With the holidays just around the corner, the winter season welcomes a wide array of dinners, parties, and events. Whether starting a new tradition or continuing one long established, it’s likely you’ll be opening your home to friends and family at this time of year. And with careful planning and thoughtful styling, yours will be a party to remember.

Hosting a holiday soirée, big or small, can be stressful, but there are a few things that great hosts know about keeping their festive cool.

They Come with the Willingness to Innovate

Westport, Connecticut | Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty

The impeccable host knows that not all parties are created equal. While the dining room remains a classic space to entertain, bring freshness to your celebrating and investigate the lesser-used corners of your home. Banquette seating in a loft or a long banquet table in a light-filled guest house can shift the mood from expected to exceptional. Exterior heaters turn patios and balconies into cozy milieus for champagne under blankets, and solariums, boat houses, and lounges all make for the list potential party locations.

Bring this same joie de vivre to your selection of theme and timing. A cocktail party is time-honored, but would an early farm-to-table dinner free up your guests during a busy season? Could you add variety to the social calendar with a mid-afternoon themed lunch or extravagant weekend breakfast? In the landscape of the winter party circuit, a novel approach to gathering can be a welcome and appreciated change of pace.

They Know a Party Needs Impact

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

Ensure your evening has at least one fantastic, powerful visual to get the party started. Whether you opt for swathes of delicate florals hung from the ceiling or a twelve-foot tree done up entirely in velvet, give your party a central focus—or two—to make an impression. Not only an excellent topic of conversation, a fantastic piece of fanciful décor will keep your evening in people’s minds long after the night is over.

Another way to add flair to your festivities is to liberate your menu. Stage a mix of serving stations, each with a carefully-considered hors d’oeuvre or entrée offering. Make your guests feel extra special with small plates that are prepared individually, like prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears or an expertly-sliced roast, or push the envelope with crêpes, oysters, or sushi prepared by noted chefs. Straying from a set menu provides your guests with yet another chance to customize their evening.

They Make Every Guest Feel Like the Center of Attention

Kremmling, Colorado | LIV Sotheby’s International Realty

Whether it’s prompting guests with questions ahead of the night or inviting attendees to share a favorite holiday memory, great hosts know that inviting people in doesn’t stop at the door. From the first welcome to the final send-off, set your guests up for social success by connecting them with people you know they’ll like, and posing thought-provoking questions. If you prefer to be more behind the scenes and less on the front lines, engage a friend to keep an eye out for lonely guests, or speak with your event planner to ensure you have designated minglers on hand.

Show your appreciation for your guests by curating and assembling meaningful parting gifts. If your party is small enough, personalize gifts to each guest; if large, a special-occasion small batch wine makes a wonderful last impression. Go a step further and give your evening a signature scent: fill your house with your favorite subtle fragrance, and gift candles in the same scent to guests as they leave. When they light the candles at home, they’ll be right back at your night.

They Present a Winning Drinks Menu

Newport Beach, California | Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty

Offering a signature drink is a well-established way to set the tone for your holiday gathering. Consider giving an old classic a festive spin, like a cinnamon rosemary Old Fashioned, or a Holiday Manhattan, which incorporates pomegranate and molasses. Add rosemary sprigs or sage leaves as garnish, and select signature glassware to integrate a color palette or design theme. Drinks are another way to add a visual to your event—coupe glasses holding individual floral buds, champagne towers, and decorative bottles can all set the scene.

Invite guests to take part in the creation of the signature drink you’ve selected with a self-serve station—and seize the opportunity to tie the instructions and drink components in with your décor. Combine this with a staffed bar so that guests have access to a professional, should they so desire.

With a few preparations and carefully considered lists, you’ll be well on your way to creating the most memorable fête of the season. The most important thing to remember is that if you enjoy yourself, your guests will too.

If you’re headed out of town for the holidays, these Cairn Vacation Homes can get your festivities started in style.