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(ARA) - ?You?re invited . . .? are always popular and welcome words around the holidays. If you?re like me, you love to host a party. But if you?re a hostess with the ?leastest? amount of time, a party is a lot of work. Entertaining requires considerable planning and preparation because there are so many things to do.

Think about the parties you?ve attended and what made them special. Was it the food, guests, laughs, decorations, ambience? The parties I liked best were the ones that touched me in a personal way. A special party creates lasting memories for you and your guests. No matter who is on the guest list, the basics of organizing a party are almost always the same. What's different is how you customize the details. Here are my tips to get you started:

* Make a master list of what must be done a month, week and day in advance and don't forget the day-after cleanup.

* Decide what kind of menu you want as far ahead as possible and whether you want a sit-down dinner or a buffet. Think about every course from hors d?oeuvres, to appetizers, salads and dressings, breads, entrees, vegetables, desserts and beverages. Always include some healthy and low-calorie selections. Prepare and freeze whatever you can, so you don't have to do it all in one day. Home baked cookies and brownies can be stored in tins; roasts, cooked the day before, can be served cold. Nibbles like crudit?s can be chopped and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Order specialty items from the florist, butcher and bakery, and extra chairs and tables in advance.

* Buffets are usually easier than sit-down dinners. Avoid anything that can spoil when left out for hours. Utensils and napkins should be available everywhere there is food and drink. Tie silverware and napkins together with festive ribbons and a candy cane. Buy paper napkins with fun and witty sayings or personalized with your name or initials on them. Decorate tabletops with spray-painted gold pinecones, holiday ornaments and candles.

* Make or buy plenty of ice cubes and place them in a large galvanized tin bucket decorated with a big red ribbon. Using food coloring, make festive red and green ice cubes. To cut down on misplaced glasses and wasted beverages, buy holiday wine charms for every glass. For coffee or tea, use colored sugars or rock sugar stirrers instead of regular sugar.

* Before the party starts, place cloves, cinnamon and orange peels on a baking sheet in the oven. Set on a low temperature for an hour; the heavenly aroma will fill your house for hours. Mull spiced cider in a large pot on your stove for a warm winter drink with a holiday fragrance.

* Make your guests feel welcome from the instant they arrive. Line the driveway with luminarias and decorate the front of your house and lawn to set a celebratory mood. Place a guest book at the front door for expressing sentiments.

Family Parties

Ask guests to bring a family photo to make a personalized ornament for your tree. Childhood photos make great place cards for a sit-down dinner. Begin a family album, highlighting favorite recipes, anecdotes, pictures, and memorabilia. Include a family tree with small pictures.

Parties For Neighbors

Enlist at least two outgoing guests to help you make introductions. Instead of gifts, organize a future neighborhood activity where everyone can pitch in such as a spring planting, a summer block party, an Easter egg hunt, or autumn leaf raking. Give gift certificates of time to each other, offering to shovel snow in the winter, take care of pets while someone is vacationing, or baby-sit a newborn so parents can have a night out.

Parties For Co-workers

Organize a ?Secret Santa? giveaway or ask your guests to bring funny gifts for a grab bag. Holidays are a good opportunity to meet the families of co-workers. Plan activities that allow everyone to mingle and learn more about each other. Ask guests with special talents to entertain. An aspiring magician can perform magic, someone who has a great voice can read ?A Christmas Carol,? and someone who likes to sing can lead the caroling.

The goal of a holiday party is to put everyone in a festive mood and set the tone for the coming year. With advance planning and preparation, the host will be relaxed and everyone will have a good time!

For more festive party ideas, visit

Courtesy of ARA Content

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