5 No-Fail Holiday Party Hacks

Ease your holiday party stress with these pro planning tips.

Four glasses of champagne on a table at a holiday party

“The Maven of Merriment with Karen Kennedy” is a series delving into ways you can make your life more “festive and delish,” whether you’re staying at home or going out on the town.

woman with red hair and pixie cut smiles with teeth with bright red lipstick and animal print scarf

“Are you ready for Christmas?”  

It’s a well-intentioned pleasantry. Something the receptionist at your hair salon says while you’re paying for your cut. Something the stranger behind you in the grocery store says while you’re both waiting in line. But when someone asks you that question, (whether it’s Dec. 1 or Dec. 24) does it make you want to scream, “No! I’m not! Is anyone ever really ready for Christmas? I still have presents to wrap, I don’t have any idea what to get for my secret Santa thing at work, and what was I thinking when I invited 30 people to my house next week for a ‘cup of holiday cheer’? I don’t even know what that means!” 

Oh, Mavens … we feel you. And it’s totally okay if you’re not “ready” for Christmas. We’re not either. But it’s coming, either way. So, if your upcoming holiday bash has you saying “No, no, NO!” instead of “Ho, ho, HO!,” read on for five holiday entertaining hacks that might save your sanity this holiday party season.  

When you have guests rolling in the door, the first thing they’ll be looking for is a drink. Make it quick and easy for them to get a cocktail or mocktail by creating a cute self-serve hot chocolate bar or a holiday punch (depending on the weather, the time of day, and the vibe you want.) And remember this pro party planning tip: always put your bar as far back in your party space as you can, to avoid a traffic jam at the door! 

a person is writing on a chalkboard sign. it reads "hot chocolate bar"
A hot chocolate bar

Hot chocolate bar. Pick up a thermal coffee server (airpot”) to keep it hot. (Crockpots with ladles are too messy for self-serve.) While you’re heating your cocoa, fill your airpot with hot water. Dump the hot water immediately prior to pouring in your cocoa and it will stay hot for hours. Pick up some peppermint schnapps, RumChata, Baileys, and amaretto for different flavor profiles, and offer a few different flavored syrups for those who don’t imbibe. Add marshmallows, candy canes, cinnamon sticks, and chocolate spoons on the side to make it super festive. Also, make sure you have ice water or an alternative beverage available, because hot chocolate is fun, warm, and welcoming, but not 

two mason jars with sugared rims are filled with a red drink that has cranberries floating in it
Some holiday punch

exactly thirst-quenching.  

Holiday punch. A cranberry juice-based punch is the obvious choice for its festive color. Don’t overthink your punch — you don’t need a recipe. Mix in some pineapple juice, a can of frozen orange juice, and some lemonade with the cranberry juice. Grab a couple bags of fresh cranberries and freeze them in advance to keep your punch chilled without melting ice cubes to dilute it. Pour it all into a clear dispenser and toss in some rosemary sprigs for color. On the side, offer club soda and bottles of bubbly (or something stronger!) to top it off. 


With a little decor magic, it’s easy to make simple foods look festive — and no one is expecting a full meal. If you’re feeling creative, take something simple like a veggie tray or fruit kabobs and put a holiday spin on it, or turn your charcuterie board into a holiday treat. There’s no need to bake if it’s not your jam and you can always just pick up the phone if all else fails.  

two cookies. one is shaped like an ornament, another reads "merry and bright"
Cookies from ARTastry Cookies and Confections

Charcuterie Christmas tree. On a large board, place sprigs of rosemary in the outline of a Christmas tree. Fill it in with layers of cheese and meat in rows, alternating with rows of cherry tomatoes and green olives for color. Look for star-shaped crackers to scatter around your board.  

Hire a pro. If even that feels like too much work, plan ahead and hire one of our fair city’s amazing, locally-owned catering companies and let them take it from there.  

Sweet treats from a local maker. Why bake when there are so many fabulous sweet treats available from wonderful local bakers and artisans? Preorder some delectable treats like cookies from 4 Birds Bakery or ARTastry Cookies and Confections and serve them at the party or send them home as parting gifts. 


Holiday party decorations don’t need to be fancy or expensive.  

Ornaments on Table with two wine glasses
Festive holiday party decor

Skip the linen. For a simple, rustic vibe, cover your food table with brown craft paper instead of linen, and put food directly on it. You’ll save yourself some laundry and dishes, and you can label the food on your buffet with a marker instead of making menu cards.  

Use what you have. If you have mason jars in your cabinet, use them for drinks and small floral arrangements. If you buy a live tree, save any branches you trim from it (or, grab some loose boughs from your local tree place) and scatter those, along with some inexpensive, shatterproof ornaments, on your food table. 


Music is important at any gathering, but it’s particularly important at a holiday party.  

Choose a fun station. Make sure you have an upbeat holiday station, like Motown Christmas or Ella Fitzgerald, playing well before your guests arrive. (It will help get you in the spirit, too!)  

Surprise your guests. If you really want to delight your guests, check with your local church or theater group and see if they have Christmas carolers for hire. Schedule them to arrive as your party is winding down for a fun and festive holiday send-off. 


Are your guests asking what they can bring? Instead of a bottle of wine, ask them to bring something you can pass along to a family in need. For example:  

  • A wrapped toy for your local holiday toy drive.  
  • A food contribution for your area food pantry.  

You’ll all feel better about celebrating the season together when you’re also helping to make it more festive for people in need. Use your holiday party to spread holiday cheer and share the love!  

You’re as ready as you’ll ever be.  

At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters in the holiday season is spending time with the people you love. So, take a breath, find your joy, and have some fun. Savor the small moments. Know that any gift you choose will be perfect, because you chose it. Know that any party you throw will be perfect, because you made the effort to bring people together. Happy holidays, Maven. You’ve got this.  

Karen Kennedy, Indy Maven’s own “Maven of Merriment”, has spent years in hospitality management and event planning in Indiana, Chicago, and New England, and loves nothing more than a party. She now serves as Events Director at our sister company, Maven Space, a female-forward coworking and event space in downtown Indianapolis. If you’d rather not entertain at home, get in touch with her today to plan a fabulous party in this beautiful new space!

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