The ultimate Christmas and holiday party planning guide

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Paperless Post BlogHolidays > The ultimate Christmas and holiday party planning guide

It’s that time of year when friends, families, and coworkers convene and connect, toasting to previous months and precious loved ones. Holiday parties are a tradition of sharing warmth and spreading happiness. But they don’t just happen—they take careful holiday party planning, from the timing of both the event itself and holiday invitations to the refreshments and activities. 

Want to host a Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve party sans the stress? Ahead, we’ll walk through all the steps to plan and execute a fun and festive fête.

When to start planning for a holiday party

An infographic shows when to send and host holiday parties according to size, based on the advice found in this post.


Holiday parties usually take place in December, but the planning starts long before  then. Planning in advance gives you access to more vendors, venues, and guest availability, since they’re likely collecting several holiday party invitations this season. 

Before you can begin booking a venue or addressing envelopes, you’ll need to determine the date of your party. Early December is typically more doable (especially for company celebrations), as the final weeks tend to be reserved for family time. Get the invitations out as early as possible—at least a month in advance is a good rule of thumb.

Depending on the type and size of your event, Christmas party planning may need to start several weeks or months in advance of your party date—or, in some cases, even before Halloween:

  • Small holiday parties: For small family and/or friend groups, start planning when you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving—the beginning or middle of November. Christmas plans should be well underway when everyone sits down to Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Large holiday parties: If you’re inviting more than 20 people, start planning about two months in advance—three months if you’re expecting over 50 people. You’ll need time to book a venue and entertainment, and to follow up on unanswered RSVPs.
  • Corporate holiday parties: Start planning an office holiday party or gala as soon as you get your budget—ideally, two to three months before the event. If you’re just gathering a department or two at an afternoon holiday mixer, one month of planning should be fine.

We also asked users and other successful office party planners about the best day and time for a corporate holiday event and one time kept coming up: Thursday, an hour before closing time. Looking for more details on throwing a better company holiday party? Check out our guide for tips and tricks.

Holiday party planning guide

A holiday invitation with a red drink in a coupe glass with holly garnish in front of a plaid backdrop; someone puts cranberries into Champagne flutes in preparation of them being filled.
Christmas Coupe” by Paperless Post; Image via Andee Layne.


If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and wondering how to host a Christmas party that guests will remember, we’ve got you covered. Yes, hosting a Christmas party can be a lot of work. But with careful planning, that work can feel easier—and if you’re in the holiday spirit, it can also be a lot of fun!

Take a look at our Christmas party checklist to ensure you don’t miss a step in planning your holiday bash. (You may want to take a cue from Santa and check it twice.)

1. Set your budget

It may not be the most exciting part of your Christmas party planning, but setting an event budget keeps costs from running amok—and nasty financial surprises from popping up in the new year. 

  • Consider the trade-off of guests and party size: More guests usually means more costs, so cutting back your guest list may help with costs. Plus, the more intimate setting can allow you to connect with all of your guests.
  • Factor in all the details: Ingredients, decorations, invitations, and party favors all add up, so include them in the budget early on. 
  • Find less expensive alternatives: If your ideal party is way out of your budget, find ways to achieve the general theme of what you want with a few less expensive details. A music playlist can replace a DJ, decorations can be less elaborate, and online Christmas party invitations can replace more expensive paper ones. 
  • Ask for help. Potlucks and other bring-your-own-food (or beverage) events are excellent ways for guests to help you cut costs while joining in the planning process.

2. Select the date

Once your budget is set, it’s time for the biggest question of all: When will you throw your holiday party? 

Naturally, weekends make the most sense for non-work events, but there are only so many in the holiday season, so keep an open mind. 

  • For a company party or one with all of your friends, plan for early December so you don’t interfere with family events that happen closer to the holidays.
  • If you want to throw a party that includes families and children (perhaps even your own), we recommend hosting it on a Saturday afternoon or early evening to avoid bedtime struggles.
  • Consider throwing office holiday parties on a Thursday during happy hour, to keep employees from sacrificing one of their precious weekend nights. 
  • Plan a breakfast or brunch holiday party for schedules that are already jam-packed with evening parties.
  • Find a weekday evening for a Christmas celebration to ensure more people can attend. Holiday cocktails on Tuesday or Thursday night, anyone? 
  • If you only have daytime free, have a holiday open house and let the party come to you. Sunday or Saturday afternoons are perfect for an open house.

