Holiday Party Tips with Emily Farris | KCUR

Holiday Party Tips with Emily Farris

Dec 22, 2011

Bargain, beautify and brighten your holiday celebration with these seven easy rules from the food and party queen Emily Farris.


Seven Tips for Good Holiday Party Cheer

7. Deck your halls. (You can do it cheaply.)

Seeing decorations is half the fun of going holiday parties, so if you’re going to entertain this time of year, you should do some sort of decorating. But what you “should” do ends there. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, and you can have fun with your decorations. This is the first year of my adult life I got a real Christmas tree (I’m 29 and have been living on my own since I was 18), but every year, I decorate with ornaments. A few years ago, I began collecting all different sizes of the the cheap gold and silver glass balls from places like Family Dollar and Target (after the holidays). I pick an area of my home (usually the entryway) and hang them at varying lengths from the ceiling with fishing line. Even before I had a tree or hung any lights, entering my home immediately felt like stepping into a winter wonderland.

Whatever you do, make sure it reflects you. You’ll have more fun decorating if you let your personality show. I have hardly any red holiday decorations, and none are green (except for the tree, of course). This year, most everything is turquoise, accented with gold and silver. I have a wine-loving friend who made tree garland out of collected wine corks, and a graphic designer friend who hangs lights on an old Christmas-tree shaped card stand.

6. Keep the food simple. And buy the rest.

Throwing a party shouldn’t stress you out. But if you try to make beautiful, complicated treats for everyone, it will, no matter how prepared you are. Make a really rich spinach-artichoke dip (recipe below) and put out fresh vegetables with nice crackers, cheeses and breads. Have some basics (hummus, salsa, etc.) and don’t stress about it. If you’re really worried about originality, don’t be afraid to ask a few close friends to bring some food, too.

5. But leave something undone.

A great way to get a party started is to give your guests something to bond over. Whether you make sugar cookies and leave the decorations out so they can create their own, or put out all of the ingredients for a signature cocktail and let guests play bartender with the shaker and garnishes, let them do a little bit of the work. It doesn’t make you lazy, it makes you a creative host or hostess. Before you know it, the strangers who were laughing over their botched Christmas cookies will be carrying on like old friends.

4. Turn off the overhead lights.

Overhead lighting is harsh, unflattering, and makes you feel like you’re at work. If you want your guests to relax and have a good time, turn off your overhead lights and opt instead for lamps, candles and other accent lighting. Yes, this includes Christmas lights. The holidays are the only time of the year you can get away with a string of two of tiny bulbs in lieu of big-girl lighting. So go with it.

3. Have plenty of liquid cheer.

The one thing you don’t want to run out of is booze (unless you’re ready for all of your guests to leave). You can probably count on your guests bringing some wine. But you can also count on people drinking more than you think they will, so don’t rely solely on host or hostess gifts to keep everyone properly lubricated. If you’re on a budget, get a few nice bottles of whatever you’re serving and be sure to open those first. Once your guests have had a drink or two, they won’t mind if the best thing you have to offer is Two-Buck Chuck. And if it is the only thing you have to offer, and your guests do mind, they’re probably bad guests.

2. Let it snow.

Yes, this is a cheesy way to say let your house get a little messy. It’s going to happen. Deal with it. You know you’re going to clean it up at some point, but you don’t want to waste your entire party and ignore your friends so you don’t have to clean up tomorrow, do you?

1. Relax!

When I began throwing parties, I was so worried about everyone having fun that I’d do constant rounds, checking in with people to make sure they were having a good time. Guess what? That’s not fun. A tense host or hostess makes for tense guests. So, just relax. People can pour their own drinks, make their own plates and have their own conversations. You did all the hard work leading up to the party and bringing everyone together, so just let yourself enjoy it — especially because you’re going to have a lot of cleaning up to do tomorrow.


Follow up questions

Q. What specific tips do you have for people planning on a budget?

A. I’ve thrown plenty of parties when I had $20 to my name. Hang some sparkly things from the ceiling, light some candles (it will help you save on your electricity, bill, too), buy cheap grocery store wine and warm it with spices on the stove. Making a playlist is free, sending an electronic invitation is free, and if you’re smart about it, preparing food can be done very cheaply. And remember: you don’t have to do everything yourself. Ask your friends to help out with some of the food and drinks.

Q. It can be difficult to find the motivation to decorate year after year. How do you keep the tradition of visually celebrating the season going? And how do you keep the spirit of it fresh?

A. It probably helps that I’m a compulsive mover. I rarely live in one place for more than two Christmases, so I always have some new decorating challenge, or adventure. But even when I finally settle down and buy a place, I plan to always mix things up. I do whatever feels fun and festive at the time -- this year, it happens to be turquoise. I think the festive nature is also in my blood. I call my sister Mother Christmas -- she wears ugly sweaters, but not ironically, and has special silverware for the holidays. I’ve begun to joke that I’m becoming Mother Secular  Holiday of Your Choosing, because I’m just as extreme, but in a more updated way.

It’s also hard to lack inspiration when I spend way too much time looking at home decor blogs like and sites like, so I’m constantly inspired to do things to my  home (which will bring a new set of adventures when I finally own and can rip down walls and things).

Q. What are your favorite dishes this season?

A. This time of year, I really just want to eat any combination of starch and fat. So, I really love warm, cheesy dips with really good bread. And dips are always a wise choice for a party. I’m also trying to eat fewer dishes with bread (ha) and recently made mashed-potato stuffed mushrooms. I wouldn’t call them healthy -- there’s a ton of half-and-half in the potatoes -- but at least there’s no bread... right?