In the midst of all the shopping and the planning, it’s easy to forget that the holidays are really all about making time to be with family and friends. We asked local experts for tips to make this year’s seasonal gathering the most memorable one yet.

Maggie Eichwald and Brian Blasingame, Butler’s Pantry

• A festive first impression: Most people have some kind of permanent planters in front of their home. Dress them up for the season with potted evergreens, adding ornaments and bows to the top. You can also hang cone-shaped baskets, filled with evergreen and ornaments from the overhang of your front porch.

• All your eggs in one basket: Instead of getting multiple small floral arrangements for your cocktail party, get one large centerpiece to sit in the center of the room. Place tall branches in a large urn with hydrangeas and evergreens. That way, you don’t need a bunch of little things; and people will be impressed.

• Get it while it’s hot: Think about having a chef at your event to prepare small plates right off the pan for guests as they’re circulating. If you have a chef come in, you can be a guest at your own party. People get so caught up in the decor, the music and the menu that they forget to enjoy themselves.

• A healthy holiday: So many people are vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. Make sure you offer options for them. For example, at Thanksgiving, you can use a cornmeal stuffing instead of a traditional bread stuffing. Potatoes and quinoa are also gluten-free.

• Bring out the bubbly: We’re seeing a big resurgence of Champagne—people are asking for it and enjoy it, especially around the holidays. Try adding a syrup like pomegranate to make it festive. A little bubbly can get any party started.

Katie Fogerty, Kate & Co.

Setting the scene: Creating a welcoming space is one of the most important things when planning a holiday party. No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, you can always use your home décor and expand on it for a party—it’s cost-effective, but it also makes it warm and inviting. Another thing you can do to create a festive atmosphere is to write up your favorite holiday quotes and print them in a festive font, then put them in frames around the house.

Make it your own: Anything you can do that’s interactive for guests is always fun—you can do a hot cocoa station with different mix-ins, or plain chocolate balls that can be dressed up with toppings like coconut or crushed-up candy canes.

Know your crowd: I personally have some groups of friends who would be into playing games as long as they’re not the typical, cheesy games you see all the time; but for some groups, I wouldn’t recommend it. For those who would enjoy it, you could come up with Minute to Win It-style games that are geared toward the holiday—they’re quick, fun and they encourage guests to mingle.

Sounds of the season: Put on an old, black-and-white favorite movie like It’s a Wonderful Life and play it on mute. Then put on a soundtrack mixed with holiday and non-holiday music. That way, guests don’t feel like they need to watch the whole movie, but it’s a good conversation starter.

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