Party in a Flash

Party in a Flash

Sometimes you just feel like having a party. Like, this weekend. Think it’s impossible to pull off without weeks of planning? It’s not—and we’ll show you how.

While some holiday parties need to be plotted weeks in advance, many get-togethers can easily be arranged in a day or less. “With many of us working long hours and juggling a lot of commitments, some of the best parties end up being casual, spur-of-the-moment affairs,” says Cyd Converse, founder of the design and lifestyle blog The Sweetest Occasion.

But even impromptu soirees are most successful when they start with at least a bit of an organizing principle or a loose theme. Here are four seasonally appropriate parties-in-a-flash to get you thinking. How about tonight?

Open house: Give friends and family a few days’ notice, and invite them to stop by between, say, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on a weekend day or a holiday. This is a great approach for New Year’s Day. According to Converse, an early-in-the-day party automatically reads as casual, so you can give yourself permission to keep the gathering supersimple.

The easy setup: Cut up a nice quiche or frittata, either homemade or store-bought, and accompany it with roasted potatoes that you chopped and parboiled the night before; guests can nosh as they arrive. Keep décor easy with a couple of potted paperwhites or some fresh flowers on the serving table.

Holiday cookie exchange: Who can say no to an invitation to pop over and pick up a selection of cookies to give as gifts or eat with the family? Ask guests to bring a dozen or so holiday cookies—homemade if they have time, or purchased from their favorite bakery or Panera Bread® bakery-cafe if time is tight.

The easy setup: Display your guests’ cookies on a long table, and let the attendees pick and choose which goodies to take home in exchange. Provide colorful plastic plates or cute kraft-paper bags for toting their stashes. If you make the cookie exchange an after-dinner gathering, you don’t even need to provide much in the way of food; some nibbles and drinks will do. One idea: Stop by your local Panera Bread for supplemental sweets (so all the exchange cookies can find their way to guests’ homes) and offer coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.

Movie night: This couldn’t be simpler. You probably already have a personal or family tradition of re-watching classic holiday films like A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. Instead of having just you and your kids on the couch, invite some of your favorite film buffs for a group screening. Ask guests for their own suggestions for holiday movies (rom-coms such as When Harry Met Sally… and Love Actually come to mind because of their memorable seasonal scenes).

The easy setup: Think traditional movie snacks with a twist—Converse suggests adding green and red candy-coated chocolates to a big bowl of fresh-popped popcorn. You can also set out small bowls of traditional candies that have been given a holiday makeover like candy-striped chocolates or gingerbread-flavored wafer cookie bars. Whip up a generous pot of hot cocoa too. Converse makes hers extra-decadent by combining hot milk with hazelnut spread instead of cocoa powder, and topping the drink with cinnamon whipped cream.

Tree-trimming party: This is an especially fun way to host your kids’ grandparents or other relatives. Set up your holiday tree in advance and add lights. Invite guests to help apply the ornaments or to watch admiringly as your kids deck out the tree. Your guests will love hearing background stories about each of your ornaments, and at the end of the evening, a big holiday task will be done!

The easy setup: No extra decorating is required for this party—the tree is the centerpiece! For the menu, offer finger foods like appetizers you can buy frozen at a warehouse club, or cut up your favorite take-out pizza into bite-size squares and place them on an attractive cutting board. You might also pick up Sea Salt or Asiago Cheese Focaccia at Panera Bread to slice and set out in baskets alongside dips or spreads.