The holidays are filled with love, laughter and parties. If you’re hosting, here are some ideas…

If you love to entertain, this is your season. The lights, the music, the hearth, the warmth – it’s the perfect setting to host a holiday party with panache! So, we’ve gathered some ideas and resources to help you plan and host a party that your friends will rave about for years.

First, you’ll need to decide between a dinner party and a cocktail party, and there are advantages to both.

Dinner Party

If you want to truly impress your friends, host a dinner party. If hiring a caterer to prepare and serve the meal isn’t an option, plan a menu consisting mostly of dishes that can be made ahead of time. This is an absolute must if you want to spend any time with your guests! Real Simple offers some delicious suggestions here.

The dining table is where your guests will spend the most time, so make sure it reflect your taste and unique style. The way you set and present the table contributes to the dinner party’s ambiance as much as the food and wine you serve. So, this is an occasion for your best dinner and tableware. And remember, elegant dinner parties deserve elegant napkins, so leave the Vanity Fairs® in the pantry. Linen or cloth napkins are a must, so find your starch and fire up the iron! And of course, a lovely holiday centerpiece is the main focal point of the table. Just make sure it doesn’t block the view across the table. Or be a gracious host and move it to a nearby credenza during dinner. People will remember conversations more than your centerpiece, no matter how delightful.

Cocktail Party

If you want to host a party that’s just as amazing, but without the formality of a sit-down dinner, a cocktail party is the way to go. We’d recommend the same approach as a dinner party, but just without the sit-down dinner. Instead, serve a variety of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres in a central place – your island or dining table, and don’t forget the centerpiece and cloth napkins! You’ll still want to prepare as many dishes ahead of time as possible – Food and Wine has some great ideas here.

The Libation Station

Whether you host a dinner or cocktail party, if your guests drink, you’ll want to designate a bar area. Stock it with plenty of libations – cocktails, wine, beer – and don’t forget the eggnog! Location is important too, since second only to the allure of the fireplace, the bar area is where people tend to gather and mingle the most. Make sure the bar is located in an open, accessible area.

The Kid Zone

If your guests have children, be a gracious host and invite them too. They won’t notice (or care about) your fine linens or carefully folded napkins, so set up a kids’ table nearby covered with big sheets of paper and stocked with crayons and holiday-themed coloring books, paper plates and plasticware. Serve them fun kid food, like macaroni and cheese and mini hot dogs.

After dinner, there are a few ways to keep the kids busy. A great choice is to hire a babysitter to keep them entertained downstairs or in a rec room. You can also designate a room in your home as “The Kid Zone” and set it up with movies, games, coloring books, and toys. Your movies and toys will be new to them, so they will be entertained long enough for their parents to enjoy some uninterrupted (or nearly uninterrupted) adult food, drinks, and conversation.

Final Touches

Whether you are hosting a dinner or cocktail party, the importance of illumination can’t be understated. Especially during the holiday season, light and fire conveys warmth and creates an inviting space. Invest in good quality taper candles for the dinner or buffet table, mix pillar or tea light candles with your décor, and keep the Heat & Glo burning all through the party.

And last but certainly not least, perhaps the most important final touch of all – your smile! Really, the best thing you can do as a host or hostess is to keep the mood light and put your guests at ease. So put on a happy face and enjoy the evening (even if you burn the crème brulee)!

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