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How to Plan a Family Christmas Party

For the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the basics of planning the perfect Christmas party. We covered everything from determining your budget and making your guest list to planning your menu to decorating and what games to play.

Different types of parties require different types of planning, though, at least to an extent. Different types of guest lists do include different opportunities and restrictions. This week, we’re reviewing some of the possible challenges a family holiday party may present, and how to deal with them.

First things first, you have to set a firm budget, pick a date, and decide on a venue. Check out this blog for more details on those. From there, you can move on to the more tricky decisions: the guest list. Here, you can figure out how much food per person you will need so you can estimate how many people you can invite without exceeding your budget.

Take a blank piece of paper and make a numbered list based on the maximum number of people you can invite. Then start writing down names, beginning with the most important people in your life. Then, move on to family members you would love to see at your party. If there are still open numbers on your list, finish it off with the family members you are okay with having as guests. It gets tricky at this point, if you can’t afford (or don’t have the venue space) to invite your entire family. You may have family members who will be upset about not being invited, and you can guarantee they will find out about your party one way or another. It may help if you contact them directly to explain why you couldn’t invite them – whether it’s budget, venue, or even drama. You know them best, so it’s up to you whether you think honesty and directness is the best policy here or not.

Speaking of drama, you should have a plan for what to do if there’s any drama during the party. Family is family and tensions tend to run high during the holiday season anyway. If there are any unresolved issues already, adding holiday stress (and maybe alcohol) to the mix can cause things to come to a head. There are a few ways to prevent or quickly subdue this. If possible, don’t invite anyone you know is already involved in family drama or is liable to start some. Avoiding the possibility of drama is the best solution for this problem. If that’s not an option, though, come up with a “distract and extract” plan. If you notice an argument starting at the party, create a distraction. Something like bringing out a fancy dessert (made specifically for this moment, even!), announcing the winner of the ugly sweater competition, or starting the Secret Santa exchange is enough to draw everyone’s attention long enough for you to pull one of the instigators to the side. Quietly talk them through the problem, ask them to settle down – or even leave the party entirely, if they can’t behave – and explain why. You want to do this very discreetly so that you don’t embarrass the person. But you should be firm about it too, so they don’t end up ruining the party for anyone else.

As trying as family can be at times, they can also be the most fun to be around at the holidays! Family typically feels comfortable enough with each other that they’ll be more relaxed and open to activities that maybe friends or coworkers wouldn’t be. Take your guests caroling around your neighborhood or hold a karaoke contest at home or a cookie-decorating contest. Don’t be afraid to get goofy or personal with your ideas (“Who Am I?” with the characters being members of the family, anyone?) – you know your family best and you know their limits and preferences.

Another great activity for a family party is a Secret Santa gift exchange. When you send out invitations, you can assign names at random to simplify things. Set a price range so guests can expect the same quality of gift all around.

Here are a few tips to make your night a little better:

  • Deep clean the weekend before so that you only have to do surface-level cleaning the day of.
  • You can save money by cutting out alcohol. Set up a hot chocolate bar with different types of cocoa mix and toppings and a couple “signature” or recommended recipes. If alcohol is a must, you can ask your guests to each bring a 6 pack of beer or a bottle of wine to share.
  • Set up a separate “quiet room” with a TV playing Christmas movies or an instrumental Christmas playlist. Better yet, ask guests if they have any homemade holiday videos they’d like to share, and set them up on a loop in that room for a trip down memory lane. Guests can escape there for a moment if they need a break or if any kids need a nap.
  • For the Secret Santa, set up a Facebook group or a group message so that everyone can share a few gift suggestions or requests to make giving easier on everyone.
  • Favors aren’t the norm for family parties, but everyone loves a party favor! Desserts and candles are classic Christmas party favors, so mix things up a bit with a simple personalized ornament!

The last thing for you to do is not stress! Although we all know one or two people who love to judge others, the majority of people are more concerned with the people they’re with. Your house doesn’t have to be spotless and your decorations don’t have to be perfect. Your guests are there to see you and the rest of your family and to make memories. The rest of it ultimately doesn’t matter.