Holiday Hosting

How to plan a fun seasonal party without the stress

Get ready. Get set. The guests are coming!

    If you'll be opening the doors of your home to friends and family this holiday season, chances are you'll need a little help. That's why it's best to take some tips from the experts.
    Cynthia Townley Ewer, author, founder and editor of, said the first step to entertaining is to put the focus where it belongs: On the guests. Hospitality is about sharing -- no matter what the season.
    Celebrity interior designer Christopher Lowell agreed. "This year, more than ever, there's a deeper shared consciousness out there among today's hypertaskers," he said. "We've already got stress, fatigue and more than ever blatant excess has become very uncool. Instead, many people are forgoing the Christmas glut and big organized bashes for spontaneous parties that are festive and don't take much time or money to pull together."
    No matter what type of gathering you are planning, timing is everything. Ewer suggested considering having a party on days other than the ever-popular two Saturdays before Christmas.
    However, don't forget to check your family calendar. For example, playing host or hostess the night before or after your child's school play will only add to your stress level.
    You want to make sure that your guests come. Ewer said mailing invitations a full four weeks in advance of the party means that they will more than likely save time to attend.
    While preparing, you'll naturally want to get your home looking its best; however, Ewer said you can forgo cleaning the carpet and drapes if you simply don't have the time. Instead, thoroughly clean the public areas of your house -- especially the bathrooms -- add decorations and have a roomy closet or hanging rack available for coats and bags. Keep coffee and end tables clear of knick-knacks and put coasters and napkins in their place.
    Don't forget that having a party is supposed to be fun. Lowell says today's most popular get-togethers are the stand-up martini cocktail parties. He recommends setting up four martini bars throughout your house, all with different themes. He has some foolproof favorites with drinks from the "must-have" guide called "The Martini Book: 201 Ways to Make the Perfect American Cocktail" by Sally Ann Berk.


. "For the first bar, the theme is pomegranate," Lowell said. "Using glass cylinders at various heights, cluster them together and fill them with silver Christmas balls and pomegranates, with a few springs of holly as the focal point.

. "Pre-mix several glass pitchers with four parts vodka, two parts triple sec, one part fresh lime juice and two parts pomegranate juice," he said. Place several individual martini shakers, which are available in festive holiday colors, next to a big silver bucket filled with ice with orange and lemon peel garnishes on the side. Serve the martinis with bowls of rosemary and herb-roasted nuts and cheese and herb shortbread wafers -- or a simple cheese platter will do.

. Next, try a Bloody Mary bar with cylinders filled with heirloom tomatoes and bouquets of basil. "Serve vegetable cruditÈs with creamy store-bought salad dressing," he said.

. Yet another bar can be set up with shrimp martinis. Premix a pitcher with six parts vodka, two parts vermouth and several dashes of Tabasco. Float a single large cooked shrimp in a glass as an edible garnish. Serve with platters of shrimp and lemon wedges. "On this bar the glass containers can be filled with lemons, limes and cherry tomatoes for an instant centerpiece," Lowell said.

. For dessert, try a chocolate martini theme bar. "It's one part chocolate liqueur and six parts vodka. Garnish it with a chocolate curl," he said. Serve these drinks next to a three-tiered glass cake plate filled with chocolate treats, or try a chocolate fondue served alongside glass containers filled with fresh strawberries, salted pretzels and pound cake cubes for dipping.

    "What's great is that these bars can be set up in minutes and the pitchers can be mixed well in advance and kept in the refrigerator," Lowell said.

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