by Michael Vyskocil, photography by Nikola Tzenov

The Makings of a Memorable Holiday Party

You’ve waited all year; now it’s here. The holiday season has arrived.

As you think about how to celebrate the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day with family and friends, hosting a holiday party comes to mind. Good parties take a bit of planning, and the best ones are easy to organize and give the host or hostess fresh ways to spice up the festivities. If you need help planning a holiday event, explore the following tips and techniques to help put some pizzazz into your seasonal celebrations.

Deck your Halls by Following Your Style

Laura Meck helps local homeowners prepare for the holidays.

Laura Meck, co-founder and designer of Cornerstone Design Partners and Decorating Den Interiors, has helped dozens of homeowners across Carroll County and Maryland decorate their homes for the holidays. Meck says that while decorating ideas and trends abound on digital platforms, knowing and following your own style allows you to be authentic in your holiday decor.

Working with a professional designer is helpful for individuals who may have ideas but can’t quite picture what they want to achieve. For example, using 3D design software, Meck can create visual guides for her clients before they hang a wreath or decorate a tree.

When decorating, homeowners increasingly want to bring a feel of the outdoors indoors. “I call it ‘back to nature,’” she says. “People are loving fresh greenery, such as garlands and florals.”

Meck suggests mixing fresh greenery with battery-operated or real candles and ribbon to create a simple, sophisticated tablescape. Build a beautiful table centerpiece with wood slices, candles, and holiday ornaments. Alternatively, you can repurpose vintage Christmas tree ornaments by painting them in colors to match your decor and displaying them in a large glass bowl or cylinder.

For families made up of individuals of various faith beliefs, Meck encourages people to think about how they may want to incorporate the symbols of holidays such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa into their decorating. Bringing colors such as blues, whites, and creams into the decor creates a more neutral winter holiday feeling than colors traditionally associated with Christmas, such as red and green.

DIY decorations are always meaningful around the holidays, and they make ideal ways to involve your guests — adults and children alike — in crafting fun during your holiday party.

Creating holiday wreaths, making personalized ornaments for the tree, or decorating gingerbread cookies lets guests take something they’ve created home after the party. While you’ll need to provide the materials and do some project prep before everyone arrives, your guests will delight in plenty of Instagrammable crafting moments during your celebration.   

Fuel Your Feast with Food

Laura Meck designed dining area.

You can’t go wrong with food to bring people together for a celebration. Inviting your guests to contribute to the food and drink adds a delightful edible element to a fun time with festive fare and friends.

If you’re hosting an intimate cocktail party with several friends or family members, you can ask your guests to BYOCB (bring your own charcuterie board). Charcuterie boards produce easy hors d’oeuvres to pair with your favorite cocktails or beverages, and they’re great conversation pieces. Encourage your attendees to be as creative as possible with the cheeses, meats, and extra bits and bites they gather on their boards. Invite them to bring their favorite bottle of wine or ingredients to create favorite cocktails and seasonal sips that pair well with charcuterie.

Food can also inspire your party theme. Ask family and friends to share a dish that represents a favorite family recipe or reflects their cultural heritage. Giving your guests a taste of traditions makes a thoughtful way to recognize the many holidays and observances this season.

Knowing how much food to prepare and serve is important when entertaining guests at home. Tom Schuman, owner of the Kountry Kafe & Catering, offers the following tips to help you with your menu:

You can offer one entrée if you’re serving a small group of 10 to 15 family members or friends and you know what they like to eat. Be sure to confirm how many adults and children you’ll have. For guest counts of 25 or more, Schuman recommends two entrees, such as roasted turkey and baked ham, using the formula of 10 to 12 ounces of an entrée per adult, 4 to 5 ounces per child and 6 to 8 ounces for older adults.

Pair your entrée with a few side dishes. Schuman advises carefully considering your sides, such as green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, sauerkraut and cranberry sauce. “When you’re doing a top round or chicken, I’m always big on having two to three side dishes, like a potato and two vegetables, or a potato, macaroni and cheese and a vegetable.”

When organizing the details of your party, think about the time of day. Celebrations with family are ideal for earlier in the day so that people can get to other evening activities.

Don’t Miss a Beat With Your Music and Entertainment

Next to the food and drink, a holiday party isn’t complete without the entertainment.

Inviting your company to play a game or share in a fun holiday tradition is an easy way to engage guests of all ages. Take the classic game Jenga. You can maximize the fun appeal and add an unexpected twist to this block-stacking game by writing a question on the bottom of each block. When guests pull their blocks out of the stack, they read the questions and share the answers aloud with the group.

White elephant gift exchanges are a perennially popular holiday party tradition. Many spinoffs of this timeless gift-giving game abound. One version involves having all your guests draw a card from a deck. Each card contains a specific instruction, such as swap your gift with the person on your left or decide whether to be naughty or nice — pass or steal another’s gift.

Those who want to infuse some competitive spirit into their celebrations can hold a gift-wrapping extravaganza — see who can wrap a box neatly in the fastest time possible — or organize teams for Wii Bowling.

DJ Chris Bartosik of Raptor Productions

Of course, what would a party be without some tunes? If you want to put the job in the hands of a professional, entertainers like Chris Bartosik of Raptor Productions — a wedding DJ and event production company serving Carroll County, many areas of Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania — could be an option.

If you hire a DJ, Bartosik recommends booking as soon as possible since entertainers’ schedules fill up quickly during the holidays. He also suggests working with your DJ to select music that matches the vibe of your party and appeals to your guests’ tastes.

Picking music doesn’t have to be intimidating, even if you choose to provide it yourself.

First, Bartosik recommends not overdoing the “Jingle Bell Rock.” “For our Christmas parties, we’ve started with some Christmas music as guests arrive, and we transition into more upbeat, fun music everyone will enjoy,” he says. “People want familiar songs that either have great memories tied to them or that they all know the words or a special dance to.”

Also, factor in your party’s size, time and purpose; feel free to add creative touches.

“If there are smaller groups, I have some games or icebreakers we do, especially if it’s more of a day party or a nondancing group,” he says.

Regardless of how simple or elaborate you want your party to be, use the ideas and suggestions described here to personalize your celebration and share the merriment and good cheer with your guests. Happy holidays!