Have you ever noticed that certain holiday parties have you rockin’ around the Christmas tree, while others have you wishing you were nestled all snug in your bed? Even the most festive hostess can accidentally throw a snooze-fest if she hasn’t planned appropriately.
But not to worry, that will never be you (again!). Your holiday party—and any other party you throw—will be a fabulous success if you follow this simple rule: Make sure the theme fits the occasion and appeals to each of your five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel.
To get started, consider what kind of holiday party you’re hosting. A cocktail party for colleagues? A Hanukkah celebration for family and friends? A Christmas open house for neighbors? With the meaning of the occasion in mind, think about the feeling or mood you want to create. Once you’ve determined your party’s persona, you’re ready to fill in the details.
Your guests’ first impression will be what they see when they arrive. So whether your venue is your living room or a posh restaurant, make sure it lends itself to your intended mood—it’ll set the scene of your soirée!
Then, think decorations. They can be over-the-top or minimalist, as long as they follow the theme. If you want to amp up your guests for a fun celebration, go heavy on the décor—put up a tree with all the trimmings, and hang lots of lights. For a cozy Hanukkah dinner party, decorate with loads of blue, white, and silver candles and have several menorahs on hand to light. The key is to make sure that what your guests see when they arrive coincides with what they’re expecting to experience at the party. They’ll feel prepared and ready to enjoy!
You’ve set the theme with your visual planning, but what your guests hear when they enter the room can go a long way to enhance that. Whether it’s “The First Noel,” “Frosty the Snowman,” or Foster the People, your music selection will immediately put attendees in a certain mood. Make sure it’s the mood you want by compiling a custom playlist or tuning in to a fitting channel on Pandora.
Also think beyond the music—what else will your guests hear? For example, if you’re entertaining at home, the sound of a crackling fire will add warm holiday cheer. But if you’re hosting colleagues at a cocktail party, the sounds of your (or anyone else’s) beloved children running around will definitely not contribute to the mood—or at least not the one you’re going for.
Having the ability to immediately transport you back to a certain place and time, smell is a powerful, yet often overlooked, element to successful party planning. Your menu selection will play a major role here, but there are other ways you can heighten your guests’ sensory experience. Smoke drifting from the chimney will draw guests in out of the cold, and holiday candles or mulling spices will add warmth and comfort indoors. Fresh pine wreaths (which you can make from scraps at the Christmas tree farm), cinnamon sticks, or mandarin oranges pricked with whole cloves are other (cheap!) ways to bring the scent of the holidays into your event.
What your guests see, hear, and smell when they arrive is what will set the initial mood, but taste is how you seal the deal. When you’re planning the perfect menu for your party, remember that you don’t have to spend a lot of money—whether it’s catered or homemade, just make sure it’s appropriate for the event.
For holiday dinners, think warm, rich appetizers, like baked brie with walnuts and cranberries, roasted meats like lamb, ham, or turkey, and festive desserts like rum cake or peppermint bark. For cocktail parties, pick easy-to-eat finger foods like phyllo cups filled with goat cheese and fig jam or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese. And don’t forget the egg nog!
When the elements of a party appeal harmoniously to your guests’ sight, sound, scent, and taste, you’ll create the overall feel of your gathering. And that vibe is what will have your guests dancing the night away—and still talking about how much fun they had the next morning. Happy holiday hosting!