It can be hard to know where to begin in planning a Christmas party or other holiday gathering. LoveToKnow called on Sonya Weisshappel, a professional organizer and event planner, to share her expert planning tips. As the president of Seriatim, a New York City-based company providing organizing assistance to clients who are on the move or in transition, Sonya has been helping individuals and companies with seamless transitions for more than 20 years. Now she brings these organizational skills to the world of holiday party planning.
Tips for Planning a Christmas Party
LoveToKnow (LTK): Ideally, when should you start planning the party?
Sonya Weisshappel (SW): You should start planning a month in advance -- although actually, ideally, you would start planning a year in advance. As soon as one year's party is done, you should sit down and think about what went well and what didn't work and make some plans for next year.
LTK: What do you think is the first step in planning a successful Christmas party?
SW: First you should think of the goal of your party. Some people want to flatter their guests. Some people want to entertain their guests.
Then you need to think of a time and a place. Time includes date and time of day. If it's closer to Kwanzaa than to Christmas, or close to Hanukkah or New Year's, then you can pull that in to the theme of the party, if it's appropriate. Time of day is important in terms of considering your guests. If you're planning a party and inviting a lot of parents, and there's a school function that night, that's going to be a conflict.
Personally, I have a New Year's afternoon party. If you're having a New Year's party during the day, you know people aren't going to be up and ready to go at 8 a.m. If you plan your party during the work week, that's another concern. If everyone works until five or six, you don't want to start your party at 3:30. If you're inviting parents with young children, they're not going to be able to get out of the house until seven.
Of course, it comes back to your goals. If your goal is just to throw the invitation out there, and you're happy with whoever shows up, then that's all right. However, if your goal is to have a party with 40 people, and you only invite 50, you want to make sure there isn't something else that will keep them from attending your party.
Planning the Party
LTK: And from there, what are some other important things to consider in planning a Christmas party or other holiday event?
SW: There are so many commitments, including other parties, in that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's. The earlier you can get your invitation out, the more likely you are to make it on the calendar. If you have an annual party, you may also make it on their schedule first.
Like Martha Stewart has those monthly calendars saying, "This is the month for X, Y, and Z." Well, if you're consistent with your party every year, you can become that X, Y or Z. Everyone will know that the first Sunday in December, you have your holiday party. However, you should still send out invitations. Even though I've been doing my New Year's party for years, I still send invitations out a month ahead of time.
Keeping track of time is important, knowing that one month ahead of time, you're sending out the invitations, one week before the party, you're ironing the linens, 7 a.m. on the morning of the party; you're putting the meat in the oven, and so on. If this isn't your strong point, find a friend who will keep track. You need someone who will tell you, "It's time to bake the pie crusts now." And if you don't have a friend who can help you, and you just can't keep track of a schedule, you may want to order your food, or plan a potluck.
Organization and Clean-up
LTK: What suggestions do you have for staying organized while planning your party?
SW: Create a file, either electronic or paper, and label it clearly. Include your guest list. Keep your receipts and information on where you ordered things. Write out your schedule, both for the party and the timeline of what you need to do ahead of time. Then before your next party, you can pull out this information and have it ready to go.
LTK: Is there anything you can do during planning and prep to make the task of cleaning easier?
SW: In terms of cooking, I believe in cleaning as you go. It's also much easier to take care of other clean-up as you go along. You might want to get an extra trash can for your guests. I like to hire a college student to take care of bussing the dishes, picking up the crumpled napkins, and other things like that.
Sometimes you just need to direct your guests. At the beginning of the party, you can give a toast, encourage everyone to enjoy the food, and ask them to bring their plates into the kitchen when they're done eating. This is another place where, if it's not your strong point, you can find a friend who would enjoy the job of directing other people.
We started out talking about cleaning after the party, but I think cleaning before the party is also important. I like knowing that people can wander anywhere in my house and I can feel secure in what they will see. However, if you don't have the time, you can just clean the rooms where you know guests will be congregating. Consider putting "Do not disturb" tags on door handles, like you would see on hotel room doors. I've been to parties and seen these before, and sometimes people won't pay attention to them and keep going, but you'll know you've tried.
Planning Your Own Successful Holiday Party
In the end, any successful Christmas party starts with a plan. From the guest list to the clean-up strategy, taking the time to prepare will help you avoid stress during a busy time of year. Following Sonya Weisshappel's tips and suggestions can help you plan your best holiday gathering yet.