No. 1 Centerpiece
The centerpiece is one of the first things that your guests will see as they enter the dining area. But it doesn’t have to be overly ornate, with tons of exotic flowers, to be the center of attention. Budded twigs can have just as much impact while keeping the room modern and festive. Centerpiece by Crimson & Clover Floral Design. Desserts by Patisserie Poupon. Floor courtesy of FLOR. Dining table ($725) at Su Casa. Retro-accent white chairs ($164.58/set of two) at Overstock.com.
No. 2 A Dish Best Served . . .
Using a Mason jar to serve your desserts will show off the many decadent layers of its sweet goodness. For those who want to save some for later, the jar also comes equipped with an airtight lid, making it easy to transport from one home to the next. White chocolate ganache, chocolate ganache, and chocolate mousse dessert by The Desert Café. GET THE RECIPE >>
No. 3 DIY Rosette Necklace
With just a small amount of fabric, a chain, and a clasp, you can create your own piece of statement jewelry. Show it off at your own party, or make a few extras to give as gifts. Be creative with the color choices and patterns. Fabric yo-yo flower necklace ($25) at Whoop. GET THE INSTRUCTIONS >>
No. 4 Room Service
“Mi casa es su casa” is usually the motto when having guests over, especially if they are out-of-towners staying for a few nights. Visiting a one-stop shop like Phina’s for the Home will help you create a basket full of all of the essentials like towels, lotion, robe, and body wash.
No. 5 Flights of Fancy
A good way of making sure everyone gets to taste some of your favorite beer and wine offerings is to serve them as flights. Be sure to mark them and give a few descriptive words on each to guide your guests through each sip.
No. 6 Great Plates
The presentation of the food can be almost as important as the taste. Using a mix of colors and patterns can add personality to the already flavorful and festive food being served. Hand-painted patterned plate ($14) at Sweet Elizabeth Jane. Emerald salad plate ($13) at Trohv. Tuscan green-and-blue flower salad plate ($2.99) at Target.
No. 7 Snail Mail
Nothing tops the good old-fashioned route of handwriting a special personal message or invite. Jubilee holiday cards ($5/set of six) at Gilah Press + Design.
No. 8 Goodies To Go
Using holiday stamps on an ordinary muslin bag can be a great way to hold any small gift (like an ornament) that you can send home with your guests to remember the night. Jubilee sear ornaments ($6.95/each) at Trohv.
No. 9 Go Retro
Remind everyone of Grandma’s famous chocolate cake, or even of the time Great-Aunt Mary ran away to join the circus. Whether reminiscing or creating new memories, a simple vintage object can get people talking. Peony portrait domed cake stand ($148) at Anthropologie.
No. 10 Make A New Dish
Sure, you know how to make your mom’s famous sweet-potato casserole by heart, but it’s always good to add a new dish to the menu. Who knows? This could be the year that you finally impress your mother-in-law. Book ($35) at The Ivy Bookshop.
No. 11 We Like It A Latte
Pouring steamed milk over espresso can make the loveliest of images like hearts, leaves, and other fun shapes. Visit your favorite barista (or baristo) for some tips. Latte art by Artifact Coffee.
No. 12 Raise The Bar
What better snack to share on a chilly winter’s night than fresh-popped popcorn? With just a few added ingredients, turn ordinary kernels into something a little more gourmet. For that sweet tooth, try marshmallows, caramel, and raw sugar. If you want to add the salty flavors, use truffle oil, parsley, and nuts. If you are craving both, try using sea salt, chocolate sauce, and chocolate pretzel pieces. With so many endless options, be sure to keep track of everyone’s special creation by jotting down the recipes on personalized bags.
No. 13 Treat Yourself
The ham and turkey aren’t the only things to prepare before the big event. In order to be the most-jovial hostess possible, you want to feel your best. This may include a full day of massages, facials, and peels. Get into the holiday spirit by trying a spa treatment like a Pore-fection Pumpkin Facial ($150/50minutes) at Spa at the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, where ingredients like steamed milk and shea sugar end up on your skin and not in the mixing bowl. Book your post-party appointment in advance—four months of celebrating can wear out even the most seasoned entertainer.
