Planning a Holiday Happy Hour
A few weeks ago, I decided to combine a housewarming party and a festive holiday happy hour into one big celebration at my new house in Tulsa. It was so much fun to do everything from the invitations, to the decor, to the cooking – and even more fun to actually enjoy the party.
I wanted to do a big series breaking down all of the different things that I created, but life got in the way (I was sick for a couple of weeks, and we had a death in the family last week so I’ve been away and traveling for that). However, I’m still going to share a few details – even though the holidays are now RIGHT around the corner, you still might be able to incorporate a few of these things into your Christmas or New Years celebrations!
THE EVENT: Housewarming Holiday Happy Hour. Amazing alliteration. Because my new house is small, I knew that we had to keep the gathering intimate. I envisioned 10-12 people coming over for festive cocktails and heavy appetizers, the Pac12 Championship on the TV, and lots of Christmas decor via floral arrangements and garlands. I also knew that I wanted to plan far enough in advance to be able to actually enjoy the party with my guests, instead of running around and/or worrying the whole time they were over.
INVITATIONS: Even if you’re having a small get together, invitations are an easy thing you can do to make it feel like a truly special occasion. Paper invites are always a creative outlet, but I was a bit short on time – so I chose to go with Paperless Post. Paperless Post offers tons of free, festive options for any occasion and gives you an easy to operate way to message your guests, update them about details, and track your RSVPs – again, for free.
PARTY PREP: I really wanted to do a whole series on planning appropriately for a party – which I may still do at some point down the line. But, for now, I will just share two tactics that I use for party planning. Before you start your planning, make sure to draw on some inspiration sources to figure out what you want. My main sources are Southern Living Magazine, Sunset Magazine, and Pinterest (duh). After you’ve gotten an idea of what you want to pull off, we start planning.
- The MASTER To-Do List: Planning can be overwhelming, so start by making a stream-of-conciousness to-do list. Everything from the dog getting a bath and a holiday bow, to making a playlist, to hanging lights outside, to grocery shopping, to chopping firewood…you get the idea. Then, take your MASTER list and break it up into four categories: 1) Home/Decor 2) TO BUY 3) Cooking and 4) Misc. Once you’ve separated all of the tasks by genre, it’s much easier to get your hands around everything that needs to be done.
- The TIMELINE: Combining your quad-box To-Do list with a linear timeline is really helpful and helps you be able to enjoy your party. Start out by identifying what can be done days in advance – mani/pedi, grocery shopping, meal prep. Then break down the day of your party hour by hour – always erring on the conservative side to keep in mind there will be fires (how did you forget to buy ice???)
DECOR: Mixing high/low price points is always critical for me when it comes to decorations, especially when it’s holiday related. Nobody REALLY wants to break the bank for stuff that you can only keep out 6 weeks out of the year. Hobby Lobby, Target and Pottery Barn were my go-to’s for the party decor. I decided to focus on two major things: a BIG centerpiece on my dining room table, where the food would be presented, and the creation of a fun bar cart where my desk normally is. My main goals were to have my house be lush with greenery and lots of candle light – I think it makes a space feel warm. Here’s some snapshots:
- Dining Centerpiece:
- Large floral arrangement (winter white daisies, bundles of holly berries, and evergreen branches arranged in a Hobby Lobby large candle holder that I turned into a vase).
- One pair of red long stemmed candles and one pair of gold dipped white long stemmed candles, both in $8 fake crystal holders from Hobby Lobby – see here.
- Large FAKE garland from Hobby Lobby – similar here (I did use a real garland from Whole Foods over our entry doorway).
- Figurines (reindeer, wooden Christmas tree, iron Snowflake) – Target
- Gold dipped pinecones – Hobby Lobby
- Burlap and white thread table runner – West Elm
- Birchtree Stump & NEST Birchwood Pine Candle – local craft sale and On a Whim, respectively.
- Bar Cart:
- Large gold & glass chevron print tray – Hobby Lobby
- Snow themed gift tags that I doubled as bottle labels – Target
- Old fashioned low ball glasses – Target
- Wine glasses – Mix of Anthropologie & Target
- Large mason jar glass pitcher – Target, Threshold collection
- Ice bucket, festive napkins and PLENTY of alcohol choices
- Signature cocktail – more on that below
- The same gold dipped pinecones that I used in the dining centerpiece I also sprinkled throughout the living room.
- We lit a fire for a cozy feel – but if you do a fire, make sure to TURN DOWN YOUR HEAT so your guests don’t boil over.
- For a splurge that was holiday-ready but works year round, I picked up these great plaid pillows from Pottery Barn.
- I made several smaller floral arrangements using the same flowers as the main vase in the dining room and placed them in the living room, kitchen, and bathroom.
- A mixture of NEST Birchwood Pine, Woodwick Bonfire, and NEST Lavender candles burned throughout the house.
- To tie all of the spaces together, I used a thick plaid ribbon and placed it around all of the floral arrangements, the pitcher holding the signature cocktail, and last but not least – a bow around Barbara’s neck (not amused).
FOOD & COCKTAILS: I knew that I didn’t want to serve an entire dinner because of space and time constraints, so we settled on heavy apps. I tried to do a mix of things that are easy to pull together, and some hot dishes that I knew I could prep in advance. Creating a balance of sweet & savory, cold & hot, and naughty & healthy is also critical. I kept it relatively simple, but had a nice mix of things for people to choose from. Here was our menu:
- BBQ Bourbon Meatballs – easy to prep in advance, and displayed in the crockpot on the “keep warm” setting to stay fresh. Recipe here.
- Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip – this dip has a fun pepperjack cheese twist that gives it a little kick. Recipe here.
- Charcuterie & Cheese – creating a fun display of meat and cheese always is fun for me. Make sure to balance it with some healthier options like hummus and veggies. Add a few accouterments to help accent (both visually and for taste) – hot peppers, spiced jams, etc. I did four cheeses: a buffalo cheddar, an aged cheddar, a smoked gouda and a goat cheese with dill. Spicy chorizo and wine-infused salami complimented them, as well as a fresh veggie selection with roasted red pepper hummus. Don’t forget a variety of crackers to match, varying in size, texture and flavor.
- Marbled Peppermint Bark – recipe here.
- Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies – definitely the party favorite…and a secret recipe. Just kidding, it’s in Southern Living Magazine but not online.
On the cocktail side, I had fantasies about offering two different “his and hers” cocktails, but had to come to grips with the fact that we were indeed only having 10 people over and that was probably a bit extravagant. We decided to do red wine (of course), beer and one signature cocktail: a classic holiday spiced bourbon cider. This again was easy to make in advance, and poured into a pitcher right before the guests arrived. The cocktail was easy to make, a big hit, and a fun detail to keep things feeling special. Here’s the recipe.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed being able to host even a small holiday party. Even though they can be a lot of work, with the right amount of planning and Pinterest stalking, it can be the best time ever to create a warm, enjoyable environment for your closest friends.