Throw a Last-Minute Holiday Party with These Simple Decorating Tips

Ballard Designs Mixed Cedar Garland Holiday Table Setting for Coastal Design Magazine

Low-hassle hacks to amp up your holiday house in no time

If you’re like me, you’re always up for a fun soiree around the holidays, but you can’t be bothered with laborious planning and decorating. It’s actually simple to pull together an impromptu holiday gathering if you’re not afraid to ask guests for help with food and beverage items. As for decorations, here are a few low-hassle hacks that will help amp up the atmosphere of your holiday house in no time.

1. Borrow from nature

Outdoor birch and winterberry planter from House of Hawthorne and vintage milk can planter from Painted Hinge
Photos courtesy of House of Hawthorne and Painted Hinge

Outdoor birch and winterberry planter from House of Hawthorne and vintage milk can planter from Painted Hinge.

Do your planters look sad after autumn? Not to fret. Collect these items from your natural surroundings and revive your pots in just a few minutes:  2-3 birch branches, winterberry (or other berry), cedar, juniper, fur, and/or evergreen branches. Before the first hard freeze, insert all of the above into the soil, and voila. Always take pets into consideration when decorating your home with berries and branches. There is mistletoe in the milk can planter pictured on the right, which can be poisonous if eaten by your cat or dog, so keep your four-legged friends away.

Keeping Spirits Bright:  My favorite holiday hack last year was purchasing several strings of cordless lights on Amazon. I initially purchased “soft white” fairy lights, which rendered blue and needed to be cast aside. The color does make a difference. I settled on a warmer “gold” color and wound up using these strings everywhere—on my mantel, in planters, railing garland, and inside hurricane holders and vases. Most sets come with remotes.

2. Create a focal point

Faux Wood Wallpaper Over Holiday Mantel

This faux wallpaper treatment emulates the real thing without the need to hire a contractor. Twig and Buck wallpaper from Target.

If you don’t have a dramatic floor-to-ceiling masonry treatment over your fireplace, try removable wallpapers to get the same effect. Today’s easy wallpaper treatments come in faux brick, wood, and patterned motifs. Create an accent wall in the foyer, over the mantel, or in the powder room. The papers are available at paint and wallpaper stores, department stores, and online. Add holiday flair with layers of cordless fairy lights.

3. Spark it up

Crate and Barrel Hurricane Lamps for Quick and Easy Holiday Decorating
Photo courtesy of Crate and Barrel

A simple tray of candles lends holiday cheer to any room. Pictured are Crate and Barrel’s London Narrow Clear Hurricane Candle Holders.

My favorite “no fuss” décor trick is throwing together a tray of candles. Grab a wood or mirrored tray from your collection and add glass votive candle holders, pine cones, tree ornaments, and berry sprigs. Small fruits such as kumquats and cherries add a natural element. With a quick strike of a match, your guests will be feeling the festive vibe before you can crank up “Silver Bells.” These glowing trays also look pretty on a bathroom vanity.

4. Spread the joy

Simplify Holiday Decor with Ballard Designs’ Wintery Cedar Petite Wreath on the Back of White Dining Chairs
Photo courtesy of Ballard Desigs

Ballard Designs’ Wintery Cedar Petite wreath adorns the back of each dining room chair. Mini wreaths can also be found in hobby stores.

Hang wreaths in different spots throughout the house. Windows, mirrors, and walls all make spontaneous locations for wreaths (and garland too). Try tucking holiday greeting cards or old photos into the branches of larger ones. Mini wreaths look great on the backs of dining room chairs. The “flocking” effect on the wreath pictured above can be easily achieved with white spray paint. Check out this video on YouTube for tips.

5. Repurpose your mason jars from last summer

Simple Decorative Holiday Mason Jars with Cranberries, Cedar Garland and Fake Snow
Photos courtesy of and HGTV

Cranberry Mason Jar Centerpiece from  and Glitter Mason Jar from HGTV.

I love this simple cranberry centerpiece from blogger Tanya of Dan’s Le Lakehouse (pictured left). She filled mason jars one third of the way with artificial snow, added cranberries, and then topped with pieces of cedar garland and holly. Other jars contain only snow and tea lights. Epsom salt can be used in place of artificial snow. Lining the insides of a mason jar with glitter (with brushed on glue) is another easy way to create candle holders fit for tabletops (as shown above right).

Deck the Halls:  If you can’t find certain greens in your backyard (or, ahem, your neighbor’s), just visit your nearby nursery and purchase several feet of your favorite greenery. You can use it throughout the house. Sprigs in napkin rings tied with twine are fun and festive—while branch cuttings tucked into vases, tin buckets, and baskets are an easy trick. So is supplementing fresh cuttings with faux greens.

6. Enlist the kids’ help

Easy Last-Minute Holiday Decorating: Wall and Door Holiday Decals
Photos courtesy of East Coast Vinyl Decals and Home-Décor.Live.

From left: door greetings from East Coast Vinyl Decals and snowflake clings from Home-Décor.Live.

Keep the kids occupied while you’re stocking the bar and prepping for the party. Let them apply sparkling snowflakes and greetings to windows, mirrors, doors, or even walls. Removable window and door clings are available online and in hobby stores. The kids can create a winter wonderland and proudly say they contributed to the holiday décor.

7. Tie it all together at the table

holiday tablescape for a last-minute holiday decorating idea

For this table setting, Ballard Designs laid garland the length of the table and layered in a string of small ornaments.

Create a dramatic tablescape by using what you’ve got. Strew greens on the table (fresh or faux), layer in ornaments and fairy lights then, mix in fun decorative collectibles you already have on hand. Gold chargers, candle holders, and tableware are coming back in a huge way. Don’t be afraid to intermingle these metallics with your silver accents. I love these leopard print plates from Ballard Designs; team them with a few gold-accented accessories and neutral table linens to recreate this look.

Create Ambiance in an Instant Using Your Five Senses

Sight – Lower your dimmer switches and have your best lighter handy. Ignite as many candles as you can possibly find.  Beverly Bees in Beverly, Massachusetts, makes pure beeswax candles that burn brighter and cleaner and purify the air. Their pine cone, tree, and star designs are a great choice for the holidays.


Sound – Nothing says party like good music. Before the guests arrive, set your phone to one of these holiday music channels: Charlie Brown Christmas (Pandora), Indie Christmas (Amazon Music), and Rock Christmas (Spotify) . . . in that order.


Scent – A holiday hack I’ve been using for years is leaving a pot of hot mulled cider on the stove. Not only will you have a tasty “virgin” drink to offer guests, but the aroma will entrance even the grumpiest of guests. Add a few spices to pan of apple cider. To serve, garnish each glass with a cinnamon stick. For the recipe, go to


White Chocolate Snowflake Martini from Lulu's Fashion Lounge

Taste – A White Chocolate Snowflake martini from Lulu’s Fashion Lounge is just the thing to create a buzz—literally.  Our annual family Yankee swap became quite boisterous last year after a few of our guests imbibed on this sweet and creamy treat.


Touch – Fluffy pillows, stockings, throw rugs and blankets will cozy up your entertaining space nicely. The more faux furs, tartans, golds, silvers, and reds you can display, the better. I hang my plaid curtains in the living room and dining room in December and leave a basket of fuzzy slippers by the door for guests.


Writer, Maureen Ryan Thorpe

Maureen Ryan Thorpe is a freelance writer who grew up on the North Shore of Boston and has written about people, places, and technology for years. She aims to impart tips to readers on how to “do-it-yourself,” save money, think creatively, and live life to the fullest.

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