Easiest Ways to Elevate Your Holiday Party

This is my time of year. Bring on the festive cocktails, sparkling decor, pine-scented everything, gift-giving and ALL THE LIGHTS!

I could get lost in those mini illuminated villages for days.

On set at “The Great Christmas Light Fight”, my home away from home each December

This is just one of the reasons why I’m grateful to be a judge on ABC network’s The Great Christmas Light Fight and have been for the past 6 seasons. Each year, I’m surrounded (and inspired) by people trying to step up their Christmas game.  I’ve always been enchanted with the holidays but with each year that passes I find myself looking for new, more evolved ways to enjoy everything the season offers.  One of the things that brings me such joy is treating my friends and family to a memorable party experience they can’t get anywhere else but at my home. So, I thought I’d pass along some of my own personal tips for how to take your next get-together to the next level and set the stage for a truly merry affair.



1.  Think About The Theme.  The holidays are a theme in and of themselves, but you could take it a step further with Moroccan-inspired decor (for example).  Use textured wool poufs for seating, patterned woven area rugs, ornate lanterns and rich colors to tie in the concept. Being from India, I’m partial to deep jewel tones like sapphire blue, ruby red and gold. Pastels (blush, ivory, mint green) are having a serious moment right now, too.  Whatever your holiday color scheme/theme, branch it out (I can’t help myself! ????) to the rest of the party’s details. You want a motif that transcends the decor and is incorporated into the menu, cocktails, party favors and music. Holiday parties are all about aesthetics, so putting in the extra effort will bring bonus amounts of cheer to you and your guests.




Rich, jewel-toned velvet throw pillows, shiny and matte glass ornaments and a chunky knit blanket add dimension, warmth and texture for an elevated decor


2.  Play With Accessories.  On a recent Overstock.com shoot where I styled 4 different designs for the holidays, we put many different accessories to work.  Accessories are generally inexpensive, easily storable and play a huge role in bringing your concept to life so lean into them to create the vibe you want. Choose accent pillows, throw blankets and a few tabletop items that you take out only this time of year. I have a furry, white, organically-shaped flokati throw rug that makes an annual appearance under my favorite chair. It’s not so much Christmas-y as it is winter-y, but it looks warm, makes me happy and reminds my guests and me that the season is upon us! Another affordable, easy idea is to change out your curtains. When no one else in the world is buying forest green velvet curtains in July, snag a pair for a huge discount. Plaid, flannel, wool…any of those cozy, homey materials on your windows will totally change the dynamic of the space.


Our casual, yet refined modern farmhouse holiday design for Overstock.com incorporated thoughtful accessories that brought energy into the space


3.  Plan the Menu. Your menu should reflect the overall theme. For example, one of my favorite looks from the Overstock shoot is the Farmhouse-inspired living room (above).  If you’re into that aesthetic, consider planning your menu around farm-to-table selections like a roasted vegetable platter and a beef tenderloin with crusty, artisan bread. And, while I appreciate a formal sit-down dinner (kudos to anyone who can get the timing right for that), I’m a bounce around informal gathering kind of gal. Shindigs at my home are a bit more relaxed so much so that for a larger gathering, I don’t mind a potluck situation in the least. Potluck dinners get everyone engaged and as long as there’s clear communication about who’s bringing what, they can be really fun! For cocktail parties, (my go-to at-home celebration) I’m a big fan of generous charcuterie boards brimming with cheeses, dried fruits, nuts, and cured meats. This would compliment a farmhouse-themed fête beautifully.  So the spread has movement, create different food elevations and accent it with fresh herbs and candles. A feast for all senses!


At home in my own kitchen where I love using my island as one long buffet table


Let’s talk about the drinks! My former bartending career afforded me a knack for making a mean cocktail but I’d rather spend my time chatting up guests.  If you feel the same and want to continue with a modern farmhouse theme, think about using a large beverage dispenser. Your company can serve themselves a sophisticated, yet homespun signature mixed drink (think a winter sangria garnished with cranberries and a rosemary sprig). I  usually put out other hard liquors, mixers and wine along with the cocktail. If it’s more than 20 guests, consider hiring a bartender to keep the party (and drinks) flowing. Finish your farmhouse theme on a sweet note with single-serve desserts in mason jars tied up with twine. The menu should taste as good as it looks.




4.  Give a Gift.  Party favors are the perfect way to show you’re grateful each guest came and most importantly for being in your life. Though not required, favors are especially appropriate during the holiday season.  For about $15 total, you can show your guests that you went the extra mile for them. Buy a package of clear glass ornaments and modern, chic, sparkly crafting stickers to spell out guests’ names and the year on the ornament. Take some twine and loop it around as a hanger.  If you’re having a sit-down dinner, the ornaments can double as a place card and a party favor. If you’ve been invited to a party, giving a host gift is also fitting. A good-looking scented candle is something I’ll always appreciate. But one of the very best host gifts I received was a wine aerator stopper. Game changer. It preserves your bottle of wine so you can have just one glass and the rest will be preserved. (You know…for people who don’t want the burden of finishing a whole bottle at once!) I enjoyed this gift so much I bought it for another host gift.


A variation of my DIY party favor using clear glass ornaments, greenery and a white paint pen. Credit: jane-can.com


5.  Amp Up the Ambiance. Delicious scents, music and lighting work in harmony to create the perfect setting for the occasion, so don’t overlook them.  Dimmer switches for overhead lights are so important I may consider them as host gifts this year (kidding). No dimmer switches? Pull in some accent lighting with scented candles, fireplaces, floor and table lamps.  Overhead lighting can be harsh, so turn those lights off and rely on auxiliary lighting. The warm glow of accent lighting will really set the mood.  Music is also key to putting your guests in the spirit, so choose a station on Spotify or Pandora and keep it there. As the party starts and throughout dinner keep the tunes mid-volume and mid-tempo.  During cocktails, step up the energy by increasing the volume and tempo of the music.  Luxury lives in the details. Always.


An organically elegant tablescape using the soft glow of candlelight and clusters of aromatic rosemary. Credit: Brittany Wood via Jenni Kayne


Throwing a holiday party doesn’t have to be stressful.  Have a plan but also go with the flow. It’s ok if not everything is the image of perfection. Your friends and family will still love you even if you use your husband’s necktie as a last-minute substitute for a wreath’s bow (like I did). It was kitschy, cute, unexpected and free!!  Things happen. Roll with the punches. 


I hope the season and your new year are filled with joy, love and laughter!

And, remember… “If you’re not invited to the party, throw your own!!” (D. Carroll) 

Amen to that!


Thanks for reading!!  If you know someone who’d enjoy this blog, please share it! Message your ideas for future blog posts to me @taniyanayak.  I’m listening and always inspired by you.