Throwing a party is a breeze, but being a good host is an art. Everyone’s social calendar is packed during the holiday season, so the pressure is on to make your get-together memorable. The secret is combining creativity with tradition, and striking a balance between uncouth carousal and festive restraint. Here are a few things you can do to guarantee a good time.

Mix It Up
The one thing every successful party has in common is good conversation, and you never know how it’ll play out when different social circles mix. Play matchmaker with friends. Think of guests who’ve never met, but might get along, then tell them about each other. They’ll probably make an effort to meet and greet on their own. If all goes well, they might even become Facebook friends.

Pick a Concept
Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to pile on the mismatched ornaments. Unify your decor with one or two colours. A theme can consolidate planning details, from the food to the music. Themes also helps guests mingle, especially if they get to participate. This holiday, try something like Retro, Red & Rudolph, and see how long it takes for people’s real noses to catch up with the fakes.

Prepare for Everything
If you’re hosting on a Saturday evening, make sure all the food and drinks are purchased by Friday. That way, you can spend all day preparing without leaving the house to run errands. Don’t be afraid to ask a close friend for help. It’s important to get everything done before guests arrive so you can socialize and have fun. Yes, it’s also about you.

Prepare for Anything
Any great party is bound to involve a few mishaps. On the Thursday before the party, restock the emergency kit. Also have some sparkling water handy. It’s perfect for indigestion and getting some stains out. And while you’re at it, hide vases and other breakables. Even when they’re clear-headed, guests constantly bump into furniture and into each other. 

Timing Is Everything
At any other time of the year, 9 p.m. is an ideal hour to start. But during the holidays, it’s better to begin at around 7:30 p.m. This gives people a chance to attend your event in addition to others they might have on the same night. Leave those doors open late for the stragglers who got stuck at other functions before your soirée.

Drink Up
Since it’s the holidays, offer different kinds of warm punch as a firm wink to the retro hostesses of yore. Make sure all your guests get a glass, and encourage them to have as much as they please. Punch keeps people merry, and rarely do guests drink too much of it, because it’s so sweet. Provide two or three options with alcohol, and one option without. Cider is the perfect base.

Bites & Nibbles
Hors d’oeuvres are a must, but a common hosting error is too little variety. We suggest 10 finger food options, with an emphasis on holiday spices such as nutmeg and cloves. Put a few out and keep the rest refrigerated until you need to replenish. Unless you’re a chef, follow recipes to the letter. You want to experiment with your theme, not your guests’ palates.

Small Talk
If delicious food, a diverse crowd and a fun theme don’t get people talking, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands. Take note of any dwindling hors d’oeuvre stocks, then ask introverts to help you bring out more. Having something to do can give people something to say.

The Right Music
Work on the evening’s soundtrack earlier in the week and take the different phases of the evening into account. You’ll need smooth selections when people arrive, up-tempo tunes for the peak, and calming melodies near the end. Hide your CD collection or mp3 player so guests aren’t tempted to “help” DJ the event. The last thing you want is to hear “Baby Got Back” from your workout mix. 

Enjoy It
The host sets the pace for the guests. If you get tipsy, they’ll get drunk. If you’re stressed, they’ll feel like they’re imposing. So the best thing to do is look forward to the end of preparations, because that’s when you can relax and take pleasure in the company of your guests.