Thanksgiving is fading in your rear view mirror and now the holiday season is in full swing.  Are you throwing a holiday party? Hosting a more intimate gathering?  Whatever you're planning, it can be stressful, but with a few simple strategies you can make your holiday celebration a memorable one for everyone.
1. Consider a Theme

This can be anything from a tacky sweater Christmas party to a Mad Men '50s party or anything you can dream up. The best themes are ones that can carry over from the decorations to the food and attire.

2. Choose the Right Food

What does the usual array of finger foods, chips and dip, and veggie platters say to your gets?  Boring!   While the food will be memorable for its status as the usual go to foods, it will not provide a memorable experience for anyone. Try to provide at least one memorable dish that will impress your guests and leave them wanting to come back for your next holiday party. It doesn't have to be anything overly difficult to make; there are many dishes that look impressive but are pretty easy to prepare.  Google is a great place to find inspiration, or look up a dish from your favorite restaurant to see how it's made.  Your party will be twice as memorable if you can come up with an amazing dessert as well.  Creme brulee anyone?

3. Plan in Advance 

The sooner you start planning your party, the more time you will have to spend perfecting the decorations, planning the menu and determining the guest list. Your friends and family are more likely to be able to come if you invite them early on, so they clan plan their party season, too.   Getting yoru invites out early also signals that you really want those people to attend - and if invitees do decline, you will still have time to invite a few additional people that didn't make the first cut guest list (okay, the B Listers). 

4. Don't Skimp on the Decorations

Great decorations can help to transform your home to coincide with a theme, time of year or holiday. Lots of festive garlands and mood lighting can help to improve the atmosphere without breaking the budget. A word of caution - skip the old plastic light up figures, the cardboard cutouts and the things you and your kids made in grade school.  While they may have sentimental meaning to you, keep them out of sight until after the party.  You want to set an inviting, festive and grown up mood.  You don't want your guests remembering your tacky decorations!

5. Games and Activities  

Make sure that there is something for your guests to do when they are finished eating. Silly games can be a great way to break the ice and get a conversation going, but consider your audience when planning the games. Small children will enjoy an entirely different set of party games than the older attendees.  You can also add a swap of some sort, such as an ornament swap instead of the traditional all-encompassing item swap.  Or collect small toys or pantry items for an organization you support and provide gift bags and tags for guests to help wrap in their own personal style.

6. Prizes to Boost Participation   

Prizes can add a whole new level of competition to any party game. They do not have to be anything expensive or elaborate – any prizes will be exciting and memorable. Bonus points if the prizes are in keeping with the theme of your party.  Everyone likes to win and it will evoke happy memories of childhood parties and the excitement of bringing home a "goodie bag."

7. Select the Music  

A quiet party is a dull party, so make sure you have holiday themed music to go with your holiday themed party. Again, consider your audience when choosing the music. The right music can help to make it a fun and memorable evening for everyone.  Keep the volume of the music in mind and make adjustments as conversation and the number of guests increases - or decreases as the first people leave.

8. Don't Make Your Guest Play Musical Chairs

This one might seem obvious, but make sure there is plenty of seating available in the areas that people are likely to congregate. Nobody wants to stand for the duration of the party.  Provide a variety of seating; some guests may need back support or a higher or lower chair. Be sure there are occasional tables scattered about so your guests won't have to put their plates and glasses on the floor where it's awkward to reach down to get them, or where someone might step on them.  Embarrassment is definitely something that can kill a party mood!  Provide an array of glasses to help guests identify their stray beverage, or grab a set of washable glass markers in silver, gold, red and green (or other colors to match your theme).  The guests can write their own names, or you can pre-personalize and have the glasses ready and waiting.

Whatever your plans this holiday season, enjoy the moments with friends and family and leave the stress behind!