How To Host A Fancy Holiday Party
Once upon a time, long ago, there was no Instagram. McDonald’s didn’t offer delivery. And the streets of Nashville weren’t littered with discarded motorized scooters. The people of this time would gather together once a year and attend fancy holiday parties. These parties, usually dinner parties, didn’t have gag gifts, or ugly sweaters. They had acquaintances becoming friends, probably ham, cloth napkins, and the joy of Christmas. While ugly sweater parties are still great, maybe this year, you should consider hosting a fancy holiday party from the golden age!
The Guest List
Step one is to come up with a guest list. The guest list is crucial to the entire event so it should be even more carefully curated than your playlist. Nashville is currently blessed to be the preferred city of choice for new and young families. So if you decide to invite friends and family who have young children, this will affect the time and type of activities. Toddlers can’t be expected to entertain themselves at the kids table the way an 8 year old could. So you would also have to consider a spare room and babysitter or babysitter rotation to care for the younger attendees and make sure that the party is early enough to accommodate your youngest attendees. If your guests have older children, are they invited? Turn any room into an excellent game room with a quick trip to ThriftSmart to pick up a few classic games or toys. Or if you are feeling especially ambitious, you can even find some prizes for the kids. However if you choose to keep it kid free, whether your attendees are mostly childless or empty nesters then the fancy holiday party should probably start a little later in the evening to give your attendees plenty of time to get ready.
Your guest list should also be carefully curated for the benefit of your guests, not necessarily your own social status. Who among your friends and acquaintances can benefit from meeting each other? The goal of your fancy dinner party is to foster community and build relationships. A good party is one where the guests feel special. An essential ingredient to a holiday party is making the attendees feel loved and appreciated. Drawing new friends into a community is an excellent way to do that.
To make your fancy holiday party feel like a family, you need a good plan. And the foundation of a community is good communication. The invites are a crucial part of that plan. Yes, you can and should use a digital service like Facebook events or evite. However, you should also send a handwritten invitation. Why both? Because the digital services make RSVPing or communicating special needs, exceptions, or plan changes much easier. The handwritten invitations convey the sincerity of your desire to spend time with that person. They are special to you. There are so few pieces of mail that are happy surprises, so invitations are rare treats.
Your party should also have a purpose. Not just a theme like an 80’s party, but an actual vision. Why should someone attend this party? This time of year, an excellent way to accomplish this is to host a donation drive along with your party. Collect canned goods, box tops, or collect goods to be donated to ThriftSmart. You are hosting a fancy holiday dinner party. The least your guests can do is donate something.
The next part of the plan, and possibly the most important, is to consider your list of attendees who have RSVP’d yes. What you want to avoid are cliques. People tend to congregate with others that they already know. They are comfortable with that. Your job is to mix people up and get them into groups of others that they may yet know but should. But a good host can take their guests out of their comfort zone, but just far enough to be pleasantly surprised and delighted. Plan out your seating. Couples cannot be seated together during dinner. They will have plenty of time to be together, but at dinner, they should be separated. Instead seat people next to each other that have similar or complementary interests. Then place a card with each person’s name at their seat and some introductory questions (e.g., will you be traveling for the holidays? Do you give gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas day? etc).
A fancy holiday party doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the food has to be fancy as well. This is Nashville after all and BBQ is basically a staple no matter the formality of the event. But any ethnic food strongly identified with a culture can work, no matter how simple or inexpensive. Italian food is the most popular example of this. Pasta, salad, and some rolls work for everything from a wedding to a quick weeknight meal. The same is true with Asian dishes, Mexican, or French (except fries). And virtually every culture has inexpensive meals for large groups. So it is a good idea to try to find an something that will keep your particular friend group fed without annoying them with food that is too different from their preferences. For some, a home made sushi night sounds like fun. For others, raw fish makes them far more squeamish than Korean fried chicken.
The whole goal of this fancy dinner party is to cultivate the “Joy of Christmas.” That means you want a warm fuzzy family feeling. And not the sibling squabbling or uncomfortable silence kind of family either. To do this, we need to encourage acquaintances to get to know each and form deeper relationships. So all of your activities should be designed to do this. As previously mentioned, have questions at each table setting. Following dinner have everyone gather in one room and sing Christmas carols. Make sure to have lyrics of some of the most popular Christmas carols on hand to pass out. It is also probably a good idea to make sure that there aren’t enough for everyone, forcing people to share. And it is also probably a good idea to meet in a room that fits everyone but just barely.
After the Christmas caroling, allow people to mingle on their own. After a meal and singing together, they should be a little more warmed up to the idea of spending time with each other and couples will probably be looking forward to reuniting at this point. But now is also an excellent time to allow them to have dessert. A popcorn and hot chocolate bar is a great way to keep the activities and engagement going. And of course, this would be a great time to set up an Instagram booth, complete with props from ThriftSmart!
And finally, follow up with your guests! Send them a thank you note, remind them of the evening and the fact that you valued their company. Following up will cement the positive memories and feelings while allowing any negative or bored moments to fade away. That follow up note is the cherry on top that will make your fancy holiday party one to remember.