Not everyone can be Martha Stewart. For the mere mortal hosts among us, holiday party planning can whip up stress and anxiety: Is my house inviting? Do I have enough chairs? What about food?
If the thought of entertaining sends you to the nearest couch with a bottle of aspirin, relax -- we've compiled advice from some of the best party experts around.
Setting the mood
"Parties give us the chance to suspend what's going on in our lives and give us space to be merry," says Danielle Rollins, the Atlanta-based author of "Soiree: Entertaining with Style" (Rizzoli).
The best way to create that space, she says, is to build tradition into your party and make it something people can look forward to year after year. Decide on a theme or an anchor activity -- gingerbread decorating, caroling, ugly holiday sweaters -- and specify a dress code on the invitation.
"It's fun to have an excuse to dress up," Rollins says. "You'll build excitement around the event if guests know what to expect."
Decor should echo the theme and reinforce the style of party you want to have. But don't feel you have to stick with a traditional holiday color palette or decorations.
Lyric Turner, the owner of Red House Staging and Interiors in Washington, D.C., suggests introducing a warm color palette -- burgundy, chocolate brown, purple and orange -- through accent pillows, throws or curtains to create a festive look in an unexpected way.
"If you are going to bring in red and green elements to your decorating, keep the rest of your space neutral. A cacophony of color is too much," says Turner.
Setting the stage
Whether your party is large or small, deciding where to put the guests can be tricky. Many people make the mistake of removing all the furniture for a cocktail party, says Rollins, but it's important to have places to sit.
"Your living space should be structured for conversation," says Turner. She recommends creating seating clusters around the house. "Anywhere you have a little extra room -- an entryway, an office -- you can group a few chairs around a small table."
Rollins emphasizes the need for tables and stools spread throughout the gathering spaces.
"Pretend you're a drink," she says. "Where will you go?"
Too much furniture, however, can feel claustrophobic.
"Some editing is necessary," says Turner, to allow for traffic flow.
"You're adding a lot with holiday decor," she adds. "If you're not taking anything out, you're just adding clutter."