Ten Quick Tips for Throwing a Great Party as Illustrated by the 2015 Hooley

by | Mar 17, 2015 | It's Party Time, Liturgical Year, March, St. Patrick's Day | 18 comments

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Did I mention we throw a St. Patrick’s Day party? I DID? Once or twice?

Well, this year’s Hooley was last weekend, and it was our biggest. party. evah. A very fine time was had by all, I wish you could have been here. But, really, it’s your own fault for living so far away.

It got me thinking though, maybe you might want to throw your OWN party, and invite your friends and then maybe one of them would have a party and then someone they invite would have a party, and we’ll start a whole big thing. It’ll be great.

If you read this blog you know that we throw a lot of parties. My parents threw parties. My grandparents threw parties that are the stuff of LEGEND. Anyway, I come from a long line of party-throwers. In case you didn’t, while you’re enjoying the photos of the Hooley at the Tierneys’ 2015, I’ll share a few quick tips we’ve learned over the years.

1. Have a Gimmick

People are LOOKING for an excuse to celebrate. You just need to give it to them. As Catholics, we have literally hundreds of built in excuses to party right there in the liturgical calendar. There are the ones folks will be expecting, like, ya know, Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. Or you can go a bit more obscure and have a wine tasting for St. Vincent of Saragossa’s feast day on January 22nd or throw an outdoor picnic on May 28th for St. Bernard of Montjoux.
And the liturgical year isn’t the ONLY thing, of course, there are plenty of other holidays that need celebrating. You could pick Pie Day, or Pi Day, or Star Wars Day, or Hobbit Day. If you throw it, they will come.
Then, embrace your theme.
People have been coming to our Hooley long enough to know that we encourage all manner of hooliganism, including silly green clothing . . . 

2. And Something Memorable

Every year at the Hooley we have singing and carrying on . . .

Party guests (aka hooligans) come ready to sing or play an intrument.

And we’re lucky enough to know some folks with REAL talent, who’ll share it with us . . .

But it could be another tradition, like a white elephant party, or charades, or a pinata, just something that gets everyone involved.

3. Add Some Whimsy

First comes the theme, then come the decorations. Pinterest is always great for ideas. For a small party around here, it’s sometimes as simple as a centerpiece on the table, or a banner I print out on the computer. For birthday parties, I try to create a whole festive atmosphere. For the Hooley, I know I’m going to be able to use most of the decorations again, so I’ve been trying to add a few new things each year.

Stickers, cupcake toppers (actually two stickers stuck together on a toothpick), metal wallhanging printable prayer, napkins, and Irish folk lyric pillows are all from tinyprints. And *I* want to hug them too. So, so cute. All of it.

4. Don’t Give People Too Many Choices

Whether the party is big or small, less is more on choices. In my experience, too many choices is too much work for the hostess, makes for too many leftovers, and just isn’t necessary for guests. Even with a hundreds-of-people party like this one, we only had two choices for main dishes: corned beef sandwiches or chicken wings. For sides, there were potatoes, coleslaw, and a salad, plus fruit and jello. And a few snacks. That’s it.


5. Let Them Know What Everything Is

I always have little food tags printed up to tell people what each dish is (or a little menu if we’re having a sit down dinner). Because most people like to know what it is before they eat it. And some people have food allergies or aversions and can’t just take a taste to see what it is.
Food tags are also a way to have a little fun with the theme.

We had a separate kids’ table with a some kid-friendly choices, including Irish chicken o’nuggets, Noah’s animal crackers (no unicorns), and a pot of gold(-fish crackers).

6. Let People Help

This was the treat table. It got MUCH bigger as people brought things to share, and then was completely emptied at the end of the party.

Most people like to come to a party bearing a little something. For a big party, I usually ask people to bring appetizers or desserts, then those things are all taken care of and I don’t have to worry about them. For a dinner party, I’ll sometimes ask the other families to each bring one thing, like a salad or a vegetable, then I can concentrate on the main course.
And parties for us are a family affair, we ALL help with the cleaning and the baking and the decorating and the errands. Many hands makes for short work and all that.

7. Plan Ahead

I keep a schedule of what needs to happen when, that I’ve adjusted over the years to know what works for me. I send out invitations a month to a week in advance, depending on how big the party is. I order things that need to be ordered in advance like novelty sodas, and custom decorations, and deli corned beef. I clean the house the weekend before, which is really the only motivation that works for me to actually get my counters cleaned off. I do as much of the shopping as I can early in the week. I do all baking a few days in advance and freeze it, which works just fine. Then the day of the party we do the final cooking, tidying, decorating, and setting up.

8. Keep Good Notes

I keep a running note on my iPad (it used to be in a spiral notebook) about exactly how much food we went through and what worked and what didn’t at each party. Then, when I go to shop the next year, the first thing I see in the note is: “JUST BUY THIS. DON’T BUY OTHER FOOD OR YOU WILL HAVE TOO MUCH.” All in caps like that. Apparently, I have to yell at me to get me to listen.

8. Defense, Defense, Defense

One of the scariest things about throwing a party is worrying about what might happen to your home and belongings if you invite other people (and other people’s kids) into your home. What I’ve learned over many years and many parties, is to get really proactive about keeping messes and accidents from happening (as much as possible, anyway). We put ALL toys into the toy closet and then move the playroom couch in front of it. No access to toy bins means no toy bins get dumped. Kids can still get to our dress up box and the duplo bin, and that’s plenty for kids who don’t want to play outside. But mostly, I really, really want them to just play outside.

We set up a little craft table in the garage, in case the weather is chilly on the day of the party and we need something to keep kids occupied. On a lovely day like this year, it mostly doesn’t get used. But crafts will keep for next year.

