Holiday Entertaining 101

Bring some excitement into your home this season

By Abigail Thorpe

Photo by Samantha Elise Tillman

Christmas is about coming together as friends and family to celebrate, find joy in the holiday and enjoy time with the ones we love. This year holiday entertaining will look a little different than normal. We will forgo the large parties and events for more intimate gatherings and dinners, but that doesn’t mean a little planning and preparations can’t go a long way.


Tammi Barber of TLB Events and its new brick-and-mortar lifestyle and celebration boutique Frills in downtown Gig Harbor, Washington, shares some tips and tricks for throwing the perfect holiday celebration—be it a dinner, brunch or dessert and gift exchange. And this year, it’s time to step out of the box with bright colors, whimsical décor and all-around fun! Build memories with surprises this year.


Go the extra mile …

“I always say some of the top things are going to be making things as warm and inviting as possible, and because you are spending time with family and friends, don’t eliminate the possibility of surprise and going that extra mile to make it special,” says Barber. No matter how small or large your gathering is, focus on making it an experience for your guests.

  • Table settings are the perfect opportunity to add a little extra flair to your entertaining. “It’s the perfect opportunity to show them how much you love them by putting the extra time into that table setting,” explains Barber. Spend some extra time thinking about what will make your table delight guests and reflect the season, keeping with tradition while pairing with some fun and not-so-traditional elements. And don't be afraid to mix colors and patterns. Celebrate the day by bringing out Great Great Grandma’s heirloom toasting glasses; a piece of tradition to pair with your fun, modern wares.

  • Gift thoughtfully. We all have plenty of stuff. A gift doesn’t need to be large or expensive. Make it a treasure that person will keep—and maybe even pass down. And don’t forget the packaging of the gift. A beautifully wrapped gift makes the recipient feel special and shows the effort put into making the outside as important as what’s on the inside.

  • Don’t keep your guests waiting. Be ready with something as soon as they walk in the door, be it a warm drink, a snack or some activity. This helps relieve the sometimes awkward opening moments when people aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves, explains Barber. And don’t forget to have toys or some type of activity ready if kids will be present.

It’s in the details ... As Barber says, “Memories are made of those extra details.”

  • Make it a magical and unforgettable experience. When your guests step through your door, welcome them into your holiday wonderland, with no detail left unturned. Incorporate bold colors—like a pink Christmas tree—to pair with your monochromatic tones. Instead of a classic green tree, try a pop of color in the room. You can spray paint a flocked tree any color you wish. Rather than using that ordinary star or angel, try different materials for a tree topper. When decorating the mantle, opt for repeating patterns while also bringing out colors you already have.

  • Place cards. We may think they’re old fashioned, but place cards help alleviate awkward moments when people are trying to figure out where to sit or place their glass. “Sometimes things people also forget are beautiful napkin treatments—things that spruce up a table that don’t have to be extensive,” adds Barber.

  • Family traditions are essential for a family gathering. “What are those things you can bring out that people are going to be excited to see again, especially since holidays of past years are going to be a bit different than this year?” asks Barber. Or perhaps you can start a new tradition that will be continued in years to come. “Especially now, time is so precious, and people are really finding that life is not going to go on forever. Capitalize on the parts that are most important.”

Plan ahead …

Holiday entertaining can be a stressful event, and everyone knows things always take longer than you expect. Plan ahead of time so you can enjoy the evening. “If you’re hosting, be able to be host,” says Barber. “A lot of time people don’t remember that, and they get all of these people to their house and they don’t see them; they’re doing something the whole time.”

  • Do whatever you can ahead of time so that when your company arrives you can be present with them and not stuck in the kitchen. Find time-savers that will keep you away from the kitchen as much as possible. Not every place setting needs glass or china, explains Barber. There are lots of beautiful disposable options that will save time on dishes. And why stop there? With numerous options available to rent, such as chairs, table linens, flatware and dishware (courtesy of Cort Party Rental) for special gatherings like these, make it easy on yourself by eliminating the cleanup and storing of these items once the fun has ended.

  • If there is gifting involved, make sure your gifts are all wrapped ahead of time so you’re not darting off to get things ready while company is there. Better yet, wrap your gifts as you buy them to make things stress free later on. Barber puts a note on the bottom of each wrapped gift to remember what it is, then just quickly removes it when it comes time to gift. Also, make a point to wrap gifts using the same color tones to create a visual under your tree that is truly special.

  • Don’t forget photos. Make it part of the tradition to take family photos right as guests arrive and are fresh, that way you don’t forget. “Remembering photos is one of those things that people just forget about,” explains Barber, “but they are so important for marking family occasions and remembering those who have passed later on.”

Whatever your holiday entertaining plans may bring, just remember to plan ahead, make it magical and be present and enjoy the moment. “Think of all the things that can make your guests feel comfortable and welcome, and they will linger,” says Barber. The sign of a perfect event is guests leaving with the thought: “That was fun!”

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