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Party-Planning Cheat Sheet: How to Throw a Holiday Open House

The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with those you hold dear and to reconnect with those you may not see as often as you’d like. But hosting a dinner party can be a lot of work, and with so much else going on this time of year, more work is exactly what we don’t need. So, how can you cut some holiday corners but still have a memorable get-together? A holiday open house party could be just the thing.

An open house doesn’t require a sit-down meal, heavy planning, or a lot of expense. It’s a casual affair, where friends, neighbors, coworkers, and relatives can stop by to share holiday greetings, often on the way to another party or holiday event. To make it easy for you, here are four things you need to throw a successful holiday open house.

#1: Save the Date

So much is going on at holiday time that people will need lots of advance notice to make it to your shindig. Get invitations out at least three weeks in advance, and be sure to use the term “open house party,” which will encourage drop-ins as well as regular partygoers. Besides the date and location, be sure you share start and end times! Unexpected early birds can throw off your rhythm as you set up, and we all have that friend who doesn’t understand — or respond to — the “time to go” hints. With an end time, you have an excuse to wrap things up firmly, but politely.

#2: Set a Mood

Pick a theme for your holiday music to set the tone for the whole evening (and avoid those moments of awkward silence). Is swing your thing? Are you a lover of classic holiday songs gone Indie? Whatever gets your dancing shoes going, put together a playlist (or pick one from Spotify or Pandora) and let it play, let it play, let it play. You may also want to put “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Die Hard” (yes, it is a holiday movie!) on mute and play it in a loop as another mood-setter. Set up little conversation areas, and keep lighting fairly low so everybody looks their best, even after that third holiday-themed cocktail.


No plans to put up holiday decorations? Set a festive mood with some simple touches. Stick with silver and gold on napkins and plates, some tasteful tinsel, and shiny letter litter scattered over the buffet table.


#3: Collect for a Cause

While we try to give back to our communities all year round, at the holidays, it seems as though our giving muscles really crave a workout. Instead of stretching yourself thin volunteering all over town, turn your get-together into a give-together. Ask your guests to bring a toy or game to your party to be donated to the local homeless shelter.

#4: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

This is usually the most stress-inducing part of any host’s responsibilities. While you should provide things to eat and drink, you can keep it super casual. Here’s how:


Stick to finger food, which is easy to prepare and easy to munch on while holding a cocktail. Try a combination of the following:

  • A loaded cheese board with crackers and bread (super simple and can be prepped hours before the party).

  • Set bowls of nuts and party mix around all the rooms where the guests will be mingling.

  • Chips or veggies and dip are always popular and require zero effort.

  • Provide a warm dish, whether you get a megabox of sausage rolls from Costco or make Grandma’s Swedish meatball recipe from scratch (keep them in a slow cooker on low so they stay warm).

  • Spread your offerings throughout your home to encourage people to move about and get your different groups of friends to meet and mingle.​


Pick a fun cocktail, put out the ingredients to make it, and leave index cards on the bar with directions so you’re not stuck mixing drinks and missing your own party. Your guests will have fun helping each other follow your instructions. Or mix up a pitcher of whiskey sours or old fashioneds to start them off. Using plastic cups? Drop a load of Sharpies on the bar so people can write their names on their cups (it’s also a terrific way to remember everyone’s name!).

Need inspiration for a holiday cocktail? Check out this recipe for Salted Caramel Eggnog!

BYO ... Whatever!

You can also get your besties to commit to bringing snacks and drinks, and encourage attendees to bring a favorite food or beverage to share. A holiday cookie potluck is another fun idea to throw into the mix, with everyone bringing a batch of their favorite holiday treats to pass.

Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. After all, that’s what parties — and the holidays — are for!


Pro Tip: Be absolutely clear on your invites if all ages are welcome — or not. If they are, set aside an area where the little ones can entertain themselves, and share some of your own kids’ favorite toys and games. No kids of your own? Entice a pair of tweens who will be attending anyway to lead the younger set in some holiday crafts. It’ll give them a break from their parents — and vice versa!

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