9. They Don’t Have to Go Home, But They Can’t Stay Here

All good things must come to an end, right? Parties, too. About an hour before the party is “over,” I stop replenishing food, so that people will just finish up what’s on the table. I take empty serving dishes away, and, once the food starts to dwindle, people start to slowly head for the door.
If that didn’t work, I guess we’d have to sic Frankie on them.

I found him wandering around the party with what can ONLY be described as a shillelagh. I have no idea how he found it. But it’s mine now.

At the end of a party, especially a big one, I’ve learned to gratefully accept help as it’s offered, and I’m lucky enough to have some friends who can always be counted upon to do a a little tidying before they leave. For the Hooley, in particular, we also hire some help, to keep the food table full and the dishes done. That way I get to visit with my guests. But for smaller parties, I can keep up with it myself.

10. Finish What You Start

This technique works for me because I throw the kind of parties that are over and done by nine-thirty . . . but I always try to have the house back in order (at least eighty percent in order anyway) before we go to bed that night. I hate waking up to a mountain of dishes and paper plates and green river bottles covering the surfaces of the house.

And that’s that. That’s how we do it. Now you can, too.

For more on how we party, try . . .


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


  1. Valerie

    I wish I lived closer to you, and I don't even know you! What a fun time! You have made even an introvert like me want to throw a party 🙂 Happy St. Patrick's day!

  2. Amanda

    This is so awesome and I just want to live in LA. I suppose I could consider throwing a party myself. First I need to meet 200 people. But, um, this looks like SEVEN tips, not the ten I was promised.

    • Amanda

      I thought there were a lot, but then the last one was seven and I was confused 😉

  3. Amanda

    Okay if I ever finally get out to LA to visit my sister I am totally planning it around a party of yours and crashing your party 🙂 The Hooley looks like it was so much fun! (all your parties do actually) You seriously have a gift there.

    • Kendra

      Done. Consider this your official invitation for next year!

  4. Michelle

    When I first glanced at #2, I thought it said, "Add a Little Whiskey". Then I glanced at the Jameson pics and said to myself, "that certainly would make for a lively get together". 🙂

    • Michelle

      Oops! That was supposed to say #3. Mush brain strikes again.

    • Kendra

      It was the leprechauns. No, it was me, I messed with the numbers after you commented!

  5. Nanacamille

    The Hooley is an amazing party and we have been there for all of them and seen it grow from a few neighbors to a rousing 200+. This is due in large part to their friends continuing to have lots of kids which definitely grows the party. The advance planning really makes it go very smoothly and lots of help as it gets closer to party time. Good weather really helps as the kids love to play on all of the amazing outdoor activities that Grandad has built. Only the Zip Line was taken down but all else was ready for action. Kendra & Jim do an amazing job and MamaBet and Pop are smiling down from Heaven on you for keeping their party giving traditions alive and well. Well done!!!!!

  6. karen

    Very important question: how do you handle hand washing at big parties like this? My husband is very insistent that all kids wash hands before eating (he came from a small family, please forgive this fault, he is a wonderful person otherwise) and this poses a problem for parties. I suggested we install a nice sink and drinking fountain outside, even dress it up as part of a nice potting/gardening station. But he vetoed that so we have tons of kids trekking though the house to the downstairs bathroom. Looking for some ideas…

    • Kendra

      Unless the kids are going to be performing surgery on anyone at the party, hand washing isn't a priority for me. But I know other people feel strongly about it. I like the outdoor sink idea, but we we don't have one. We have two bathrooms in the living area of the house, and people just take turns using those if they choose to wash their hands. It hasn't ever seemed like a problem.

    • Unknown

      Kendra, I love to throw parties and mine are getting bigger…I do a lot of these things, but I admire your ability to write notes for the next one…very smart! In terms of things like hand washing, I've found that there are really some things I need to let go when there are a lot of people over. One reason is that it would stress me out too much to try to enforce the rule, and the second is that it might stress my guests out. Personally I would much prefer hands that aren't the cleanest over trekking all those dirty feet through my house to get to the sink. Part of throwing a party is making sure that people are enjoying themselves, and sometimes that means the rules get relaxed a little. I think that kids know when a certain event means there are exceptions and it shouldn't carry over. I personally never worry very much about handwashing in general, but I DO make sure my kids eat enough at meals…EXCEPT at parties. Aint nobody got time for that, and there's always the dessert table. 🙂 – Lauren

  7. karen

    Also, one very minor but hugely important thing that makes a party great? Get ready… access to trash cans for rubbish.

    • Kendra

      Yes! That's absolutely true. We also label ours as trash and recycling, which saves SOME trouble afterwards when sorting for the trash pickup. Of course, we have a lot of non-readers at the party, so it's not a fail-safe system. 🙂

      I'm also not above announcing to all the kids at a party that they each need to go pick up five pieces of trash from the yard and bring it to me. That helps quite a bit.

  8. Jenny Cook

    I am very thankful that amazing party-givers like you are out there. I think it is safe to say it will never be my charism, but your parties will more than make up for the lack of parties which I will be contributing to the body of Christ. 😉

  9. Erin

    I was inspired by you Kendra, and we threw an awesome St. Patrick's Day party yesterday! We had people coming and going all day, and there was lots of festive food (even a green spinach cake, that didn't taste like spinach), and homemade decorations. But mostly it was just really great to have so much social time with people we've been wanting to get to know better since having moved to a new city. Thanks!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

If you’d like to learn more about what Catholics believe and why, and to be inspired by saints from every era all over the world, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of how to teach your kids about the faith in a way that’s true, engaging, and lasts a lifetime, we can help!

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