“In the age of Amazon, entertaining is an area where keeping it local keeps me sane,” says Christy Kuglar, a Bay-area fashion and lifestyle blogger and hostess, better known as The Bay Blonde. “It keeps me organized and gives the personal touches that make the party feel unique.” Here, Kuglar and others offer advice for hosting the best (and easiest) holiday party yet!
How to Choose the Invitations
“Invitations set the mood,” says Margaret Brown, owner of It’s Inviting! She recommends starting the search early and selecting an invitation that well represents the type of party you’re hosting. “You want the invitation to be enticing and make people think it’s going to be a really fun party,” says Brown. If you select an invite the store has in stock, turnaround can be as quick as one to two days. The staff can even address and mail them for you.
Christy Kuglar advises, “Try not to stress. It’s likely that the people you’ve invited to your party are friends.
Remember, they’re here to see you and not a perfectly presented cheese board.”
How to Select the Tree
Every Christmas gathering’s decor centerpiece is the tree. But when it comes to a live one, how do you know what to choose? “A healthy evergreen will have tight needles that will become full and lush within a few days. It should also be vibrant in color and smell heavenly. Make sure you water it daily and add ice cubes,” says interior designer Kade Laws-Andrews.
When visiting the tree lot or farm, she suggests that you come armed with measurements for the height, depth and width. “But also take a picture of the space before you go so you can refer to it as you’re debating which tree will be best.”
For 46 years, Austill’s Christmas trees have shone from the windows of Mobile-area homes. “We’re the oldest Christmas tree dealer in town,” says owner Austill Crabtree. On the corner lot of Airport Boulevard and University Boulevard, you will find Frasier firs ranging from 6 feet to 14 feet tall. If you prefer a white tree, they provide flocking on site, and they offer delivery and set up.
For the full live tree experience, plus some, visit Fish River Trees in Fairhope. Patrons can grab a saw and scour the lots of six different varieties to find the perfect one. “Living Christmas trees” in containers and pre-cut Fraser firs are also offered, as well as pre-ordered flocked trees. (Kids will also enjoy hopping aboard the Tannenbaum Express train, visiting with Santa, viewing live animals in the “manger scene,” riding a camel or pony and jumping in the bounce house.)
How to Prep the Food
“Trying to time a hot meal as guests roll in is a daunting task!” says Kuglar. Of course, local caterers can swoop in and cover the event top to bottom. However, if you prefer to do your own cooking or you’re having a simple affair, “do as much prep and outsourcing as you can before the party begins,” she advises.
“Old Shell Market sells delicious pre-made casseroles that only require you to turn the oven on. I also love a charcuterie board — especially one that involves little effort on my end.” She adds that Costco’s prepackaged cheese boards can simply be opened and arranged on your own serving platter. “Publix, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market all offer a great cheese selection with knowledgeable staff to help you pick additions of your own.”
For quick appetizers and desserts, pick up items from local bakeries, such as EllenJAY, Bake My Day and Delish Bakery and Eatery. “I love to keep it simple and sweet with a box of ellenJAY Christmas-themed cookies. Not only are they delicious, but they also make your tablescape look extra festive!” says Kuglar.
She also suggests setting serving dishes out the night before with sticky notes labeling where to position items so that your spouse or friend can easily lend a helping hand prior to your guests’ arrival.
“If you’re hosting a formal affair, it’s the perfect time to bust out that china you registered for but rarely get to use. If you’re like me and desire a festive look without the burden of cleanup, check out the Caspari holiday paper plates and napkins, which can be bought locally at The Ivy Cottage and The Fresh Market.”
How to Stock the Bar
“Quality over quantity when it comes to the bar,” says Summer Phillips, owner of Bottles Up Mobile. “There is no need to break the bank with an overabundance of variety.” She says that you know your guests better than anyone, so think of who’s on the guest list and what they would most like. Phillips suggests three beers, a couple of wine varieties and a sparkling wine. If you want to add liquor, stick to fundamentals, like vodka, whiskey, scotch and gin. She says plan for each guest to drink two beverages in the first hour, then one drink each additional hour.
Bottles Up Mobile brings the bar and service to the party. Holiday-themed beverages include spiked cider, caramel liqueur and peppermint schnapps. Another popular option is an adult hot chocolate bar. For guests under age or preferring a nonalcoholic yet festive treat, Phillips suggests specialties such as the Cranberry Cutie and Ginger Fizz.
How to Choose What to Wear
“Don’t be afraid to venture away from a traditional black blazer either — spice things up in plaid, velvet or winter white!”
According to Kuglar, fashion trends for the holidays include velvet, plaid, sequins and statement jewelry. Since weather here is unpredictable, she encourages layers and accessories. “I love a lace or velvet cami topped with a blazer to dress it up,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to venture away from a traditional black blazer either — spice things up in plaid, velvet or winter white!” To dress up your outfit, the blogger suggests adding a sparkly necklace or statement earrings.
“If you’d rather pull out all the stops, it’s one of the few times a year when sequins are celebrated,” Kugler adds. “Much like Champagne, sequins make the perfect party pairing!” When hosting, she recommends getting ready early, then wearing an apron until everything is set. “When that doorbell rings, off goes the apron, on comes the blazer and, with a glass of Champagne in hand, you are ready for the festivities to begin!”
How to Wrap the Presents
“The key to making presents under the tree ‘pop’ is coor-dinating the colors and the patterns with the trimmings on your tree,” says Laws-Andrews. She recommends choosing a couple of solid-colored wrapping papers along with one striped or polka dotted, and several colors of solid or simply patterned ribbons.
For a Southern touch, finish off the bow with a cotton boll or magnolia leaves. Or, “for a coastal flair, finish off your gift with a small piece of driftwood or put that pile of shells your little ones collected at the beach to good use by hot gluing a few to the center of a burlap bow,” she suggests.