The food is ready, the drinks are chilled, and your house is as clean as it’s going to get. This party prep is certainly important, but at the end of it all, what really matters is how guests feel in your home. Often it’s the little touches that help create the mood, making the difference between just another party, and a gathering that makes your guests feel welcome, relaxed and cherished.
Decorate the Halls
While your halls are probably already decked with boughs of holly, additional decorative touches show guests you went the extra mile just for them. Line your staircase with a row of poinsettias; create a small arrangement of holly and other greens for a small vase in the powder room. If you are having a sit-down dinner, have fun with place cards. Hole-punch and thread them on ribbon tied to simple sprigs of greens, prop them up against spray-painted pine cones, take a paint-pen to dollar-store Christmas ornaments…any festive doodad can become a place card holder this time of year.
Give a Favor
Why should kids get all the goody bags? Send your guests home with a token of your affection—something they’ll eat, use or appreciate. Box leftovers in festive Chinese take-out cartons, package a short stack of homemade cookies in a cellophane bag for the ride home, or gift a small paper sack of scones for the next morning. A cupcake nestled in a plastic cocktail cup wrapped in cello with a festive bow is another easy idea to execute. For holiday bashes, send your guests home with a sprig of real mistletoe—the gift that keeps on giving!
Light the Way
You set the tone for your guests the minute they approach your home. This is the time of year in which you may already be featuring a great outdoor light display, so your front door may already announce party time. To make a winter gathering extra special, light the path to your door with luminaries—either make your own using paper bags and battery-operated LEDs, or buy some. A temporary spotlight staked in the ground shining on your front door is also neat way to beckon guests to the entrance.
Even if you are a white-lights only kind of person, drape colored or blinking lights around your bar for some unexpected fun. Novelty strings of lights (think illuminated snowflakes or paper lanterns) in unexpected places—around the powder room mirror, on the sideboard—add a touch of festivity too.
Engage all Senses
Always turn on the music before the first guest arrives. Start with the volume low and boost it up a bit as the party gets going. Your first guests will appreciate the feeling that the party is already underway. Spend time organizing your music playlist before the party, mixing in holiday tunes with more contemporary favorites. Have on reserve a good dance mix list for late night, just in case!
Fragrance is another mood maker; you want your home to smell fresh and clean, but not cloying or overpowering. Burn your scented candles for a bit before the party, then blow them out just before guests arrive. Room scent diffusers are a great option, but make sure they aren’t placed in a spot right next to anyone’s head, like your end tables or fireplace mantel.
Make a point of taking pictures of the evening. While it’s not polite to post pictures of intimate gatherings all over Facebook, consider sending a recap email to your close friends including some pictures from the night. Your guests will appreciate it (if the photos are flattering!).