10 Holiday Party Mistakes to Avoid

Updated on October 9th, 2020

Reading Time: 7 minutes

By Cyndy Stewart, Redfin real estate agent

One of the joys of owning a home is having the space to invite friends and family over during the holidays. If you’re planning to host a holiday party this year, be sure you don’t commit any of these party fouls to ensure everyone — including you — has a great time.

Get invites out early, and consider online options if RSVPs are important to you.
Get invites out early, and consider online options if RSVPs are important to you.

Mistake No. 1: Inviting Everyone You Know

It may be tempting to invite all of your family, friends and co-workers to your holiday party. But more people doesn’t necessarily mean more fun. Carefully consider the types of activities you want your guests to engage in, and narrow your guest list based on their interests. Otherwise you’ll get stressed out trying to create one event that will make everyone happy.

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Mistake No. 2: Waiting Too Long to Send Invitations

Between company events and family obligations, weekends tend to book up quickly during the holiday season, so make sure to get your invites out at least a month in advance. Snail mail invitations are cute, but may reduce the number of RSVPs you receive. Online services such as Evite, Paperless Post and PunchBowl enable you to create custom invites and make it easy for your guests to reply. Remember to include your home address, directions, the start and end time, mobile phone number, anything guests might need to bring and if they need to RSVP by a certain date.

Mistake No. 3: Expecting People to Entertain Themselves

After an hour of mingling, most guests will be looking for something to do. Planned activities and games can break the ice and keep a party from going stale. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A goodie swap: Each guest brings a batch of cookies, a favorite holiday treat, or a set of ornaments (for example), and leaves with a mix of the same number of items.
  • Gift exchange: Secret Santa and White Elephant exchanges are not only entertaining, they’ll reduce the number of gifts you and your guests feel the need to buy for one other.
  • Unwrap the gift game: Wrap a nice gift in many layers of wrapping paper. Each guest rolls two dice, and the first to get doubles steps into the circle and attempts to unwrap the gift with oven mitts on their hands. Other guests pass the dice until someone gets doubles, at which point they take over trying to unwrap the gift with the oven mitts on. The last person to unwrap the gift gets to take it home.
  • Camera hot potato: Turn on your camera’s self-timer, and pass it around the room (perhaps during a gift game). When the timer beeps indicating that the camera is about to take a picture, whoever has the camera must take a quick “selfie” photo before passing it on to the next person.
  • Photo booth: Create a makeshift photo booth by setting out fun costumes (like reindeer ears and Santa hats) and decorating a corner of the room with holiday cheer.
  • Craft station: Set up an area where guests can construct their own gingerbread house, decorate cookies or create an ornament
  • Trivia: Divide people into teams and create trivia questions that guests can relate to; inside jokes or favorite family moments are highly encouraged!
  • Board or card games: If your party has 10 people or fewer, consider playing a party game such as Cards Against Humanity, Spoons or Catch Phrase once everyone has arrived.
  • Give to charity: Charge guests “admission” (for charity), host a silent auction, ask guests to pick up a Holiday Giving Tree card, or collect food for a local food bank.
  • Caroling: Hand out the lyrics to common holiday songs and go caroling!

Mistake No. 4: Not Making the Theme Clear

Ugly Sweater Parties are all the rage; just make sure your guests know that they need to wear one. Photo via TheUglySweaterShop.com, Wikimedia Commons.

Everyone gets nervous about being the only one dressed up at a holiday party. If you want guests to wear cocktail attire or keep it casual, make that clear on the invite. And if you choose a theme, offer some ideas of clothing that fits that theme, and encourage everyone to participate (perhaps offering a raffle ticket or prize to those who do). Have extra costumes on hand for those who forget. Here are a few fun theme ideas:

  • Ugly Sweater Party: A tried and true tradition for many friends and families
  • ’50s/’60s/’70s/’80s: Pick a decade and ask guests to dress the part
  • Christmas in the Caribbean: Crank the heat and warn guests to wear tropical attire

Mistake No. 5: Spending Every Minute in the Kitchen

It’s hard to enjoy the party when you’re running to the kitchen every 15 minutes. If you’re not planning a potluck, prepare as many dishes as you can the night before, and choose appetizers that are good at room temperature. Food should not sit out for more than two hours, so it’s best to divide food into smaller bowls and plates so you can easily pull them out of the refrigerator and microwave them or set them on the table when they need to be replenished. You might want to consider hiring someone to help, like your babysitter or dog walker, so you can relax.

It’s also a good idea to place a piece of paper next to each dish with labels such as gluten-free, dairy-free, the type of meat, contains peanuts, etc., so people don’t have to bother you with those questions.  If you plan to provide the alcohol, consider hiring a bartender, or set up a self-serve station with plenty of bottle openers and cups. Otherwise, you’ll spend all night helping people with their drinks.

