- Holiday Entertaining
Aug. 7, 2013
- Holiday Decorating
Aug. 14, 2013
- Holiday Gift Guide
Sept. 11, 2013
- Giftology: Tech Gifts
Sept. 18, 2013
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5 Fun Ideas to Personalize a Party
Planning to gather family and friends at home this holiday season? A little forethought and creativity will make the party personal and special
By Darci Smith
Image courtesy Katie Brown
"The holiday season is all about giving," says Katie Brown, home and gardening expert and host of "Katie Brown Workshop." "When you throw a party and it's full of unique touches, that is a great gift." Take 5 steps forward in this year's holiday party planning with these expert tips.
Step 1: You're Invited!
An invitation sets the mood for a holiday gathering, says Heather Lapham Kuhn, owner of Truly Yours Custom Correspondence Design in Carmel, Ind.
Electronic invitations continue to increase in popularity. Leading online invitation and social event planning service Evite claims more than 22 million registered users, with more than 25,000 "Evites" sent each hour in 2009.
But Kuhn finds electronic invites too impersonal for holiday gatherings. "It's perfectly fine for a quick get-together, but receiving an invitation in the mail today is very special," she says. "When people receive something that isn't a bill or junk in their mailbox, they take notice - and that gets them excited."
Plus, custom invites can help introduce a theme, motif or color scheme, Kuhn says. "Carry the idea from the first contact through the final note to really make an impact."
Custom invites can be done the DIY route, or with the assistance of a designer, depending on the budget, Kuhn notes. For the latter, expect to pay from $3 to $25 each, depending on how simple or elaborate the design. Mail invites four to six weeks in advance to ensure a place on guests' busy holiday calendars.
Step 2: Food for Thought
Traditional turkey and stuffing may seem like a tired menu offering, but infusing it with a family's heritage can add a new twist. Guests appreciate a personal touch, says Dana Cox, chef instructor at Chicago-based Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts and owner of Old Stove Gourmet, a personal chef service.
"It's something that means something to you individually," Cox says. "People like sharing what's important to you."
Telling the history behind a dish's tradition while breaking bread with guests can inspire dinner conversation, Cox says. Feel free to have copies of not-so-secret family recipes on hand for guests who request them. "They can continue that story the next time they serve it," she adds.
Another option is to update old family recipes with seasonal ingredients, or luxury ingredients not used daily. Cox's version of green bean casserole - a fan favorite -includes a variety of wild mushrooms with a homemade béchamel cream sauce.
"It's always a huge hit," she says. "It's that same flavor profile but upgraded with quality ingredients."
Step 3: Dress the Table
A centerpiece is as important as the place settings and serving pieces, says Jennifer McGarigle, founder of Floral Art in Venice, Calif. "It makes the table festive, special."
McGarigle believes many people stay away from centerpieces because of a preconceived notion of what they should be. "Today, not everyone wants the round centerpiece with the candle in the middle," she says.
Luckily, a traditional centerpiece isn't necessary. McGarigle likes groupings of small, cylindrical glass vases with a single orchid blossom, leaf or floating candle on top. Vases nine inches tall make a presence without being intrusive. Create groupings of three or four on a long table, or a grid in the middle of a round one.
Miniature cypress trees also provide interest, come in varying sizes and, best of all, outlive the evening, she adds.
Step 4: That's Entertainment
Katie Brown has fond memories of the pageants she, her sisters and friends would put on during her mother's annual post-church Christmas Eve gathering. While adults celebrated in her family's Petoskey, Mich., home, the children spent a good portion of their evening rehearsing.
"I felt like I was contributing to the whole festival of Christmas," says Brown. One especially good year was when she played the Little Drummer Boy. "It just meant the world to me," she adds. "Presents meant nothing."
Such pageants set a "magical tone for the night," Brown says, because all generations gathered to focus on a singular event. "It's a beautiful moment in a holiday party," she adds.
Advise guests of a pageant in the invitation, so children are prepared with ideas and an appropriate costume. Still, it's best to have props, role ideas and costumes ready for kids to run with, Brown advises.
No children in attendance? Gather the adults together for a holiday-themed reading or recording, such as Clement Clarke Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas" - "some kind of moment where you all come together and celebrate the season," Brown says.
Step 5: Don't Send Guests Away Empty-Handed
"A takeaway gift is part of the sharing, the celebration of people in your life," says Shai Tertner, lifestyle expert, event designer and president of Shiraz Events, a production company with offices in New York City and Miami.
Plus, guests feel like hosts have invested in them, since they took the time to put a gift together, Tertner points out. "Give gifts that are a reflection of you and things you like and appreciate in your life," he says.
The gift need not be expensive: homemade nuts, a trio of olive oils, even a framed picture of the host and guest are all appropriate and touching offerings. Don't forget packaging, which can be personalized with branded stickers or cards, or wrapped in a favorite color guests will immediately associate with their host.
"It's the thought that counts, but let it be a stylish thought," Tertner says.
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