Put together a memorable, stress-free gathering this year.

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Taking on the responsibility of hosting a Christmas party—whether it's your family's traditional dinner-and-presents, an open house for your extended group of cousins, or a neighborhood cookies and cocoa Christmas Eve celebration—is unlike entertaining during the rest of the year. "Christmas is about gathering," says Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events. "It's love- and joy-focused and people move mountains to be together to celebrate during December. So many people stop working and really relax with friends and or family. Other parties throughout the year are great, but none really allow for so much time to be together with no other plans or work in the way."

Want to put together your perfect party? Follow these tips from Meyer and two other entertaining experts, Natalie Pinney of Whim Events and Allyson Joseph of Bob Gail Events, and you'll be well on your way to a flawless, festive gathering.

welcoming guests holiday dinner party
Credit: 10'000 Hours / Getty Images

Plan ahead.

Lower your stress level and leave time to attend to every detail by thinking ahead, recommends Meyer. Finalize your menu with time to spare, stock up on nonperishables—from canned pumpkin to your favorite wine—in the weeks before Christmas, and give yourself the gift of socializing with your guests by choosing dishes you can prepare before the big day. "Hosting holidays starts with preparation! The more you can do in advance of guest arrival, the more you can enjoy time with them!" he says. "Think of presenting the dining table, prepping foods to put out or in the oven, batching drinks, and, of course, shopping well in advance to avoid crowds and lines."

Create a memorable menu.

Every family has its favorite holiday foods, from your grandmother's in-demand cookies to your uncle's inimitable gravy, but you don't have to serve them in the same way every year: plate them, set up a buffet, or create a cozy atmosphere with shared platters. "When planning your menu, think of a family-style meal, which allows guests to eat what they like and not what they don't," says Meyer. "Plus, it's much more communal and connected, which is what the holidays are all about!"

Give yourself permission to delegate some of the prep to the rest of your family—or the pros. "If you don't want to take on all of the cooking, you can assign dishes to others, sweet or savory, so you have an eclectic and delicious meal," says Meyer. For Pinney, hiring extra hands to prepare your favorite recipes lightens the to-do list while making sure all the family must-haves make it onto the menu. "I'm loving the idea of creating restaurant vibes in your own home for Christmas dinner parties," she says. "Hire a private chef or a local restaurateur who caters intimate dinner parties and can incorporate some of your favorite family recipes, with or without a twist! Creating a restaurant environment in your home gives your guests what they have been craving in a post-COVID world, supports the hospitality industry, and—let's face it—allows you to relax and be treated, too."

Set the mood.

Create a festive atmosphere for your holiday celebration by combining your everyday décor with bright colors, on-trend prints, and sentimental accents that you can tweak every year. "When it comes to décor, use what you have around the house—don't be afraid to style and design with items you already own, including nice china, wallpaper, vases, and lights," says Meyer. "Once you pull together everything you have at home, then you know what you need to make or buy to tie it all together. Color brings so much joy, so use it as you like, and don't feel restricted to typical holiday colors like red and green—have fun with your holiday decorations." He also recommends thinking beyond plates and garlands: "I love to create an experience," he says, "so I focus on the environment, including candles, music, décor, and little special touches for guests, like holiday socks and treats!"

Continue your traditions—and create new ones.

Few other annual celebrations have as many traditions as Christmas, and that's true whether you're setting up a marathon of timeless films, hanging your childhood stocking, or listening to classic carols. But making small changes each year keeps the celebration new and exciting. "One of our favorite things about hosting holiday parties is their connection to tradition," says Joseph. "While hosts can rely on those go-tos, they can still mix things up by choosing a cozy specialty cocktail to serve each year, or a fresh approach on a fun take-away. We love incorporating holiday-themed activities and crafts for guests, such as holiday card making or cookie decorating."

Suggest a dress code.

Think outside the ugly sweater theme by encouraging your guests to trade their pandemic-friendly athleisure for dressier duds. "One of the best elements I've seen make a comeback at events this year is a dress-code!" says Pinney. "Since so many people have spent the last year and a half at home due to COVID, guests have been loving having the chance to get dressed up and go all out, no matter what the occasion!" Provide a general guideline—Pinney likes "holiday sparkle" or "après ski chic"—or a more formal rule, like "winter white" or "vintage black tie." "The idea of figuring out fashion ahead of time creates an experience for your guests long before the party, chatter between guests for inspiration, and encourages conversation throughout the night, too," says Pinney.

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