As a holiday aficionado, I’ve entertained and thrown my fair share of parties for family and friends. To help you prepare, I’ve put together a few “must-know” tips on making the holidays a wonderful time, no matter the age of your partygoers! 
It all begins the moment your guests walk in the door, so start off by setting the holiday mood! Music is key, especially during a time when we wait all year to hear our favorite yuletide jams. There is a balance in finding the right level to play your music, and while you don’t want it to be blasting throughout the neighborhood, it’s important to ensure everyone can hear the tunes (especially for parties involving excited kiddos). Too often, people have music playing in one room, but it’s important to have it flow throughout your space so everyone can enjoy the festive soundtrack. If you have an Amazon Echo, try placing an Amazon Dot, or a paired wireless speaker, in a few different locations for an easy way to have the same song playing in every room. 
The biggest thing I look forward to when it comes to the holiday season is the amazing, delicious, comforting food! As the host, it’s crucial to provide enough food for everyone to nosh on – but, as the host, it’s difficult to provide 50 different options. The best thing you can do for yourself (and your guests) is to offer two to three of your most sought-after holiday nibbles and make enough for each guest to have at least two bites of everything. I know it can get tricky with guests confirming their attendance, but ask your partygoers to do their best to let you know four days prior so you can prep.
Sometimes, cooking up a storm for a full house can be daunting, and with so much going on you can always make snacking even easier on yourself and opt for a board of food. Some of my favorite party snacks are simple: a cheese board with nuts and fruits, and some crackers or crusty bread options with dips and veggies. Fruit platters are also perfect for all ages: Grandma and your 4-year-old niece will love diving into a pile of grapes, apples and berries. All of these are easy to put together (or purchase) and simple to pick at. Plus, they can be a centerpiece showstopper if you take the time to add some festive touches like jingle bells, pine leaves, holly or colored toothpicks. My best advice here is to search for food boards on Pinterest and recreate your favorite.
With food and music covered, it’s time to take your party planning to the next level by having an exciting aspect. Party themes are important, and I always prefer to host a party that at the very least has a “loose theme.” Everyone is having a holiday party, so I like to have more of a special pull – especially for guests with kids. 
Your party’s theme can be featured around an activity like an “Ornament Decoration Party,” which would involve having a station where guests can make or decorate ornaments. I once did this and used an instant camera for guests to take fun holiday photos that could be added to their ornament creation. So much fun! Another favorite idea is hosting a “Caroling Party” where, after snacks and merriment, everyone heads out to carol at a few nearby neighbors’ homes. Pro tip for this one: Give the neighbors a heads-up if you can! 
For those entertaining with a large group of kids, one of the cutest ideas is to plan your theme around a popular holiday book or movie. I’m sure an “Elf Party” or a “Polar Express Party” would be a big hit with every generation, and it gives the littlest partiers more focus and excitement. Another idea that that never fails to entertain the kids is a special guest appearance. Many towns in the Bay Area have a Santa guest program where you can hire a Santa to stop by. This idea is, of course, also doable with Uncle Mike who looks just like Santa. 
Another standby party theme is a “Cookie Decorating Party.” Anyone who has done this knows to be prepared with to-go containers for guests and lots of paper towels nearby – things are bound to get messy. 
Feeling really crafty this year? Other DIY party themes include: wreath-decorating, DIY advent calendars (see sidebar) and the classic gingerbread house party. All of these are perfect for multiple ages, and you may be surprised at how much adults love recreating these memories around the holidays. It is important to always plan an activity and, if none of the above is your jam or you want to create a theme adults will really get into, be a bit quirky and try some holiday karaoke. I find it’s best to set up the bar next to the karaoke stage for a little liquid courage. 
Colleen Janke is the owner of Whirlygig, a San Jose STEAM-oriented play and party space for kids where moms and dads can oversee their children’s play while getting some work done. Janke, a mother of three, is also the owner of Savory Kitchen, which provides food options for Whirlygig events. For more information, visit


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