10 Holiday Party Tips To Save You The Headache (& The Hangover)

As you can probably tell by your Champagne headache, this time of year is the Hosting Olympics. It is party season, people — and it's not for rookies. If you are planning your first holiday cocktail event, you'd better be prepared for the hordes of people storming into your home, demanding sugar-coated, salted-caramel merriment for three to five hours. Then, you get to clean up after them.
In the hopes that you might get to actually enjoy your party, we brought in a ringer. Giada De Laurentiis got us through Thanksgiving without a hitch, and now we've turned to her again for the holidays. This lady is no stranger to feeding (and boozing) a crowd, and she gave us her tips for doing so with style. Check out De Laurentiis' hints, recipes, and absolute musts that will help you throw the perfect festive evening. Let's do this.
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Photographed by Liana Tarantin.
1. Start smart: Make lists — a guest list, a recipe list, a shopping list, a to-do list. I keep them all on my iPhone so I always have them with me and can add notes when they pop into my head and cross off tasks as I complete them.

2. Decorate with seasonal fruit and veggies: I love to put out big bowls of lemons, limes, and oranges in winter. Not only are they gorgeous, but when the party’s over, I can use them in my cooking to brighten up cold days. And, since I am lucky enough to live in California, artichokes are a beautiful year-round choice for me.
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Photo: Courtesy of Giada's Digital Weekly.
3. Let friends pitch in: If people ask if they can bring something, say yes! And, don’t be afraid to be specific. It’s a great way to tackle things on your to-do list (cookies from the bakery that’s not on your way to the supermarket? check!) and genuinely helps guests who otherwise might not know what to bring.

4. Craft a fun holiday playlist: Here’s mine for this year:

"Candy Cane Christmas" | Darius Rucker
"Merry Christmas, Baby" | Cee Lo Green (featuring Rod Stewart & Trombone Shorty)
"Let It Snow" | Diana Krall
"Silver Bells" | Harry Connick, Jr.
"This Christmas" | Mary J. Blige
"Jingle Bells" | Lisa Loeb
"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" | Death Cab for Cutie
"Christmas in America" | Melissa Etheridge
"More Than I Wished For" | Schuyler Fisk
"Tinsel and Lights" | Tracey Thorn
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" | She & Him
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Photo: Courtesy of Giada's Digital Weekly.
5. Make it ahead: If a recipe says something has to be done last-minute, skip it. You’re having people over to see them, not to disappear into the kitchen every 10 minutes! Also, when you prepare everything in advance, there are no surprises; you know everything turned out just like you wanted it to and have time to fix any missteps.

6. Have something for everyone: Choose a menu that satisfies as many people as possible. I like to make these cucumber cups filled with roasted-red-pepper hummus because they’re pretty but also vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free.

1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup diced jarred roasted red bell peppers
1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 large garlic clove, peeled
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
2 hothouse cucumbers, ends trimmed
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, or mint leaves, for serving (optional)

In a food processor, combine the beans, roasted peppers, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper, if using.

Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl, if needed. Transfer the hummus to a small bowl.

Run the tines of a fork down the length of each cucumber several times, turning to make ridges about one-eighth-inch deep in the skin all the way around. Cut the cucumbers crosswise into one-inch rounds, for a total of at least 12.

Using the smaller end of a melon baller or a small, round measuring spoon, scoop out part of the center of each cucumber round to form a hollow. Use a small spoon (or a pastry bag fitted with a star tip) to fill each cup with hummus, mounding it slightly over the top. Tuck a small, fresh parsley leaf into the side of the filling as a garnish, if desired.

Arrange the cups on a platter, and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Giada's Digital Weekly.
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Photographed by Maria Del Rio.
7. Bring back the wine spritzer: I read somewhere that you’re supposed to drink one glass of water for every glass of alcohol, but I find it hard to two-fist elegantly at a party. Instead I make a wine spritzer: Pour white wine over ice, top with sparkling water, and add a lemon twist if you’d like. Not only do the ice and water keep you hydrated, but they also help you cut calories. And, if you’re going to have a couple (or more) drinks at a soirée, you won’t become that girl.

8. Keep non-drinkers in mind: Buy plenty of flavored sparkling waters, some sparkling cider, and other festive options for designated drivers and everyone else who is alcohol-free. I like to have apple (Jade’s favorite) and white-grape-juice boxes on hand for kids; little ones love them, and the boxes help cut down on spills and stains.
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Photo: Courtesy of Giada's Digital Weekly.
9. Pregame: With food, not booze! Be sure to eat well before your party so you’re not grabbing every cheese puff that passes before you — or getting tipsy after just one cocktail.

10. Don’t forget the chocolate!: I am a chocoholic, and my no-bake chocolate fig bites hit the spot. They’re chewy and decadent — like a bonbon but better for you!

14 oz dried Mission figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped (3 cups)
2 tbsp unsalted creamy almond butter
1 cup (6 oz) 41% cocoa vegan chocolate chips
2 tsp coconut, safflower, or grapeseed oil
¾ tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, combine the figs, almond butter, and two tablespoons water. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Using a one-teaspoon measure, scoop the fig mixture and roll with your hands into one-inch balls. Put the fig balls on the prepared baking sheet.

Put the chocolate chips and oil in a heat-proof medium bowl. Set the bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water, and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth, two to three minutes.

Using a fork, dip the fig balls in the melted chocolate to coat evenly, allowing any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Return the fig bites to the baking sheet, and sprinkle with the salt. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set — about 30 minutes. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Recipe courtesy of Giada's Digital Weekly.
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