How To Host A Last-Minute Christmas Party Without Going Insane
Maybe you were “arrowed” to host this year’s family Christmas gathering. Maybe you volunteered while riding high on spiked eggnog and holiday cheer. Or maybe your spouse volunteered on your behalf (but without your consent).
Whatever the case, I’ve been in your shoes, and with Christmas weekend approaching in just a matter of days, you’re probably panicking. As someone who is hosting Christmas Dinner on the 25th, but has yet to put up her tree, I feel you, and I’m also here to assure you that there’s no need to freak out. Despite what social media might show you, Christmas parties are far less about the aesthetic setups than they are about creating heartwarming and silly memories.
Here's where to get started:
Order your Christmas takeaway feast NOW
There was one year where I naively walked into the grocery store on Christmas Eve, hoping to pick up some roasted ham, only to find out the shelves empty. Christmas sets typically sell out a few days before the holiday weekend - some retailers, like Cold Storage, close festive orders as early as 20 December. If you’d like to save yourself the trouble of scraping together a feast from scratch, put in an order ASAP. Not all places do delivery either, especially on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, so either prepare to do self-pickup, or arrow the spouse who volunteered your efforts to do it for you.
P.S. Don’t forget dessert. Want to venture beyond the usual log cakes? Check out these sweet alternatives here.
Know the difference between dietary restrictions and dietary preferences
Send a mass text to ask whether any of the guests have allergies or dietary restrictions. While it’s good manners to prepare something that they can eat, don’t feel pressured to cater to every single request, especially if your list of requirements ends up looking like this: shellfish-free, no nuts, vegan, low sodium, lactose-free, gluten-free, kid-friendly. Also, what if someone tells you they don't like turkey? When it gets too hard to accommodate everyone, tell guests that you’ll try your best, but that they’re free to contribute a dish that they can eat.
(This is why I’ve lately made Christmas dinners at my place potlucks instead of trying to order something that can please everyone.)
Set expectations about money (BEFORE the event)
Let’s say you’re not doing a potluck. You’re catering a buffet; ordering a few hundred dollars’ worth of ham, turkey, and charcuterie; or, being the angel that you are, you’re cooking for 20 people. Are you content to absorb all the costs or would you like guests to contribute?
A large part of the answer depends on who’s attending. If it’s family, conventional wisdom dictates that you, as the host, will pay for everything. But what if your cousins invite “a few” extra uncles and aunties, inflating attendance from 20 people to 30? Or what if it’s not a family dinner, but a dinner with friends and colleagues?
I’ve found that it’s best to lay ground rules ahead of time. Springing O$P$ requests onto guests might make you look like a bit of a Scrooge, but of course, you shouldn’t be spending $500 on a meal for two dozen people if you’re not ready to do so.
If you’re hosting friends and would like them to contribute, send a text beforehand letting them know roughly how much it’ll be per person so that they’re not caught off guard when you ask them to pay. If you’re hosting family, however, be prepared to set hard limits on attendance so that you can keep costs under control. Of course, it helps when family members are generous enough to also contribute a few dishes, but don’t rely on goodwill to help you keep to your food budget.
Find SIMPLE games on TikTok or Instagram Reels
By now, it’s a little late to plan a gift exchange. I’ve never liked planning these anyway because it requires a lot of administration - you’d think a Secret Santa game would help seal in RSVPs, but inevitably (and especially now that COVID is surging again), guests will drop out or “forget” their gift at the last minute.
At the same time, it’s good to plan an activity to break the ice or for holiday vibes. This year, I found all of mine on TikTok. You can choose something as complex as a gingerbread decorating contest to something as simple as pummeling marshmallows at each other. Like gift exchanges, though, gingerbread houses require quite a bit of prep so go for something silly, low-maintenance, and memorable for maximum ROI.
If you haven’t put up your tree yet, forget it
While Christmas trees certainly do the heavy lifting when it comes to holiday decor, let’s face it - Christmas will be over in a week. Do you really want to spend the weeks between end-December and Chinese New Year willing yourself to put it away? Just put up some fairy lights, buy a couple of poinsettias from a nearby plant nursery, and be done with it.
Nowadays, I rely on music, scents, and lighting more than I do on actual decor to make my place feel Christmassy. Here’s my step-by-step lazy guide:
1. Turn off the overhead lighting, turn on lamps
2. Light candles with holiday scents (You can easily find these Yankee Candle or Beth Bath & Beyond)
3. Throw on a Christmas playlist from Spotify
4. Leave the Christmas Fireplace Crackling video from YouTube on TV for the duration of the party
The best part is that there’s no teardown afterward. You’ll be ready to transition your house to CNY mode as soon as the party’s over.
Hire professional cleaners before and afterward
As if hosting weren’t tiring enough, the worst part about prepping for holiday parties is having to deep-clean your flat before and after guests leave. (Especially if your clean freak parents and in-laws will be in attendance.) Save yourself the agony and hire a part-time cleaner to come over before and/or afterward to spruce your place up. Consider it a Christmas present to yourself, especially if you’re also hosting a New Year’s Eve gathering next week 🥴