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The Ultimate Holiday Party Planning Checklist

People at a holiday party
Amy Tschupruk

The holidays are right around the corner, and many of us are already starting to think about the celebrations we want to have with families and friends. However, before we can start putting together guest lists, buying bottles of La Marca Prosecco or sending out invitations, it’s essential to make a checklist of all the things needed to have a fun bash that’s both safe and entertaining.

We chatted with party planner Michelle Esteban, founder of the luxury boutique event planning and design firm The Occasion, who shared some expert tips on throwing a great holiday party. This ultimate holiday party planning checklist has you covered.

Set up a food station with meals and snacks

Once you’ve figured out if there are any dietary restrictions, simplify your food arrangements for your party and make things easy for your guests by setting up a food station. Esteban recommends having a friend or family member on hand to serve each person. Consider asking that person ahead of time if they wouldn’t mind taking on that role for the night so that things run smoothly when your gathering starts.

Related: 10 foods to help with hair growth.

La Marca Prosecco bottle
La Marca Prosecco

Have La Marca Prosecco to add some holiday sparkle to your drink menu

Everyone has different tastes, so deciding on a drink that will please every guest can seem a little overwhelming. If you’re not sure what your guests might prefer, grab a delicious bottle of La Marca Prosecco, a sparkling wine that will pair perfectly with all your dishes at your holiday feast. If you’re having a more low-key party with pizza, or you’re having something a little more extravagant like a holiday turkey, the refreshing and floral flavours will keep guests talking. 

So when it comes to concocting easy-to-make cocktails for your guests, this versatile beverage will go a long way toward upping the prestige of your holiday event. Hot tip: as soon as they walk through the door, hand them a drink that mixes equal parts La Marca Prosecco, cranberry juice and ginger ale for a bubbly, festive treat.


Related: How to throw the perfect event in lockdown.

Keep everyone safe with extra masks and hand sanitizer

Masks and hand sanitizer are essential for keeping the spread of COVID-19 and other germs at bay, but that doesn’t mean your party has to feel boring, restricted or blah. Esteban says you can set up stands at your entrance and other focal points with hand sanitizer that is festively decorated. You can also offer up some personalization by providing welcome bags: “Everybody [can have] their own bag and stuff like that with their custom name on it, and in that there is a sanitizer with [their] name on it [and] there’s a mask with [their] name on it,” she says.

Related: My story: I survived COVID while home alone with three kids.

Phone with spotify open

Create a playlist with a variety of music

Nothing kills the vibe of a gathering more than dead air thanks to a lack of music. But should you just hop on Spotify and blast a party music playlist without any prep work? According to Esteban, that’s a no-no. She suggests picking a trending playlist (with the best party songs) that has a variety genres. “There are certain songs that always work, it doesn’t matter if it was from 10 years ago or if it’s Doja Cat or Drake’s new album,” she says. 

Additionally, Esteban tells clients to always have several different playlists ready to go. “You cannot just do one playlist and think things are good. The mood changes, right? If you start playing Adele and you get a bunch of people and… they’re all singing together, and then all of a sudden, you go into AC/DC, you’ve just lost the crowd,” she says. “Just have [a] minimum [of] three playlists, and have different genres,” she suggests.

Related: 20 richest singers of 2021, ranked by net worth.


Get extra furniture and pillows to keep everyone comfy

For apartments and smaller spaces, make sure there’s room for everyone to sit by having extra chairs and pillows on hand. Esteban suggests doing an indoor picnic or Moroccan-themed party if you don’t have enough space for extra furniture, and have everyone relax on cushions and blankets on the floor together. “Take your extra furniture, your extra stuff, and just throw it in your bedroom,” she says.

Woman looking at lights

Keep an outdoor gathering toasty with heat lamps

If you want to do an outdoor holiday party, ensure your guests don’t freeze by having some heat lamps and outdoor heaters at the ready. Esteban also suggests that, if you’re doing a dinner outside, get a tent and have a cute basket nearby with earmuffs and scarves so that guests can bundle up.

Related: The best winter boots to keep you dry and warm.

Have your guests get dressed up in fancy clothes

There’s nothing worse than showing up to a party feeling either over or underdressed, which is why Esteban says to make sure people know the dress code in advance, and provide people with examples of party clothes, especially if there’s a theme. Knowing the dress code makes things easier for everyone. “I literally send folks an example of what I’m talking about, [like] ‘here’s some links to beautiful sequin pants and stuff like that,’” she says, noting the holidays are a time when people like to sparkle.

Another fun outfit idea for dressing up includes tulle. “So for the guys, I’ve given them some examples of a tulle bow tie or something like that, to tie in with the ladies’ [tulle] dresses, skirts or tops,” she adds.

Related: This is dark academia — and it’s everywhere this fall.


Don’t forget icebreakers and games

Even if most of the people at your event know each other, chances are someone has brought a plus-one who the rest of the guests don’t know, which is why icebreakers are a great way to make sure everyone feels included and can have a good time. 

If you’re unsure of some dinner party games for adults, Esteban says people enjoy games like Ellen’s Head’s Up! She says it works all the time when it comes to getting people to have fun. “Then you go on to the serious games [such as] Scattergories and all that, where people are really competing,” she adds.

Personalize your decorations

Aside from your regular holiday decorations, to give your party a personal touch, Esteban says you can simply print out photos of your own and hang them up. She says regular photos from your iPhone can be printed and put in inexpensive frames so that your guests can take a look when they arrive.

Fancy table with place settings

Related: 20 items to include for the perfect Christmas gift basket.

Create centrepieces to set the mood

Table centrepieces are still a staple at any event, but Esteban says they’re often more expensive than most people realize. However, if you’re not willing to blow your party budget on pricey pieces from a company, try making your own. Grab a vase, some greens from your yard or balcony and get crafting to up your dinner table decor.

You may also like: Christmas gifts 2021: 10 best gifts under $50 in Canada.

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