This is actually a good thing though, because its a low pressure way to experiment with different techniques while not worrying about actually
Shooting social gatherings is actually quite similar to shooting wedding receptions (at least in my mind anyways). They are fast paced, there are a few folks around feeling better than you (cough, cough, bourbon and coke) and there are generally a lot of people moving about and having a good time. Now since you're a photographer and they expect you to get some really tasty shots of everyone in attendance, what do you do?
Since a lot of parties are usually indoors this time of year (at least in my neck of the woods ...its freezing out!) you're going to need some good light and its probably pretty clear to you that setting lights up on stands is not a good idea with this type of crew. If you have one of those new cameras with high ISO, then you might get away with shooting natural light, but you're still running a risk on some blurry images and not enough depth of field. You could always use direct, on camera flash ...but you're better than that!
Increasingly, my favorite technique for these kinds of scenarios is using the flash on camera, but bouncing the flash off nearby walls. If you aren't already doing this, you might be surprised at what a nice quality of light you can get, and you can just about always bet there's going to be a white wall or door in someone's house or in a worse case scenario, a white ceiling. Even beige or gray colors can work and it takes little to no effort to park someone close to a wall, point the flash away from them and towards that wall and voila, you get big, soft, directional light!
I hope you try this out during the next holiday party you go to. You'll be surprised at how easy this is, and your friends will love the "professional" looking portraits you cranked out for them with little to no effort.
If anybody has any questions about these shots or how I took them, please feel free to ask. If I don't know the answer, I can always Google it! :)