Host a holiday brunch, complete with mimosa and waffle bar. Make it snow in Texas. Hang people upside down from the ceiling with a bottle of champagne. Whether it’s an intimate house party or a blowout bash that will have your friends talking for the next decade, we asked Houston-based party expert Samara Hurley for her tips on how to throw the best Christmas party ever.
Forget the Deviled Eggs
“You can’t overfeed people,” says Hurley. But rather than loading up on the typical Christmas fare you see at every party, she suggests serving different flavors. Like maybe a pesto spinach Christmas pizza or tiny eggnog cheesecakes.
Keep your bar simple by choosing a specialty cocktail with a seasonal twist. You can also set up a hot chocolate bar with marshmallows, flavor- and alcohol-infused whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Add a dash of festive color with colored salts and sugars for the rims and straws in seasonally-hued polka dots and chevrons.
Beat the Rush
Get your invitations in the mail early so your friends aren’t completely booked up. If you order decorations online, give yourself plenty of time for returns – items may look bigger or higher in quality online than they do in person. “Most likely, you’re going to be returning it and running around town like a chicken with its head cut off trying to find something that looks better,” laughs Hurley. She also goes through her cupboards and pulls out every serving plate and spoon she owns the week of the party so she has time to pick up anything she needs for her spread.
If you want to do something a little different – or have less scheduling competition – plan a holiday brunch. You can do a mimosa and bellini bar with champagne and different fruit juices. You can do a Bloody Mary bar with a spice and tabasco spread. And if you want to really knock it out of the park, hire a waffle or a crepe person. “We have a company here that does amazing crepes on site,” says Hurley. Or you can just whip up some batter, heat up a waffle iron, and set the guests loose.
If You Have a Marie Antoinette-Like Party Budget…
Hire elves. Hire circus artists. Hire Mrs. Claus to stroll around handing out hot chocolate. “You could even have somebody hanging from the ceiling and serving champagne upside down,” says Hurley.
Hurley once organized a party where they blew twenty thousand dollars worth of snow into the Texas night so that the kids could sled. “Anything goes if you have the money,” she laughs. But projected snow can be just as fun as the real stuff. “My favorite event is winter wonderland with interactive snow projection where the snow falls as you walk,” says Hurley. A decor lighting production company would have the equipment you need. Or you can skip the snow incarnations and make your buffet table reflect the winter wonderland aesthetic by using white china on a white table cloth with silver accents.
Make ‘Em Wear Hats
“If you have a caterer, make sure they have Santa or elf hats on while they’re serving hors d’oeuvres and drinks,” says Hurley. “It keeps things festive.” Hey, it’s easier than convincing your dog to wear those reindeer antlers.
Buy their Love
“Kids are higher maintenance now than they used to be,” says Hurley. If you have a Santa passing out gifts, she suggests dollar store type stuff for younger kids and gift cards for the older ones. Local pharmacies sell iTunes, Amazon and Xbox gift cards in ten dollar increments. Local bakeries and ice cream shops will have gift certificates in five dollar increments. If you hire a DJ, he or she can hold contests for the older kids and give out gift certificates as prizes.
You can also have people bring charity gifts to donate or do a white elephant exchange – “the goofier and funnier, the better,” says Hurley.
Hire a Party Planner
When you try to plan a complex event on your own, you can make a lot of expensive mistakes. Hurley will sit down with clients who’ve already done a lot of planning and look at their contracts. “They’ve forgotten so many things,” she says. “Or they went with the wrong vendor and end up losing their deposit or getting screwed over. I’ve seen food trucks cancel the week before events. My vendors would never do that.”
Hiring a party planner will often save you money because of the vendor discounts they can offer. “In many cases, my clients have profited off me because of all the savings,” says Hurley.
If Your Budget is More Fritos Than French Royalty….
Smaller parties that want to avoid awkward-buffet-table-hovering syndrome can offer less complex fun. “I’m big on activities,” says Hurley. “It keeps people busy. Not everybody likes to dance, not every party has a DJ or band or live entertainment.” You can prepare a crafts table or you can hire a company to do photo ornaments or snow globes for guests on the spot. “You can bling anything these days,” laughs Hurley.
You don’t have to put out every decoration you own. Instead, she recommends choosing a few solid, staple pieces. It keeps costs down and helps you avoid a house that looks like Santa’s workshop exploded. For that Martha Stewart touch, you can even make your own centerpieces – like simple yet elegant centerpieces made by laying a thick layer of salt in a crystal bowl, topping it with several inches of cranberries and sprigs of holiday greenery.