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Last-Minute Guests? Here’s How to Throw Together a Holiday Party in Under Two Hours

The winter holidays are ruled by family dinners and large, pre-planned bashes, but it’s also often a time when your friends are feeling festive and looking for a good time. If you volunteer to host a last-minute holiday party at your place, you don’t have to spend a fortune or even spend more than a couple hours pulling things together. Here are our favorite tips for hosting a holiday party using only things from your usual grocery store or shops around town — and on a seriously small budget.

Secure the booze situation. If you and your friends like to have a drink (or a few), this should be your first errand. Run to the closest wine or liquor store and pick up only the essentials; this isn’t the time to try out that fancy new cocktail recipe or make a batch of homemade egg nog. Instead, grab a couple bottles of wine or a couple six-packs of seasonal brews if your friends are into beer. Total: Around $30 

Put together a fancy antipasto board. A antipasto board makes a visual impact, feeds a lot of people and costs a whole lot less than preparing a whole meal. We recommend heading to Trader Joe’s and going wild in their cheese section. Start with a soft cheese, like the Goat Milk Brie (~$3), and then add something unique and memorable the Creamy Toscana Soaked in Syrah (~$6). Next, add some colorful additions like jarred roasted red peppers (~$2) and olives. (~$4).  Finish with a sliced baguette (~$2) and thinly shaved prosciutto (~$5). If you need encouragement, head to our friends Allegheny Wine Mixer for a test run. Total: Around $21 

Create a playlist. In between shopping and prepping your place, take a few minutes to make a Spotify playlist to fill in any awkward silences and make things feel festive as soon as guests arrive. Mix in a few classic Christmas songs with some modern pop versions (we’re loving Sia’s entire holiday album, especially “Puppies Are Forever”), or if you’re already sick of the holiday music, just search for a classical music playlist to keep things classy. Total: free!

Add some festive flair. If your place is already elaborately decorated for the holidays, then you’re already done, you go-getter! In reality, most of us would like to add a bit more cheer for a last-minute get-together. Hit a local floral shop like Roxanne’s Dried Flowers for some loose foliage to display around the table or on a mantle, such as fresh, fragrant eucalyptus ($9). Then, pick up a couple extra packs of twinkly lights (~$2/100-bulb string of lights at Target), which are perfect when you want to turn the lights down low and crank up the holiday music. Total: Around $11

Bonus: Make a hot chocolate bar. You could just stop there, but if you’re feeling a little bit extra this holiday season, go big and lay out a hot chocolate bar for dessert. This type of DIY warm drink station makes a big statement without costing much at all: make a big batch of hot chocolate in your slow cooker using TJ’s organic hot cocoa mix ($3.29 per box), and then add toppings like whipped cream ($2.49), cinnamon (free if you have it at home), vanilla (also free if you have it), and TJ’s marshmallows (~$2.99). Total: Around $9

So, that’s it: all it really takes to have fun with good friends is a festive drink (if that’s your thing), something decadent to munch on, and a little bit of holiday cheer in the form of music and mood lighting. The grand total comes to just over $60 for the whole shebang if you decide to skip the hot chocolate bar, and around $70 if you decide to spring for something warm for your guests to sip on. Now, all you’ll need to do is scramble to clean up your place before guests arrive!

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