No. 14 Pretty Party Dress
Whether you’re the hostess or the guest, what you wear is, of course, one of the most important decisions of the night. Don’t be afraid to pull out the glitz and the glam. Layering is key. Be sure to choose a dress that is not only stylish and comfortable, but can be paired with a jacket or wrap in case it gets chilly. Milly “Aviana” beaded dress ($395) at Cupcake. Alexis Bittar cuff ($400) at Treasure House Accessories. Delman “Cheri” pumps ($395) at The Little Shoebox.
No. 15 Get in the Games
Hate when your party splinters off into small groups? Games are a great way to promote togetherness. With “White Elephant,” you can exchange gifts even with virtual strangers. In this game, everyone brings a fun gift (something inexpensive), draws a number, and collects a present. (Technically, you can draw your own gift, but what’s the fun in that?) As for the kids? Fill a clear jar with holiday ornaments of all shapes and sizes and have them guess the exact number (prizes encouraged!). For those cinema buffs, turn an ordinary round of trivia into a holiday-movie-themed game, touching on classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and more modern flicks like Elf.
No. 16 Make A Toast
Using a variety of colorful glasses can serve several purposes when hosting a party. With enough variety, you can assign a guest his or her own special glass. Or, if you want to make sure the drink type matches the glass, then stock up on wine (both red and white) and martini glasses, along with highball and double old-fashioned glasses. Mikasa glassware ($59-72/set of four) at Macy’s.
No. 17 Photo Ops
When snapping photos, not any old ’stache will do. You’re going to need a full, white fluffy beard, along with a red nose, and maybe some antlers. Holiday photo props ($14.95) at Paper Source
No. 18 Jams!
For the breakfast spread, have a variety of fresh local jams to add to the great taste of those warm buttery croissants. Rare Opportunity Farm curry raisin jam ($6) at Atwater’s.
No. 19 Perfect Pairs
The marriage of beverage and food goes beyond white wine with fish and red wine with steak. You want the flavors to complement each other and not have one overpower the other. A double imperial IPA pairs nicely with main dishes like beef brisket and lamb, while porters go well with blackened fish and smoked foods. When putting the cheese plate out, think whiskey instead of wine. Spicy tasting whiskey (like High West double rye) is best sipped with strong cheese like Roquefort. Try sweeter whiskeys (like Blanton’s bourbon whiskey) with a softer cheese like Brie. Even dessert gets in on the act. For apple-based goodies, such as pies, go with a sweet Sauterne. Port wine can be a good mate for dark-chocolate cake and cookies.
No. 20 Make Brunch The New “Dinner”
Don’t limit yourself to just dinners—remember, there are at least three meal options for each day. We’re somewhat partial to brunch, where you can serve easy, but comforting, savory egg dishes like shrimp and grits, or decadent sweet-vanilla-crème-stuffed French toast. (Plus, mimosas!) Shrimp and grits by Teavolve Café and Lounge. GET THE RECIPE >>
No. 21 Make Your Own Wreath
Using live materials for a wreath is a sure way to have your door stand out. Succulents are great plants to withstand the weather and last for years with proper care. Each will be slightly different than the next, guaranteeing your wreath will be one-of-a-kind. 18-inch living succulent wreath ($250) by Petal and Print. Made by hand with local plants. Custom options of bows to complement your door color and style are available upon request.
No. 22 Aprons Galore
The problem with being the hostess is that you are often stuck in the kitchen for part, if not most, of the night. Protecting your party dress from flour, grease, and other kitchen messes can make you feel like you aren’t fitting in with the best-dressed crew at the party. With aprons just as decorative as any other fun frock, feel free to accessorize and color coordinate accordingly. Yellow lace apron ($34.95) at Sur La Table. Floral half apron ($26) at Nest. Halter apron ($37.99) at Sweet Elizabeth Jane.