3. Make your guest list

A screenshot shows options for collecting RSVPs with Paperless Post; an invitation reads “Let’s Get Merry” in large pink, red, and gold block letters.
Get Merry” by Paperless Post.


The guest list determines your party size, which determines your venue size—so it’s important to square that away ASAP. 

  • Small parties may just include a close group of family or friends—and their significant others.
  • Larger parties and galas may include a plus one for each guest, so be sure to include that number in your final guest count.
  • Determine whether your party is child-friendly, or if you’d prefer it to be adults-only.
  • Remember that a large party of acquaintances looks much different than an intimate party of loved ones, so don’t feel bad if you only want to invite a select few for a more personalized mood.

4. Find a venue

Once you know how many people you’re inviting, you can choose an appropriately sized venue for your holiday party. 

  • If you’re hosting fewer than 20 people, you could probably comfortably host in your own home. 
  • If your space feels too cramped, consider an outdoor or virtual party.
  • For larger guest lists, find a restaurant, bar, or event space that can accommodate the number of people you’d like to invite. (These venues may require booking far in advance of your party.)

5. Choose your holiday party theme

A navy invitation has twinkling silver stars around the border; a winter forest-themed banquet table with white pillar candles and white tree branches.
Twinkling Stars” by Paperless Post; Image via LeScene Design.


A theme sets the tone for the entire event. It ties activities, décor, and even food together to set your desired holiday mood.

  • Whether it’s “Winter Wonderland,” “Black and White,” or “Ugly Christmas Sweaters,” try to settle on a Christmas party idea prior to sending invitations so that guests know what to expect and how to dress. 
  • Choose a theme that’s both fun and unique, since guests will likely attend more than one holiday party this year.
  • Include any attire requests in your invitation if you want guests to fit into your theme (such as ugly sweaters, Christmas character costumes, or Christmas colors).
  • Looking for holiday party theme inspiration? Check out our guide to party ideas your guests will love

6. Send invitations

The budget, venue, date, guest list, and theme are set—now it’s time for the invites! When you’re ready to send the invitations, Paperless Post has holiday party invitation styles fit for any theme.

  • Get the invitations out as early as possible—at least a month in advance is a good rule of thumb.
  • Take a look at these holiday party invitation and wording ideas for message inspiration.
  • Add Guest Questions to your digital invitations to ask guests about dietary restrictions.
  • Organize your guests for a professional holiday party with Guest Tags—a handy way to keep track of who’s arrived and who’s not there yet.
  • Have a party theme your guests should dress to? Include inspo images in the invitation with our Photo Gallery Block (or send notable pictures from last year’s shindig to get the party started early).
  • Send and share your online invitations via email, text message, or shareable link to conveniently notify everyone of the upcoming event. 

7. Plan the menu

Red drinks with rosemary garnishes beside glittery ball ornaments; a green invitation with gold fir branches up the left side.
Image via Simply Delicious; “Fir Trim” by Paperless Post.


Are you planning to serve a meal at your Christmas party, or should guests expect drinks and light apps? Peruse some Christmas dinner party ideas for inspiration or dive right into these tips on what to serve at a holiday party. Then check off the items below so you know you’re on track before the big event. 

  • Gather dietary restrictions from guests before creating your menu to save time.
  • Choose an array of traditional and modern choices, especially if you’re hosting a holiday party that’s non-denominational.
  • Ensure that you have all necessary ingredients well in advance, and start prep work ASAP.
  • Determine which dishes you can make in advance and freeze before the big day.
  • If you’re planning a potluck, use your invitation to assign dishes to different guests—or gather responses on dishes they’d like to bring.

8. Plan your Christmas party itinerary

With the right combination of music and drinks, your party is already off to a great start. But it never hurts to have some methods for merry-making up your sequined sleeve, especially if they suit the night’s theme. 

