Holiday magic is back—and it's better than ever.

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Last year you kept the holiday season small and safe with Zoom dinners, mailed gifts, and virtual gatherings, but this year, you can expect more time in-person with your loved ones, slightly bigger guest lists, and a bit more of a social calendar. From the best gifts to the most over-the-top décor, four experts share their top trend predictions for this year's holiday season.

Thoughtful Gift-Giving

Supply chain issues and tight budgets mean making the most of your spending by buying with a focus on meaningful, useful giving. "I love the idea of heading to some of my favorite small businesses and buying curated gift baskets or boxes for friends and family—a cutting board and cheese knife for my favorite hostess, or a beautiful book, palo santo, and a candle for a girlfriend who needs a little me time," says Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors. Entertaining expert Rebecca Gardner, founder of Houses & Parties, likes giving food—like Sister Schubert's rolls or sweets from Caroline's. "Caroline's caramel cakes make a decadent dessert and memorable hostess gift," she says. "They freeze beautifully for a last-minute dinner."

At Hidden Gem boutique in Southampton, New York, clients are increasingly requesting ethical and sustainable items—both for their own homes and for gifts—say owners Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch. And contributing to a non-profit that's important to you lowers your environmental impact while helping those who need it. "A few years ago, we started the trend of donating to a favorite charity instead of doing gifts for the adults," adds Lester. "We still keep kids' gifts small, and at our house we talk about why the adults don't do gifts and what it means to us to be able to help another family in need. With all of the small businesses that were hard hit from the pandemic, this would be a great trend to jump on this holiday season!"

Dramatic Décor

If you scaled back your decorations last year in light of a smaller guest lists and more understated tables, this year you can plan to go big to make up for it. "We have had many clients ask us about tablescape planning and decoration ideas," says Willock. "People want to show up and show out for their guests and celebrate. As a result, we are seeing bigger, bolder, and more dramatic holiday trends: show-stopping tablescapes (the bigger, the better!), nontraditional color palettes, maximalist holiday décor, checkered prints, and dried flower arrangements." If you've opted to host several activities—pre-caroling cookies and cocoa, Hanukkah dinner, Christmas brunch—then Lester recommends switching up your décor with a few simple swaps for each event. "Each holiday, I pull out all of my favorite tabletop items at the beginning of the season and have them at the ready, so creating a unique tablescape for multiple events is not overwhelming," she says. "I'll switch up napkins, the table runner, and sometimes add fresh greenery, cinnamon, or pinecones depending on the setting—and it feels like a whole new vibe!"

Modern design room in light colors decorated with Christmas tree and decorative elements
Credit: fazeful / Getty Images

Decorations with Purpose

"This year, many people want to convey a message and serve their community by highlighting important causes from combating climate change to fighting cancer," says Bronson van Wyck, the co-founder of event company Van Wyck & Van Wyck. He believes that using "décor as a means to an end"—to raise awareness surrounding issues relevant to our times—is one of the most exciting entertaining trends of our day and age. "Could themed decorations save the Everglades or encourage ways to save water in California?" he poses. Consider hosting a thematic event—employ wildlife motifs to speak to the former or desert touches for the latter—with a donation component, so your holiday party gives back.

Alternatively, use décor to connect with the loved ones around your table. "If you know your guests well, add a touch of where they're from, or where they'd like to be at that moment in time," suggests Bronson. "Jamaican rum punch, a room filled with Hawaiian orchids, or a collection of photographs of African animals—it relates to a journey. Adding an homage to travel—past, present, and future—connects with everyone right now."

Embracing the Outdoors

Simplify your holiday aesthetic with a versatile collection of seasonal accessories based on natural elements. "I love chunky throws, woven baskets, wool and felt décor, and accents like black (yes, black!) and brass," says Lester. "Good design is all about activating all the senses, including your sense of smell, so I like to include fresh greens, like pine and cedar, in my holiday décor. Not only does it bring a little of the outdoors in, it adds texture and life to your existing décor." Gardner recommends blocking off some time to relax by the fire's glow—"All holidays are better with a roaring fire," she says. "Light yours or find a cozy restaurant and book the best table." Then add that same warmth to your street with a community candle-lighting on Christmas Eve. "There is nothing more magical than a neighborhood block lined with paper bag luminarias," she says. "Growing up, everyone on my cul-de-sac participated. They were still glowing when we woke up too early on Christmas morning, making my heart hurt in the best way."

Getting Together

After so many families missed the opportunity to celebrate together in 2020, it's never been more obvious that the gifts, décor, and aesthetics of the holidays are just extras. "There was a lot going on last year and a lot of uncertainty," says Willock-Morsch. "Now that things are looking brighter, and families can reconnect in person, entertaining has become a high point for everyone." Whether you choose to host several smaller parties or commit to one and show up as a guest at the other, the opportunity to see your relatives and friends in person is priceless. "I encourage everyone to host something—an open house, a dressy cocktail, a cookie decorating party. Let's gather and mark these important occasions with panache," says Gardner. "I hope that this holiday season is so big, so bright, and so wild that everyone leaves their satin shoes in the bushes."

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