The Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Holiday Entertaining

Hosting your friends and family at home this season? It’s a hefty task — one that could make even an expert party-thrower fret — but we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find tips and tricks on flowers, decor and everything else you need to ensure your celebration impresses everyone on your guest list.

Make Your Tablescape The Focal Point

home holiday entertaining

Holiday entertaining essentials: Misette x Agua by Agua Bendita hand-painted taper candle, $120 for four, available by special order at Kirna Zabête (Bryn Mawr). House of Hackney Menagerie Lion taper holder, $48 each at Anthropologie (Rittenhouse). Deviled-eggs platter and matching­ trays, $400 (made to order), all by Stephanie Trowbridge (South Jersey).­ Tenmoku everyday plates, from $42 each, and Persimmon snack plates, from $34 each, both by Felt+Fat. Gray Sinclair linen table runner, $30, and Ivy napkins, $37.50 for four, both by Blüm (Ridley­ Park). Shot on location at Reform on the Reykjavik daybed table by Skagerak. / Photograph by Courtney Apple


Create a welcoming setting by grounding pops of color and statement-making pieces with neutral linens.

Layer in items you already have. Mix and match your glasses, says Rasheeda Gray, founder and principal designer of Elkins Park-based Gray Space Interiors. Start with the color family or a pattern — or borrow from a friend. “Make the party special by asking each person to bring some favorite pieces.”

Bring the outdoors in. Pluck greenery and branches from your backyard — but remember to trim and debug first, advises Gray.

Or Have Someone Else Set the Scene

home holiday entertaining

Photograph courtesy of Citrine

Kensington-based Citrine is at your service with dinner-party-ready tablescapes. The year-old company lets you rent pieces or a full spread from a colorful collection (everything from chargers to drinkware to napkins) for pickup or delivery. For an extra fee, owner Alex Cahanap will style and set up, too. But the real clincher: You don’t even need to do the dishes at the end of the night — just give them a rinse and send them on their way.

Have a Few Well-Placed Florals

Floral arrangement by Flower Clvb. Shot on location at Reform on the Reykjavik daybed table by Skagerak / Photograph by Kristen Schott

University City florist Grace McDonald of Flower Clvb helps your party bloom.

For your arrangements: A large compote arrangement plus a few bud vases filled with seasonal blooms (a balanced mix of focals and textured elements) will make your event feel elevated. Too many neutrals will get overlooked, so incorporate color, and think how your florals will look in candlelight.

For a cocktail party: Place an arrangement with height and dimension on the appetizer table or bar for visual interest.

For a dinner party: Set a large arrangement in a place where people will gather before the meal, but fill the table with bud vases and candles so guests can converse.

Set the Vibes

Shot on location at Reform on the stainless steel countertop by Reform / Photograph by Courtney Apple

Serve a Specialty Cocktail

Crafting a cocktail that captures the party’s vibe but doesn’t have you playing bartender all night is a delicate balance. Danny Childs, foraging ethnobotanist and author of the new botanical-focused cocktail book Slow Drinks, recommends making punch. Start with an ingredient that offers a snapshot of the season. “In the fall, my mind immediately goes to apples,” Childs says, adding that his Farm and Fish House Punch is a great go-to for home entertainment. The aromatically spiced apple punch nods to the historic Philadelphia Fish House Punch served at Colonial-era parties.

But Don’t Skimp on the Wine

Pop by Tulip Pasta & Wine Bar in Fishtown for a few bottles of Wayvine’s 2022 sparkling pét-nat riesling to-go. Made in Chester County, the wine has a natural bubble, offers notes of peach, guava and green apple, and is an obvious way to kick off the party.

Turn Up the Mood Music

Ideal dinner-party music “adds liveliness and variety without drawing attention to itself,” says Marc Faletti, owner of East Passyunk record store Latchkey. With that in mind, he notes that “albums at the intersection of hip-hop and R&B work wonders.” Try the Fugees’ The Score or artists like Jill Scott and Anderson Paak. For cool-formal, he suggests putting on some trip-hop, like Portishead. And for formal-formal, snag some Brazilian samba from João Gilberto. Eating on a breezy roof? Taylor, Prince or Rihanna will delight. Need to impress the cool kids? Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly will garner knowing nods of approval.

Don’t Forget the Little Details

home entertaining

Shot on location at Reform on the Reykjavik daybed table by Skagerak / Photograph by Courtney Apple

The Host Gift: The Art of the Flower: A Photographic Collection of Iconic Floral Installations by Celebrity Florist Jeff Leatham, $50 at the Spa at Four Seasons Philadelphia (Center City).

The Scents Appeal: Dilo Philly Black Currant & Fig candle, $24 at Toile Custom Atelier (Fishtown).

The Sweet Goodbye: Good Good Chocolates S’mores bonbons, $14 at Salt & Vinegar (Bella Vista).

Make the Kids’ Table the Envy of the Adults

home holiday entertaining

Holiday entertaining for the kids: Prize-filled “crackers” aren’t just for Christmas. / Photograph by Karen Laårk Boshoff

Sammi Bateman of Merrygold Shop and Wallflower Paper & Party Shop in Queen Village says your first step should be to create an “entertaining place setting that makes kids look forward to sitting down.” Here’s how.

Have fun with paper placemats and runners. Put sheets of holiday-themed stickers under each child’s plate and a few colored pencils or crayons on the table. It’ll keep the kids busy during the meal.

Place surprise balls at each setting. They’re stuffed with toys and serve a purpose: “Add a personalized touch by tying a bow with a child’s name onto each surprise ball, to help them find their seats.”

Don’t forget prize-filled “crackers.” Not just for Christmas, these snappable tubes now come in so many styles. “My favorite times to open them are after dinner and before dessert,” says Bateman.


Published as “House Party!” in the November 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.