Whether you’re conscious of it or not, the way a room looks has an impact on you,’ says Sally Cullen, an event stylist who has been in the business for 20 years. Cullen’s job involves styling for photoshoots and events, so she’s perfectly positioned to offer up tips on planning a faultless Christmas shindig. Her advice for nervous event planners? ‘Really think about who your guests are and what you’re trying to achieve. It’s about creating a space that people respond to in a positive way.’
This year, you can expect to see lots more natural materials at parties, spurred on by the renewed global interest in sustainability. ‘I’ve definitely noticed a move away from artificiality into natural materials,’ says Cullen. ‘I’m seeing a lot more natural trees, garlands and wreaths, and lots of my clients now ask me about the provenance of things, such as the Christmas trees I’m using.’ Should parties be entirely dictated by trends, though? ‘It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. It might make sense for a Silicon Valley company to incorporate a piece of cutting-edge tech into their event, whereas a company with a rich heritage might prefer to go down the traditional route. It’s very important to think about what your guests will respond to.’
How to create a party atmosphere
The most important part of planning a Christmas party is making sure your event has mass appeal. In order to ensure everyone’s kept happy, Cullen recommends focusing on helping people to unwind. ‘Anything where you can make people feel relaxed is good – making sure lighting is kept fairly low, for instance, and ensuring the space is easy to access and that there are no diffcult spaces to get through.’ It might seem obvious, but food and drink are also of the utmost importance. ‘It’s essential to make sure that people are fed well and that they have access to drinks, whether alcoholic or not. Either provide long buffet tables or make sure there are lots of staff on hand to serve everyone – that normally keeps people happy.’ You can incorporate your theme into the food you serve too. ‘I think the two are really tied together. If you’re using lots of foliage, you could include micro herbs on the canapés, or if you’re going with a gold theme, there are plenty of edible gold options to add to sweet canapés. It’s nice to have some kind of correspondence between what people are eating and what they’re looking at.’
It’s not all about taste and sight, though: consider other senses too. ‘Smell is such a great way of igniting people’s emotions, so I always recommend using fragrance in some way,’ says Cullen. ‘You can have a scent like fir oil and it will feel like you’re in a pine forest, or something more subtle like cinnamon, so it feels as if you’re walking into a Christmas kitchen. Fragrance is often overlooked, but people find it really transports them away from the here and now.
How to make a great event on a budget
Not every company is blessed with mountains of cash to spend on a Christmas function, but a tight budget is no excuse for a bland party. Cullen recommends focusing on smaller details: ‘I’ve been using lots of balloon work recently, such as arches and clusters, as balloons are a relatively easy and inexpensive way to add impact to your event. Church candles or tea lights used en masse can also have a really huge impact, but obviously you have to be very safety conscious when using candles!’ Personal touches can go a long way too. ‘If you’re having a seated meal, everybody appreciates something handwritten, such as place names, and it’s nice to allocate budget to a gift or memento for everyone to take home. It’s a lovely extra that people aren’t expecting and it’s really nice when people have something to remember the evening by.’
Doing it for the ’gram
These days, it’s nigh on impossible to host an event without thinking how it will translate to Instagram, but be wary of gimmicks. ‘Whatever you choose needs to be relevant. It’s great if you can do something new and unexpected, but don’t do it for the sake of novelty.’ The same can be said for technology, with the rise of AR and VR at events. ‘I styled a Christmas event once where there was a labyrinth of lights at the entrance that you had to negotiate and the sequencing was changing all the time,’ says Cullen. ‘It was a great gimmick, but it ended up frustrating people. I think there’s a fine line between doing something that’s stimulating and just doing it for gimmick’s sake. There’s a temptation to use tech because it’s new and fascinating but the priority should be to ensure that it fits within the party.’
To theme or not to theme
Another dilemma is whether to pick a theme, and if so, should it be subtle or not? In Cullen’s eyes, you should go all in. ‘A loose theme isn’t helpful, especially when it comes to things like the dress code. If you’re going to theme it, make it clear to your suppliers – then everyone will have an idea of how to achieve that. Go bold or go home!’ However you choose to host your party, Cullen stresses one thing in particular: you really must enjoy it. ‘An event’s longevity is determined by the memories of the people who attend, so it’s important that you choose something that brings joy. It’s quite a bleak time politically and socially, so go hell for leather – this is Christmas, after all. And Christmas should be fun.’
3 Fail-safe Christmas party themes
Black and white
Keep things chic with a monochromatic dress code and muted decor.
Silvers and golds with plenty of sparkle will ensure a glamorous do.
Red and green
Stick to the classic and let your guests revel in old-school nostalgia.
Get the look
Knowing where to start when it comes to actually buying Christmas decorations can be overwhelming, we get it. With so many glittery baubles, glass ornaments and life-size reindeer statues it can be hard to stick to one theme properly.
We’ve tried to make your life as easy as possible by giving you some décor inspo to get things started, but if all else fails, just remember, stick to the theme.
Set of 40 Christmas Snowflake Paper Decorations
Why: Not only are these super easy to put up, but they also look like you’ve gone to a lot of effort. Unfold these babies and hang them above tables and on Christmas branches to give your event a stylish and fun feel. They work perfectly if you pick a black and white theme and they’re eco-friendly too. Win win.
How much: £88 per pack
More info: notonthehighstreet.com
Personalised Christmas decorations
Why: Instead of place cards why not gift everyone a personalised bauble instead? On top of looking great, they’re practical and work as nice table favours too. You can even personalise them to fit whichever theme you have chosen.
How much: From £3 each
More info: etsy.com
Georg Jensen Cobra Candelabra
Why: As mentioned earlier, candles have a big impact when used as table décor. Why not get a modern and chic candelabra to sit your candles in? Not only will it look festive on your table but it will look great in the office afterwards too.
How much: £145
More info: johnlewis.com
Waitrose Fine Wire Snowflake Lights
Why: Whether draped along the centre of the table, or hung around door frames, nothing says festive spirit quite like fairy lights. These cheap and cheerful lights will bring a nice ambiance to your event no matter where you decide to put them.
How much: £4 per pack
More info: waitrose.com
Harrods Wicker Reindeer Light
Why: Not quite a life-size reindeer, but very close and very impressive, this wicker reindeer will look great sat next to a Christmas tree or at the side of the dance floor. A few of these dotted around the party are sure to impress guests and will look great on Instagram too.
How much: £95.00
More info: harrods.com
With thanks to Sally Cullen
Now you've got your decorations sorted, take a look at our round up of the best goody bag treats.