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A Toast to the Host

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Our guide to surviving—and enjoying—a stress-free party-packed season

Have a long list of parties to attend? Planning to host this year’s family gathering? Striving to give your home a festive feel? You can do it all with our holiday entertaining survival guide. These expert tips will make it easy to get through the holidays with style and grace.

Stick with what works.
Don’t be afraid to go traditional. An old-fashioned Christmas with ornaments, a tree, a wreath on the door and pretty greens around the house will never fail to evoke the holiday spirit, says Gerrie Bremermann of Bremermann Designs. Throw in some antiques that utilize the traditional red and green and you’ll have a low-maintenance and affordably festive look.

Add some flair. Elegant white trees or brown bows on a tree placed in a brown room, for instance, can look strikingly beautiful. Even simple items can jazz things up, says Rose Ali of Shop of the Two Sisters. She recommends holiday-themed frames and coasters, both of which are popular purchases.

Turn comfort foods fancy.
Shrimp and grits, chicken pot pies and Gulf seafood will always be holiday classics, but Vita DiMaggio of the Rose Garden says that “the number one trend is making comfort foods glitzy, glamorous and bite-size.” Simple changes can turn a traditional recipe into a foodie favorite. “You can take a New Orleans classic like bread pudding and make it with savory wild mushrooms and fresh herbs instead of pecans,” says DiMaggio. And while most guests aren’t picky, there’s bound to be one or two who are. For them you can offer the tried-and-true turkey. “Turkey is the number one standard,” says Leah Berhanu of Pigéon Catering.

Go green.
Anytime you have a party, you’ll want to enjoy yourself and your guests, says DiMaggio. Making cleanup easier will make the party a lot more fun for everyone. Use bamboo plates and other reusables and don’t worry about glass breaking or having to hand-wash your fragile crystal after everyone’s left.

Plan ahead.
Get into the holiday spirit by decorating early. “Mixed metals like coppers, golds and silvers transcend the holidays,” says DiMaggio, which means you don’t have to wait until after Thanksgiving to give your home some glitz and glamour. As you anticipate the holidays, you can also make a budget and look out for sales.

Create a signature drink but offer alternatives.
“You can get beautiful crystal decanters and do one big drink like a white-chocolate martini or make it with a cranberry base so it is red,” says DiMaggio. This may relieve the stress of waiting in line at a bar. For a shot of decadence, Marc Pelletier of Martin Wine Cellar recommends adding crème de violette or St. Germain liqueur to regular sparkling wine. It’s also important to consider all your guests, some of whom may not drink. “Always have a fun non-alcoholic drink available. Even if it is just a sparkling grape juice or apple juice with a little cranberry in it, it will look like a cocktail,” says DiMaggio.

Stock up on thank-you notes.
People are getting tired of the coldness of e-mails and text messages, and because of that there’s been a resurgence in the handwritten card. “Once people get back to the art of writing and see how enjoyable it is, both for the tactile sensation and the response they get once their note is received,” says Robin Owens of Papier Plume, “they will become more aware of paper quality.” Style preference usually comes down to gender. “Ladies love dragonfly stationery or floral stationery, whereas gentlemen seem to like more dramatic or standard colors that make a good impact,” says Owens.

Get musical.
“Traditional old-style Christmas songs go with just about 90 percent of parties, which means everything from Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby to Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra and Jingle Bell Rock,” says Marion Perret of New Orleans Party Sound.

Find healthy ways to manage stress. “All you need is 30 minutes a day of moderate walking. You do not have to kill yourself at the gym for eating a piece of pecan pie,” says Megan Capone of NAMI New Orleans. Watching portion size matters because what we put into our bodies directly affects our mental health and stress level. Monitor your alcohol intake as well. “Limit two drinks and alternate with water so you stay hydrated,” says Capone. Be sure to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Get others to chip in. You can’t do everything yourself, so “find out what other family members’ strengths are,” says Capone. If you have an aunt who likes to cook and asks what she can do to help, use her as a resource.

Keep conversation pleasant. “Do not bring up big issues during this time of year,” recommends Capone. If someone wants to discuss a touchy subject, suggest talking about it at a later date. Stress is increased for everyone at the holidays, so small problems can easily get blown out of proportion. Keep it light and easy and you and your loved ones are bound to have an enjoyable holiday season.