Every December, thousands of people convince themselves that, because they have been to a holiday party, they are capable of hosting a holiday party.
Clicking through lifestyle blogs for hours on end, they quickly lose themselves in a world of fantastical gingerbread houses they will build for the children they do not have and adorable penguin-themed appetizers they will make with the olives they do not like.
Then they look up and realize the party is tomorrow and they have no idea how to host it.
So they email Gawker with questions like: How can I trick people into stocking my party for me?
Option 1: Potluck
If you're hoping to get stupid full at this party, you should plan to have a potluck. Some people will tell you that if you include any structure at all, you will have violated the free-flowing "ya pays your dime and ya takes your chance" aspect of the potluck. Guess what? These dumb advice-dropping buttinskys are not invited to your potluck. Only I am. A potluck for two! And I'm bringing water.
If you give people free reign to bring whatever to your potluck, they will turn into wild animals. By this, I mean that they will bring only plants (salads, wild grasses, etc.) because plants are the easiest thing to catch. A potluck of 10 salads is no party at all.
A better plan is to give your guests a rough outline of the kind of spread you would like to have, while still leaving them enough wiggle room to feel like they are sentient beings possessed of free will rather than papier-mâché puppets who dance and cook for you in a ghoulish yuletide display. A week (minimum) before the potluck, send your guests a list of suggested courses, and the number of each you would like. (Hint: Do not offer more slots than you have guests. If you would like 20 desserts but are only inviting 10 people, best case scenario is that you get 9 desserts and one salad. Someone will always bring salad.)
Try posting a sign-up sheet (somewhere public, like the Internet) along the lines of this:
Appetizers / "Stars of Bethlehem Leading the Way to the Meal" (2)
Main Dish / "Y-umoja" (1)
Desserts / "Death of the First Borns…By Chocolate!" (3)
Alcohol / "Wassails" (90)
A bonus feature of the sign-up sheet method is that it allows guests to see who else is coming to your party because if Jessica's coming I'm not coming.
Option 2: Seasonal Snack Attack
Maybe you've taken it upon yourself to provide a meal or are hosting your party at a late enough hour that people will have already eaten dinner. (NOTE: If you are hosting your party around dinner time and don't plan on providing food, be sure to tell guests explicitly when you invite them so that they know to "grab a bite beforehand" aka "boycott your party in protest.")
In this case, maybe all you're hoping for is a few little nibblins to be passed around the room like a Christmas ho ho ho.
If you think some snacks would be nice, but are confident that (worst case scenario) your guests could make do with what you've got, say something like "We'll have snacks but could always do with more!" (If this sounds too precious for your crew, throw a swear word in there, tough guy. "Fuckin' we'll have snacks but could always do with more!" "We'll have snacks but could always do with more, goddamn!" Something like that.)
If, on the other hand, you are absotively positutely counting on these snacks, you'll have to be direct. There is no "encouraged." There is no "appreciated." There are no survivors. "Please bring a dessert to share," should do the trick. People subconsciously love a firm hand on party invites, because it makes them feel like a mom is planning it.
Option 3: Literally All I Want Is Alcohol, I Don't Even Care If It's Good Quality Alcohol
Wow, you are an alcoholic. But I bet your party will be fun! Or tragic. You have it the easiest of all the supply requesters, because anyone with manners was probably planning on bringing some form of alcohol ("Your finest wine, Trader Joe!") to your home already.
If you want to be gauche about it, you can write on the invitation that your party is BYOB. Also note that your home is a cash-only establishment, that there is a plate-sharing charge, and that the delivery fee does not count as a tip for the driver.
A more tactful variation on the BYO theme is "We'll have some booze, but everyone is encouraged to bring something they like." This wording tricks people into assuming you will only have drinks that they don't like. They will probably feel like they're getting away with murder, sneaking a bottle of high quality liquor into your home, which has a strict Drinks They Don't Like alcohol policy – little do they know, you are the coldhearted Jepetto pulling the strings.
If you want to come off like a regular Mr. Monopoly, make it sound like what, who cares, sure I'll take some hooch if you're giving it away, but, don't worry, baby, daddy's gonna take care of you. A line like "Libations provided, but donations welcome," works well for this.
Don't Front; Be Up Front
The best gift you can give your guests this holiday season is a real, tangible gift that they can hold up and admire and wonder the price of. Another cool thing you can give them is a holiday party invite makes clear your expectations of your party and your guests. Even if you're a show-up late, go with the flow kind of Owen Wilson, Christmas is not a time for Mystery and you still need to tell people what's up.
Is the only rule that there are no rules? Technically that's a rule, and you should let people know.
Image by Jim Cooke.