Save Your Sanity: A Holiday Party Planning Guide For Stressed Out People

I throw plenty of epic parties. This was not one of them.

This is the most gleefully lazy holiday party planning guide ever. It is the anti-Pinterest party planner. It is a holiday sanity saver. So if you want gasp inducing décor or Instagram worthy tablescapes, keep on clicking.

But if you just want to be in the same room with people you love, eating food, maybe drinking a few adult beverages and getting a much needed breather in the midst of the holiday madness, well, this guide is for you. It’s time to take back the holidays and celebrate on our own terms. I say down with holiday perfectionism and yes to connection. Out with obsessiveness and in with doing what’s easy for once in our chronically overachieving lives.

This realization is saving my sanity this season. I’ll be working abroad for a substantial chunk of December (check back Sunday to learn where I’m going!) and life in all its beautiful, busy, obnoxious, messy, bone-crushing glory has pretty much ignored my pleas for peace on earth and quiet Christmas reflections (ideally with a soundtrack of melancholy, minor key carols)  and given me a to-do list that seems unending.

And it’s not just me. I looked at my potential guest list and realized our little group was dealing with finals, college graduation, a wedding, a birthday and major career advances and setbacks. And that’s just within the last few weeks.

I’m guessing you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s never a good time to throw a party. The responsible thing to do would be to wait until life calms down. But it never calms down.

So throw the party anyway. Everybody will be happy you did. Here’s how to do it without driving yourself insane.

I always try to do something new for every bash. So I was happy that the crew at Basic Invite invited me to collaborate because I desperately needed a fresh shot of inspiration. Their beautifully designed holiday invitations charmed the pants off of my guests the second they opened their mailboxes.  And I discovered that just the knowledge that an actual, physical invitation is coming in the mail makes grown women really happy. (Note to self: Send more actual mail.)

I can’t design worth a darn, but I love customizing — and Basic Invite made that super easy. There are hundreds of designs to choose from, including lots of foil holiday cards in silver, gold and rose gold that appeal to my not-so-secret love of drama. And you can change the color of every element in the card you choose, which gives you over 180 different color combinations to choose from.

Oh, and there are 40 different  envelopes to choose from and the site helps you gather your friends’ addresses via social media so they can print them on the cards for no charge. They’re offering 30% off cards with the code holi30, if you want to try it out for yourself.  Allow 7-11 days for delivery — although mine arrived much sooner. The entire process took 20 minutes, tops.

Decorations were even easier. I let the invitations dictate the color story (white, gold and silver) and pulled Christmas decorations from my stash that matched. I put a gold tablecloth on the table, plopped white tealights into rocks glasses, filled a champagne colored bowl with gold and silver ornaments and boom — done. It took 10 minutes.

Now for drinks. Grab red and white wine, some beer and a couple bottles of soda and juice for the non-drinkers. You’ll need about a bottle of wine per guest and one to two bottles or cans of beer per person, per hour. (This fairly standard cocktail party estimate assumes people drink a bit more than my guests typically do, but you don’t want to run out.) You can be in and out of the liquor store in another 10 minutes.

Now for the food. I’m probably going to get teased for my menu. Which is fine. I can take it. I cook every day, often from scratch, so I’m secure in my culinary skills. And I love busting out something special for parties.

But this is not one of those parties. This is a gleefully lazy guide to throwing a holiday party for super stressed out people. So yes, I am literally giving you permission to buy prepackaged food. Anybody who gives you the side eye for not cooking from scratch has no place at this party anyway, so you can just cross them off your list and only invite non-judgy people.

See? Isn’t that liberating? Don’t you just feel better already?

Shopping should take you 20 minutes, tops. Head to the grocery store with this list:
– Frozen pizzas (one per every four guests, unless you are serving a horde of teenage boys)
– A giant tub of hummus
– Red peppers (two for every four guests)
– Baby carrots (a bag for every four-six guests)
– Pita bread (see portion sizes on the bag for guidance)
– Microwave popcorn
– A spice cake mix
– A can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
– A tub of Cool Whip
– A container pre-made sugar cookies
– A can of frosting
– Pretty sprinkles in your color scheme

The day before the party, make the cookies according the package directions. While they’re in the oven, put the Cool Whip in the fridge, core and seed the peppers and cut them into long strips and slice the carrots in half. Cool the cookies and pop them in a container until tomorrow. (Confession alert: I totally made my own hummus for this party because I had the ingredients, I prefer it and I like to make things from scratch, dang it! And I was totally slicing peppers when guests showed up. Do as I say, people, not as I do.) Total prep time: About 30 minutes, not including cooling time.

On the day of the party, mix the pumpkin and spice cake together into the easiest cake on the planet. (The batter while be thick. You will doubt me that this will work with just two ingredients, but it will.) Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees in a greased 9 x 13 pan. It’s a weirdly addictive cake and my friends ask me to make it so much we’ve now nicknamed it “Jo’s Cake” for our friend that can’t tolerate sugar, but can eat this particular dessert.

While it’s baking, frost the cookies, pop the popcorn, light the candles and set out the food and drinks. Take the cake out, cool it, and adjust the temperature on the oven so you can pop in a pizza or two when the guests arrive. After that point, all you really have to do is slice the pizza, refill the drinks and throw a little Cool Whip on top of the cake before you slice it, leaving you plenty of time to talk, eat, drink and mingle. It all looks quite impressive, but really took very little time at all.

When your friends walk in the door, they’ll find a candlelit house full of good smells, a table full of food and drinks and a super chill host with time to spare. (Bonus.)

What about you?
What are your favorite party hacks?
What saves your sanity during the holiday season?
How do you define a good party?
What’s the easiest recipe you actually use on a regular basis?

This post is sponsored by Basic Invite. I only work with businesses that I enjoy and that I think you would like too. All opinions are my own and yes, designing these invites really was as simple as I describe.

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