Mistake No. 6: Running Out of Drinks

Hot spiced apple cider is a great option for holiday parties. Photo via NatalieMaynor, Wikimedia Commons.

Make it clear on the invite whether or not guests need to bring their own alcohol, or if it is an alcohol-free event. If you plan to provide the alcohol, there are online calculators like this one from Evite that can help you estimate how much you’ll need. If you do run out of alcohol, don’t panic; there are alcohol delivery apps including Drizly and Saucey that can replenish your stock in less than an hour. And don’t forget to provide plenty of non-alcoholic options for designated drivers and those who prefer not to drink. Here are a few fun ideas for serving drinks:

  • Wine tasting: Each guest brings a bottle of wine with the label covered in paper. Guests taste a small pour of each wine and vote for their favorite. The person who brought the winning wine takes home a prize.
  • “Stock the bar” party: Each guest brings a different kind of liquor, and you get to keep the leftovers!
  • Signature cocktails: Make a big batch of a mixed drink, like hot toddies or hot buttered rum, and serve it in a large bowl or crockpot.
  • Hot cocoa bar: Keep cocoa warm in a crockpot and provide all the fixings, including marshmallows, cookies, whip cream, cherries, peppermint sticks, cinnamon, etc.

Mistake No. 7: Letting Your Guests Drive Drunk

With all that holiday cheer flowing, it’s important that your guests get home safely. Make a sign with information on services like Uber, BeMyDD and Lyft (and any applicable promo codes), as well as phone numbers for taxis, and keep it by the door so guests see it as they’re leaving. You might also consider using ByMyDD’s “Peace of Mind” plan, where teams of drivers arrive during the final hours of your event to drive attendees and their cars home. Never let an overconfident friend walk out the door if you’re worried that person has had too much to drink.

Mistake No. 8: Playing Boring Music

We all get a little tired of the classic holiday tunes that you hear in every grocery store and retail outlet this time of year. Test out a variety of playlists on services like Pandora and Spotify to find the one that will match your party’s vibe; it doesn’t have to be holiday music! Test out your speakers or A/V system well in advance, and pay attention to the music levels as guests arrive to make sure you can hear the music but it isn’t overpowering.

Mistake No. 9: Forgetting the Logistical Details

Make sure to shovel your walkway and keep your entrance well lit so guests don’t slip. Photo via USAF, Wikimedia Commons.

Try to picture your guests’ experience from the time they pull into your driveway to the time they leave, and anticipate anything they might need. Here are a few important things to remember:

  1. If parking is difficult in your neighborhood, encourage people to use public transportation or taxis, or hire a valet service if you want to go above and beyond!
  2. Salt your driveway and walkway and make sure they are well-lit to avoid falls.
  3. If you want guests to take off their shoes, put up a sign saying so, and offer a shoe rack.
  4. Rent or purchase a pop-up coat rack to give people a place to store their coats.
  5. Borrow camping chairs or other portable chairs from friends to have plenty of seating.
  6. Stock up on toilet paper and put the extra rolls in a visible place in your bathroom, check the soap and plug in a holiday scent to keep the room smelling fresh.
  7. Use disposable plates, cups, napkins and cutlery to avoid piles of dirty dishes.
  8. Leave trash cans around your home with extra bags nearby.
  9. Purchase cleaning wipes for carpets, counters and clothing in case of spills.

Mistake No. 10: Destroying Your Home in the Process

You’ll want the inside and outside of your home to feel festive, but be careful not to damage the structure of your home while you’re decorating. Use clips — not nails or staples — to secure holiday lights on the exterior of your home. To avoid the risk of fires, don’t connect more than three strings of lights together, and never extend an extension cord with another extension cord. Make sure your Christmas tree is at least three feet from your heater and any open flames. Neglecting to protect your home over the holidays could harm your home or damage your home’s value. No party is worth that!

If you avoid these common mistakes, you’ll reduce your stress and be able to actually enjoy the time with each one of your friends and family members. Happy holidays!

cyndy-stweart-150x150 About Cyndy Stewart, Redfin
Cyndy Stewart leads a team of agents in the Austin area and has a decade of local real estate experience. She loves working for a brokerage that not only expects a high level of professionalism and customer service, but also rewards it! She enjoys meeting with clients to understand their needs, and working together to accomplish their real estate goals.

If you are represented by an agent, this is not a solicitation of your business. This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice from a medical provider, licensed attorney, financial advisor, or tax professional. Consumers should independently verify any agency or service mentioned will meet their needs. Learn more about our Editorial Guidelines here.
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