  • Play holiday games: Charades or board games (think Pictionary) are foolproof ways to energize and entertain your guests. Plan prizes for winners to sweeten the pot. Here are some Christmas game ideas sure to be a hit.
  • Exchange holiday gifts: ’Tis the season for giving, after all. Organize a Secret Santa, White Elephant, or Favorite Things gift exchange, so everyone leaves with a treasured trinket (or at least a laugh).
  • Have an ugly Christmas sweater contest: It’s silly, it’s cheesy, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Don your worst holiday garb and vote on the very best bad look. Lucky for you, we have ugly sweater party invitations, too!
  • Watch holiday movies: A film viewing is usually best for groups of eight or fewer but adjust based on your available seating. Make it like a real-life theater experience by offering popcorn and candy, and plan a trivia or drinking game to enhance the cinematic experience.
  • Decorate the Christmas tree: Cross this decorating task off of your party prep list! A tree-trimming theme is a perfect way to get everyone into the holiday spirit, particularly for a party set at the start of the season.
  • Pose at the holiday photo booth: A striking backdrop, a tripod for a camera or smartphone, and some cute props are all you need for photographic fun. Use an instant film camera to send snaps home with your guests, or upload the camera reel into a shared album the next day.
  • Sing karaoke or Christmas carols: Christmas carol-oke anyone? Capitalize on the familiarity of holiday tunes with a holly jolly singalong. Dibs on Mariah Carey!
  • Decorate or swap Christmas cookies: For a sweet take on a potluck, ask everyone to make a favorite confection such as fudge, toffee, or spritz cookies. Provide disposable trays so guests can collect treats to take home. Alternatively, bake a few batches of sugar cookies yourself and set up frosting and sprinkles stations for custom creations.

9. Pick out décor

Christmas decorations, party supplies, and a stocking on a blue backdrop.
1. Falalalala Letter Garland; 2. Gold Stripe Star Plates; 3. Peppermint Raffia Napkin Ring; 4. Teal Glass Trees; 5. Joyeaux Stocking, all available at Paperless Post Party Shop.


Decorating for a Christmas party may be an all-season affair or a last-minute detail, depending on your taste in décor. When choosing decorations to match your chosen theme, keep these suggestions in mind.

  • If you’re hosting a Christmas party at home, your usual decor will likely do just fine, but you may want to adjust according to your theme. 
  • We always love herbs and evergreens—they smell great and work for the mantel, the tables, the doorways, and more. 
  • Stockings on the mantel or staircase railing never go out of style, and neither do twinkle lights and candles. 
  • Scatter baubles in your chosen color scheme along with a tablescape, or string up dried orange slices, popcorn, and cranberries for a traditional touch.
  • Include a holiday party favor for guests of all ages.
  • Browse holiday décor at Paperless Post Party Shop for the latest in modern trends and classic traditions.

10. Have fun!

Don’t forget the most important step: Once guests arrive and hang their coats, admire your decor, and partake in your refreshments, feel free to mingle.

  • If you’re planning a meal or an activity, keep an eye on the clock to ensure your party agenda is running smoothly.
  • Refresh the appetizer table as needed.
  • Consider hiring a bartender—or enlisting a willing friend—so you can focus on entertaining your guests.
  • Take lots of pictures to send to guests after the party is over.

Holiday party planning tips

You’ve got the basics under control. But for a truly seamless and stress-free (well, almost stress-free) Christmas party, take these holiday party planning tips to heart.

  • Break up your shopping trips: Gathering supplies is the biggest task, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Categorize your list, so you get everything as early as possible. You can even pick up things that need to be fresh a day or two beforehand.
  • Prioritize what’s important to you: Enjoy doing what you love in the party planning process, and outsource the rest. If you care a lot about the meal but not as much about décor, enlist friends or family to decorate. When cleaning your home distracts you from buying the perfect party favors, hire professional cleaners. 
  • Set aside time for yourself: As the host, you set the party’s tone, so build in enough time to get ready. It’s better to be fully dressed and complete a few tasks as guests arrive than to get everything done and be MIA for the first half-hour. You’ve worked hard on planning your party, so budget a few minutes to relax before guests arrive.
  • Set a cozy holiday mood: Before people begin to arrive, light candles, dim the lights, and put on a playlist. Set up a coat rack or designate a drop zone for outerwear.
  • Send guests home with holiday leftovers: Stock up on compostable to-go containers in case you have an abundance of bites to divvy up.
  • Take notes for next year: What went well? What would you do again—or definitely not do again? Write yourself a note and put it on your calendar for the next holiday season.

Paperless Post for every holiday party, big or small

An online invitation with an animation of different cocktails in front of fir branches.
Holiday Cocktail Party” Flyer by Paperless Post.


Whether you’re hosting a holiday party with candlelit dinner vibes or a massive Christmas gala, Paperless Post has what you need to customize your invites, track your RSVPs, and communicate with guests. Just find your design and add the right wording—we’ll take care of the rest.

Ready to send out some Christmas cards? We have all the guides you need, including when to send holiday greetings and Christmas card design ideas. Plus, find all the décor and supplies you need for holiday entertaining at Paperless Post Party Shop.


Browse Holiday Party Invitations


Hero image via Thibault Jeanson.