Holiday Party Hacks from an Expert Mixologist

Illustrations by Pauline de Roussy de Sales.

A Dinner Party Influencer Dishes Out Her Best Holiday Gathering Advice 

Probably planning my next dinner party. That’s the profile line for Mya Gelber’s popular TikTok account (she has almost 80k followers) where the New York-based twentysomething devotes the majority of her posts to chronicling her adventures (and, crucially, offering up advice) in dinner-party throwing. Something that, as the holiday approaches, we all tend to do more of. The holidays were always a big deal for Gelber’s family growing up: she’s from a Jewish/Catholic household and the celebrations went on for weeks. “My mother did a great job making both Christmas and Hanukkah exciting and she was always giving us little projects, which is probably where I get my love of crafting from,” says Gelber. For her, the two essentials for a killer dinner party any time of year are simple: good food and a good soundtrack. Here, Gelber shares her five favorite hacks for making holiday dinner-party throwing a breeze. 

Don’t Let the Host Do the Most

A tradition in Gelber’s childhood home, and now as an adult, is that everyone pitches in. “Whether I’m with my real family or my chosen one, everyone is helping in some way,” she says. “It takes the pressure off one person and makes the prep a fun part of the gathering.” 

Forego Flowers

“Bouquets tend to be where people spend a lot of money, but especially if you’re on a budget or a time crunch, you don’t need them,” says Gelber. In the fall, she’ll collect and scatter leaves across the table and in the colder months some simple fallen branches arranged in a vase or jar you already own is a chic nod to the winter landscape. “Or bake orange and lemon slices until they’re dried out then thread them together with a needle and lay them across the table,” suggests Gelber. 

Try a Stand-in for the Tablecloth and Candles

“When it comes to setting the table, just use whatever you have,” says Gelber, who eschews buying décor specific to a season because it’s wasteful and, in her mind, unnecessary. Instead of buying tablecloths, she often uses the top sheets that never make it onto her bed (for those unaware, many millennials and GenZers don’t use a flat sheet). “Just wash them, and cut off the edges,” says Gelber, who has also had curtains stand in for tablecloths. Lighting matters too. And since fancy candle holders are tempting, but out of budget for many, Gelber prefers to stock up on affordable tea lights then arranging a bunch on plates and lining them up down the center of the table. 

Make the Meal a One-and-done Effort

One side of Gelber’s family is from Mexico and her most beloved holiday food memory is the sauteed garlic butter shrimp they would all dig into on Christmas eve. That it was simple, comforting, and shareable are the key elements, in Gelber’s mind, of an ideal dinner-party meal. “Yummy, cozy food that’s not too fancy and that’s easy to eat is essential.” Her go-to recipe that hits all those marks is a whole roast chicken: it’s less expensive than buying individual parts (one will usually feed six people) and all you need to make it taste great are things you already have in your kitchen (butter, garlic, salt and pepper; extra herbs are optional). “It looks impressive, it tastes impressive, but it’s easy,” she adds. 

Be Mindful of the Music

Every dinner party needs a great soundtrack, one that bolsters the celebratory vibe without overpowering. Gelber has a playlist (that she frequently updates) of Bossa Nova, jazz, and Latin guitar (“My mom always played Latin guitar when we were cooking and eating,” she says) that fits the bill. She advises that, when crafting your own, to consider cadence and volume: the beginning, when people are arriving and having an aperitif, should have more energy, then mellower during the meal, and back to something more upbeat for after-dinner drinks and card playing. “Also I always lower the volume when people are eating,” says Gelber. “I read somewhere that if the music is too loud you don’t enjoy your food as much.”

Fiorella is a writer, editor, creative, and brand consultant. She is a contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal, her writing has appeared in Vogue, Town & Country, Allure, and New York Magazine, among others; and she has worked with brands like Google, La Mer, and Madewell. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner, daughter, and dog.