jars, put on a ribbon, and you’re done. Infused olive oils are also an amazing (and amazingly easy) DIY gift. Pick up a large can of olive oil and some small glass bottles, toss a few garlic cloves and a sprig of rosemary into each one, and fill with oil. In a few days, you’ll have an incredible flavored oil that’s perfect for cooking, salad dressings, or dipping.
Looking to add a little extra flair to your fete? A selfie photo station is a fantastic way to break the ice, especially with mismatched groups of friends. Head to your favorite thrift shop and pick up a few can’t-miss accessories (or raid your own closet; think theatrical), then pile everything up on a table. Set out a sign with a custom hashtag for the party, and let everyone post their pics in real time! Bonus points if you have a computer screen around that you can keep tuned to the Instagram hashtag, so it’s constantly updating and showing off the party in action.
Light it up
And last but not least, when all else fails, Christmas lights are almost always the answer. Buy several strands and use them everywhere! Deck your framed artwork and windows, swag them from the ceiling — it’s the perfect shortcut to add holiday cheer in a snap. (I like to use clear packing tape or adhesive putty to hang them indoors so I don’t leave nail holes all over the house.)
But most important of all: know when to relax, stop caring that those pillows didn’t get perfectly arranged, and just let your guests enjoy your company. Have a happy, happy holiday!
Image credits, from left to right: Serious Eats, Rose Tinted Home, Real Simple, Elle, The Kitchn and Shelterness.