No. 23 Yummy Treats
Although you probably don’t need a lot of convincing when it comes to dessert time, making them look as good as they taste is an added bonus. Assortment of miniature desserts by Pâtisserie Poupon.
No. 24 Paperless Post
We’ll always be partial to real stationery, but it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to send holiday invitations and cards via e-mail. The good news? Many of these invites can be just as beautiful—and meaningful—as the ones found in your mailbox. Several sites, such as paperlesspost.com, are free, super easy to navigate, and offer fun ways to personalize invites with photos and other cool designs and layouts. Guaranteeing you won’t leave out any of your 438 friends, sign up with your e-mail address or through Facebook to receive free alerts when important events arise.
No. 25 Petite Fleurs
Sprinkling small touches of live plants and flowers throughout the home will add more seasonal cheer. Groupings of different vases can add interest and variety. Recycle local products by checking your backyard for interesting yet simple pieces like pyracantha, twigs, and amaranthus. Flowers and plants by Fleur de Lis Florist.
No. 26 This Will Make Scents
A certain scent can take you back to a time of delight. Adding blue spruce refreshing oil to a scoop or two of dried berries can have your house smelling wonderful and memorable, while acting as a piece of décor. Berries ($5/scoop) at Trohv.
No. 27 Local Twist
Add a special element to the most iconic candy of the season by supporting third-generation local chocolatiers—Zoë’s Chocolate. This family-run business—made up of Zoë Tsoukatos and her brothers Pantelis and Petros—is located in Frederick. Since the early 1900s, their Greek ancestors have handcrafted the finest chocolates, and, in more recent years, the company has started making candy canes as well. Use the swirly sweet sticks as stocking stuffers or added to chocolate for peppermint bark. Candy canes ($18/six pack and $34/12 pack) at Zoë’s Chocolate.
No. 28 Cool Spools
What was once only used on plain white boxes, can now add color for wrapping presents, hanging ornaments, or tying name tags. Baker’s twine ($13/160-yard spool and $15/240-yard spool) at thebakerstwine.com.
No. 29 Kid’s Table
Sitting at the kiddie table should feel like getting an invite to a whole separate party. Let the little ones scribble on kraft paper with an endless supply of crayons. Decorate the table with illustrated plates, chalkboard name tags, and paper cutouts. With so much fun on the table, it’ll be a snap getting those little bellies filled with even healthy snacks like fruit and milk.
No. 30 Mixing it Up
If you ever wondered what made the Mojitos at Brewers Hill’s Blue Hill Tavern taste so delicious or gave Harbor East’s Vino Rosina’s martinis that extra oomph, the answer is infusions. Lemongrass-infused rum or apple-and-plum-infused vodkas are great ways to tap into your inner mixologist and experiment with different concoctions. Allow up to two weeks for the fruits, herbs, and spices to fully steep, depending on the strength of each ingredient. The vodka, rum, bourbon, or other spirit should be smooth, starting with a clean palate. Make sure you have an airtight jar, as you will need to shake it a few times to start out, as well as up to five times a day for the duration of the infusion.
No. 31 Paperchase
Making the adult table easy to clean up, yet stylish, can be challenging at times. Kitchen Papers offers many pretty illustrated paper items like placemats, coasters, “china” plates, and napkins, giving your real dishes a night off. With classic vintage designs, you don’t have to sacrifice the elegance of the table to cut cleaning corners at the end of the night. Kitchen Papers ($11-27) at Cake Vintage.
No. 32 Great Apps
The food before the food sets the tone of the evening and makes sure your guests aren’t famished while they wait for dinner. Whether you decide to have the party catered by a company like Chef’s Expressions, or do it all on your own, be sure to think about practicality and presentation. The lobster medallion with caviar and a Champagne gelée on a bed of peas is only going to be a hit if it’s easy to pick up. And don’t skimp on appearances, either—your hors d’oeuvres should look just as appealing as the main course. GET THE RECIPE >>