Get a signed copy of our latest book, Emily Post's Etiquette - The Centennial Edition, for yourself or to give as a gift, and support Vermont's independent bookstore Bridgeside Books.

Join our Substack newsletter for more from Emily Post.

Hosting A Holiday Party Hero Label

How to Host A Holiday Party

With the prep work done, it’s time to party!

Being a great host is so much more than great planning - although boy does that make a difference! Once your guests have arrived at the party you are the leader of the event and should feel confident making moves that help direct your guest during the party. Not micromanage but direct. Here are some things to think about as the holiday soirees, shindigs, gatherings, parties, and feasts kick into high gear this year!


Once your doorbell rings, or there’s a knock at the door, it’s show time! You, our dear host, are on! Get to the door quickly - without getting out of breath - and open it with a smile. Greet your guest(s) and welcome them in, indicating any specific places for hats and coats. Take note: for a party, we typically don’t recommend asking guests to remove their shoes. If many guests arrive at once, stay by the door but invite guests to “Please head into the living room (or kitchen, den, patio) and please help yourself to a drink.” Once the arrival crush has cleared you can join your guests.


As a host, you want to take the lead and guide guests, especially those who may be first-time visitors to your home, or who may not know the rest of the guests as well. A little conversation starter can be a big help in making guests comfortable in engaging with others at the party. “Sam, Ali was just telling me about a soccer pick-up game he’s been going to on Sundays. Ali, Sam, and I met through playing in a league together.” Be sure to spend a little time with each guest - especially those who won’t be seated near you if there is a dinner portion to the event - and do your best to help facilitate conversation naturally. It doesn’t have to be forced or systematic. A light touch is all that’s needed for a conversation prompt.


Encourage your guests to enjoy the refreshment at the party by passing hors d'oeuvres or inviting guests to try something from a platter of treats. You can also refresh beverages. Even if you have staff helping to serve it’s great to check in and make sure your guests have everything they need, or that they are enjoying what’s being offered. These are just little check-ins rather than forced or overly enthusiastic offerings. “There’s cruditee, and cheese and crackers if you’d like.” rather than, “Oh my gosh you HAVE to try the shrimp, have you tried the shrimp yet???!! Go ahead try it, try it!!!”


While a cocktail-style party is going to be pretty simple in terms of guests arriving, mingling, enjoying refreshments, and then heading home, parties, where dinner, or entertainment, is part of the festivities, will mean that you need to make announcements regarding party transitions. When it’s time to start winding down the cocktail hour and transitioning to the dinner table, you can let folks know as you move among your guests. “We’ll be setting out the buffet for dinner in just a bit.” or “Dinner will be ready in about ten to fifteen minutes, would like anything else from the hors d'oeuvres tray or to top off your drink?” Once you’re ready for dinner, it’s time to announce it: “Dinner is served, please find your seat at the table.” or “Dinner is served, if you’d like to start at the buffet and then find your seat, please do so.” If your party includes games or entertainment, these are also times when you should take the lead and let your guests know. “Everybody Adrien brought his guitar and is going to lead us in some classic carols, please join in loudly, and don’t worry about your voice, none of us are professionals here!”

You might also have to guide guests if the conversation starts to wane or fall into controversial topics that are creating awkwardness. We used to consider tier-two conversation topics like politics, a person’s romantic life, religion, and money as “not table topics.” It’s not that these topics are forbidden - far from it - but, as they are more personal in nature, it can sometimes make folks uncomfortable to discuss them. As the host, you want to pay attention to whether the conversation is stimulating, dull, or causing discomfort. If you can tell guests are bored or uncomfortable it’s up to you as a host to change the topic and stir up more stimulating conversation. “Elliot, I’m going to ask that we not go into that now (or I’m going to ask that you not tell “jokes” like that). What I’d love to hear about is that trip you and Elena just took to Jackson Hole this summer. How long were you there for?” A positive redirection will help the person who made the mistake know that they are welcome to discuss other things.

As the host, you might also have to guide your guests as to when it’s time to go. If your guests are still enjoying themselves long after you thought they might depart, it’s okay to start sending signals that the party is wrapping up. Tidying up some of the party areas, be it clearing the coffee and tea after dinner, turning up the lights and down the music, and moving party platters to the kitchen are all good moves. Often when guests see a host start to tend to some light cleaning they know it’s time to head on out. If they still haven’t picked up on the hint, it’s okay to say, “This has been so wonderful, and I’m so glad you all could come, I hate to do it, but I’m going to have to wind this party down and start thinking about bed.”

Congratulations on throwing a party your guests loved so much they didn’t want to leave! Cheers to you!

We hope these tips have helped inspire you as you host this holiday season!

This article first appeared in our Emily Post Etiquette Substack newsletter. If you'd like to receive articles like this, podcast episodes, and more including a welcome coupon ($5 for free subscribers, $50 for paid subscribers) to spend on our digital products in The Emily Post Shop, straight to your email inbox, SIGN UP TODAY!