It really is the most wonderful time of the year: check your guest list twice, deck your halls and prepare to celebrate straight through to the New Year.
Whatever your holiday traditions — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas — it's the season for parties that many experts say are less about outdated "rules" and more about embracing your own personal style.
"My recipe for a great holiday party is ambience — it starts when you walk in," says Elle Ellinghaus of Elle Designs, whose Canton-based boutique firm planned the summer nuptials of Ravens player Torrey Smith and his bride.
"It doesn't have to be big and crazy and huge," notes Ellinghaus, who counts other NFL players, including Ray Rice, among her clients. "But a few good things will tie the theme together and make it fun."
Lisa Marie, who plans high-profile events in Baltimore and Washington, including the Hip-Hop Ball for both of President Barack Obama's inaugurations, agrees.
"Many times, people are inundated with the same mundane event — in a room with people they don't know," says Marie, owner of Baltimore-based Lisa Marie Events. She says hosts can set the tone with the right dress code.
"It doesn't matter whether they come in funny holiday sweaters, gowns or dapper black tie," she says. "The holiday season is a time for joy and happiness."
Jennifer Grove, president of Sky Blue Events, has produced weddings, dinner parties and other well-heeled affairs in Baltimore and New York. She encourages the holiday host or hostess to maximize mingling.
"Keep both the party's intrigue factor and the guests' interactivity level high," she says.
To kick off the entertaining season, we asked area event planners to come up with some perfect party themes. So send out the invites, pop the cork on the bubbly and get ready for a very, merry bash.
Christmas Open House
Linnyette Richardson-Hall, creative director, Premiere Event Management/The Diva's Kitchen in Baltimore.
Her credentials: Featured planner on the Style Network's "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?"
Whom to invite: About 20-40 guests. "Have relatives and friends stop by on a Sunday after church," says Richardson-Hall.
Decor: Red, white, fuschia and silver color scheme. Jingle-bell tree, silver accessories, textured white tablecloths, shimmering glass ornaments, votive candleholders. "Aim for an ethereal look," she says.
Menu: Soup served from pretty crocks and shot glasses. Try roasted tomato soup with homemade herb croutons or creamy chicken bisque sprinkled with South African smoke seasoning. Add a fresh spinach salad and honey cornbread rounds with savory herb butter. Snickerdoodle cupcakes to finish. "I grew up in a Southern family, and one of our love languages is cooking from scratch. But you can cater and buy items, too."
Libations: Peach iced tea. For a great cocktail, whip up "BlushingDIVA" martinis: Ciroc vodka, Sprite and grenadine garnished with a maraschino cherry.
Tips: Make sure the house is immaculate. Pull out the good china. Label food and drinks with calligraphy on small tent cards. Enlarge the menu and showcase on an elegant easel.
Why this theme? "Being a gracious hostess is about sharing."
Filipino Christmas: Pascua de Navidad