Party hacks that make holiday hosting a breeze

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If you've decided to host this year's holiday party, you might be feeling overwhelmed and afraid of making mistakes. Hosting the perfect party can come with a lot of expectations, but with a few of the following party hacks up your sleeve, you'll leave everyone cheerful and wondering why you've never hosted before. Follow these tips to have a worry-free, festive, jolly good time.

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Choose a party theme

Once you've decided to host a holiday party, the first step is to choose a theme. A cohesive theme makes your party easier to plan and gives you a starting place for decorations, activities and menu ideas. A popular option is to have an ugly sweater-themed event. Have a competition in which the person voted with the ugliest sweater receives a small prize.

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Send out invitations early

One of the top rules of holiday etiquette is that hosts should get invitations out early. This gives guests plenty of time to respond and make any necessary plans, like finding a sitter for the night. The best time to send your invitations is three weeks before the party date. And if people don't respond, reach out five days to a week before the event to confirm whether or not the invitee plans on attending. If your guests are tech-savvy, consider an e-invite or an electronic calendar event.

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Rearrange your living space

Create the perfect party space by moving your furniture to the perimeters of the living room. Keep your couches at the ready for talkative guests looking for a place to sit and chat, but move small tables that are hazardous for clumsy friends out of the main party space. Any glass items or precious treasures should also be moved out of the way. Your home will feel bigger and less crowded to everyone.

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Check dietary restrictions

Before deciding what should and shouldn't be on your menu, check with your guests to see if anyone has any dietary restrictions. Religious beliefs, food allergies, health issues and vegetarian diets are all criteria that need to be considered before any dish can be prepared. Knowing which dishes your guests can enjoy guarantees no one leaves your party hungry or unsatisfied and will also save you time in the long run so you aren't preparing dishes no one will eat.

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Create a holiday-themed menu

Take the holiday hosting to a whole new level and create a holiday-themed menu. Think beyond the perfectly roasted turkey and stuffing. Give a clever twist gives on classic party foods. Make a "jingle bell gelatin" or a "Christmas carol casserole." Whatever it may be, have fun with it.

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Keep the hors d'oeuvres simple

The hors d'oeuvres should be the lightest, and therefore the easiest, part of your menu. A nice charcuterie board or bruschetta will tide guests over until the main meal. Appetizers such as southern-inspired sausage balls, pastry-wrapped asparagus, a cheese ball or bacon-wrapped scallops are classic, satisfying and surpisingly easy to make.

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Prepare filling dishes that are on the cheaper side

If this is your first time hosting a holiday party, chances are you want to go all out and prepare the dinner of a lifetime for your family and friends. But when planning any celebration, you're probably looking to cut your grocery bill down, not double it. That means preparing dishes that are high in volume, but low in cost. Pasta, soups and vegetables are your best bets in this case. And if you're not the chef you dreamt you'd be, there are some dishes you should just buy from the store, like salads and cornbread.

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Make all dishes finger food

If your holiday gathering isn't a sit-down dinner, think portability when it comes to food. Crab cakes, chicken lettuce cups and macaroni and cheese fries are great portable options.

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Don't overdo the desserts

Err on the simple side when it comes to preparing a tasty dessert for guests. Classic Christmas cookies or brownies with red and green sprinkles are crowd pleasers and not too messy for guests who want to talk and snack. 

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Prepare food that doubles as decorations

Get creative with your dishes and display one or two like you would a nice Christmas decoration. Use cubed cheese and deli meats to make a wreath-shaped display. Add cherry tomatoes on top and put rosemary around it to complete the look.

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Make it a potluck

If the thought of preparing every dish for your party is making you sweat, get the whole gang involved and encourage everyone to bring a dish of their choice to the celebration. Create a shared document where everyone lists what they will bring. You should also let guests know how many people in total are expected to show so they can prepare an appropriate amount of food. Potlucks are also especially handy when considering your friends and family with dietary restrictions. Have those guests bring a dish that meets their needs to guarantee everyone is satisfied.

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Create one original cocktail for the night

Purchasing several bottles of liquor can get expensive fast. Instead, create an original holiday-themed cocktail for the night. There are plenty of fun drinks that can be made with the simplest ingredients. And if you don't feel like putting a new spin on any drink, choose a fan-favorite cocktail for the night instead.

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Make large-batch cocktails

Consider making large-batch cocktails. It's cost-effective, saves your guests time mixing drinks, and you'll spend less time worrying if everyone has a drink or not. Use a large dispenser to let guests easily fill their own glasses.

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Warm drinks in a slow cooker

Keep your hot chocolate, apple cider or mulled wine heated in a slow cooker. Keep it at a low setting to prevent burning, and guests can return to it periodically throughout the night to refill their cups. Plus, you won't have to fret over making a new, warm batch each time someone new arrives.

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Label disposable cups with gift tags

One of the worst parts at the end of every party is cleaning up the pile of cups that such a small group somehow goes through. Avoid this problem in a festive way by placing a gift tag on each disposable cup and asking guests to label it with their names. It's a cute way to make sure there aren't any mix-ups and everyone sticks to one cup throughout the night.

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Stock up on takeout containers

After your celebration, there will probably be plenty of leftovers. Avoid overcrowding your fridge by investing in takeout containers. Offer guests leftovers to take home and enjoy the next day. They'll appreciate the offer, and you'll actually be able to find the milk in your fridge the next morning.

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Decorate like a pro

As the host, it's your job to get everyone in the holiday spirit. Decorations are the perfect way to do this. If you don't have a table runner, use wrapping paper instead. It's affordable and immediately turns a regular table into something straight out of Santa's workshop. Christmas lights are also a beautiful addition when strung across a room. Use gold lights for an elegant but Christmas-y look.

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Set the table the night before

Save yourself the stress of last-minute preparations by setting your dinner table the night before. You'll be able to make any necessary tweaks or changes way ahead of your party.

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Create signs to direct guests

You don't want guests who have never been to your house wandering around aimlessly searching for the restroom. Use a few sheets of construction paper or any creative supplies you have to make signs directing guests to the restroom or any other important party spaces. And be sure to stock up on toilet paper. Keep it handy to avoid any embarrassing moments for you and your guests.

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Use multiple liners in your trash can

Garbage duty is the worst whether you're throwing a party or not. But to avoid the hassle of having to run out the trash and put in another bag during your party, line your trash can with multiple bags. When you pull one bag out, it'll already be ready to go again.

Make your home smell festive

Set the mood for your holiday bash by making the space smell like Christmas with a gingerbread or peppermint scented candle. But if candles aren't your thing or you fear a fire risk, use an essential oil with a vanilla or pine scent. 

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Make a playlist

No party is complete without a good playlist even if you don't plan on turning it into a dance party. As the host, guests will be looking to you to either set the mood with background tunes or get them moving with some upbeat songs. If your guests are up to the task, make a collaborative playlist where everyone can drop in their favorite song or make a suggestion before the party.

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Have a few games ready to play

If your guest list is small, games are a great way to keep the momentum going. Have a few board games or popular card games at the ready. You can get festive with something like holiday Pictionary or charades.

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Keep the lights dim

Keep the lights dim during your celebration. No one wants the harsh glare of every light in the room blinding them when they're enjoying their meal or having a conversation. Dim lights also illuminate the face attractively. Light a few candles or use table lamps instead of overhead lighting.

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Let things unfold naturally

This is one of the most important lessons to keep in mind. After preparing everything perfectly, your first instinct might be to try to control the party. Don't force anything. Let things unfold naturally and go with the flow. Focus on having fun and celebrating the holidays with the best party guests ever.

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