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Ten Tips for Holiday Party Success

Thursday, 18 Nov 2010 | 11:46 AM ET

The holidays are time of celebration, when you can gather your friends and family together to reflect on the past year and look forward to the future.

Red Cover | Getty Images

Since economic downturn, Americans have been hosting more of these gatherings at home rather than in a restaurant. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has become an expert at hosting a party without a hitch.

To get some ideas about how to host a stress-free party, we asked party planner and lifestyle guru Colin Cowiefor some advice on how to throw a bash everyone will remember. Cowie has helped plan parties for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld, and has written numerous books on entertaining.

Timing is everything. Cowie suggests you have the party as close to Christmas as possible, and that you pick a weeknight as you have a better chance at getting a bigger group of your guests together as there is more competition on the weekends for people’s time.

Invitations set the tone. Send an invitation that captures the mood of your party, and email them to your guests. Cowie recommends using a site like Cocodot.com because it allows you to customize to suit your style.

Deck the halls. Chances are you will be decorating your home for the holidays anyway, and those decorations can become an extension of your party decorations, Cowie says.

Take some ornaments from the tree, and arrange them along the middle of the table, interspersed with different-sized candles, he suggests. This idea can help to keep you on budget as it will likely be less expensive than buying fresh flowers.

But Cowie stresses picking a particular color or motif and using that to tie it all together.

“It becomes one seamless statement of style,” he says. “For me, to make a true statement, pick one or two things and do it en masse.”

For example, you are going to decorate with silver branches, do it big. Place several large arrangements of silver branches around the room.

Pick a style—trendy or traditional. One mistake Cowie often sees people make is mixing styles. Either go trendy or traditional to make a statement.

Color is one way to set that tone. Traditional holiday colors of red and green and mixed metal tones are fine, but the trend is moving toward purple this year.

“Purple is becoming a big statement color,” Cowie says, suggesting that one could decorate with silver ornaments with purple accents. “You can’t go wrong.”

Green is also popular, but a chartreuse green rather than a traditional one. As for red, the tone should lean more toward a fire-engine red than burgundy.

Open the house. While there is nothing wrong with a traditional sit-down dinner, Cowie prefers either a cocktail party or an open house at this time of year.

“This way you have a window of time and your guests can drop by even if they have another occasion to go to,” Cowie says.

Source: Colin Cowie Lifestyle

Prep in advance. Do as much in advance as possible, Cowie says. Decorate the day before. Bring out all your glasses, serving dishes, this way on the day of the party, all you have to do is “bring it alive with food,” he says.

If you are having a larger party, have one or two people give you some help, or perhaps hire a bartender.

“The best and easiest way to make your guests feel welcome is to make sure that you are not running around being harried,” he says.

Don’t scrimp on the food. Food and drink are not the place to cut your budget. For cocktail parties, have a number of appetizers. For an open house, set up a couple of food stations and pair each station with different cocktails.

As an example, Cowie suggests a charcuterie station featuring salami, prosciutto and other meats or a wine and cheese station paired with port.

Having the food stations out and prepped, and the candles lit before the guests arrive is one way to make sure you can socialize with your guests, and not spend the entire evening in the kitchen.

Drinks can be prepped too. To keep the beverages simple, Cowie suggests a “wines of the world” theme, where you pick a number of unusual wines from various countries, many of which can be found for less than $15 a bottle.

If you opt for cocktails, pick a cocktail du jour. Make several large pitchers of the cocktail ahead of the party.

Don’t overdo the carols. To save money, skip the DJ and put the iPod on shuffle. But, Cowie suggests a 60-40 split between regular cocktail music and holiday music. By mixing holiday standards with the other tunes, guests won’t feel as though they are ready to choke Santa, he says.

A parting touch. Have your guests leave with a little parting gift. It doesn’t need to be big and expensive. Wrap up one fabulous cookie or a holiday ornament.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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