The holidays are here and it’s time to party. Often the best parties are those that pop-up. Staging a last minute get together can drive some hosts crazy. But fear not. You can pull off a successful last minute party and we have some tips.

I always begin the season with a well stocked pantry of convenience foods; fancy crackers, snacks, cheese and veggies for dips that are perfect for come-and-go open houses. It’s a strategy I share with lifestyle expert Jessica Sturdy. Together we share our top five tips for setting the stage and filling the pate and glass for this year’s holiday party.

Create a Signature Sip - Creating a custom cocktail is an easy way to add something festive and personalized to toast your guests. Think about including traditional holiday flavors like cranberry, peppermint, cinnamon, fig or champagne. I love to add these flavors sparking wine or punches. Also, don’t forget the egg nog.

Plating to Please - Keep all appetites happy with a charcuterie board. Arrange an assortment of your favorite cheeses – perhaps cheeses from around the world or locally. Mix with an array of meats, crackers and mustards which pair nicely with something more acidic, like dried fruit, pickles or olives. Display on a tray with character – even an old mirror – to make even the most basic meat and cheese display festive decorate your serving platter with herbs such as fresh rosemary, which has a holly look.

Make it Pinterest-worthy - Casually draping two versatile fabrics over your primary serving area or putting together a festive centerpiece can add some holiday sparkle. Set up food stations with complementary items grouped together on serving platters. Garnish platters with fresh herbs and cranberries for a rustic, fancy touch.

Small Plates - A new rendition for holiday spiral sliced ham: make it a small plate by cutting slices of ham in half to create mini sliders with a sweet mustard or savory chutney fruit spread. The saltiness of ham pairs deliciously with pineapple, apple or cranberry.

Holiday Take- Away - Send guests home with a sweet something to end the evening. A few ideas: Fill mini holiday tins or small ½ pint mason jars with an assortment with German chocolates or holiday foil-wrapped candy Kisses

Leave the Cold at the Door — Make your guests feel at home by lighting a fire or positioning some holiday scented candles throughout your space. If using scented candles be sure to keep those candles away from the food so their scent doesn’t conflict with the foods aroma. It’s always best to use unscented candles on the dining tables.

Expect the Unexpected — The key to a happy host is a stress-free host. Be sure to leave yourself with plenty of prep time, have your house cleaned and the bar cart stocked with plenty of clean glasses the day before your event. Purchase backup food items that can easily be passed around during the party without the extra prep time, such as nuts, popcorn, pretzels and peppermint bark, and don’t forget that you can never have too much ice.

To toast the holiday season try this recipe, Not Your Mama’s Cider (Recipe provided by Aldi’s)

Not Your Momma’s Cider
1 cup Wicked Grove Hard Cider
8 cups Apple Cider
6 cinnamon sticks
12 sprigs fresh thyme
8 ounces dark rum
1 red apple, diced
1green apple, diced

I: In a large pot, combine hard cider and cups apple cider.

2: Add 2 cinnamon sticks and 8 sprigs thyme. Bring to boil. Remove from heat, stir in rum and apples

3: Strain mixture into bowl or divide liquid among 4 - 6 mugs. Garnished with thyme and cinnamon sticks, if desired.

Clutzy Sports Fan Take On It… (For those who didn't stock your pantry at the beginning of the season!)

What? You Didn’t Have Time To Plan For Your Party?
You don’t need to have a big party to celebrate the holidays and you can use many of Suzanne’s ideas just with your family. The hot drink would be fun to drink with the family, especially if someone is coming from out of town. Little touches can make family and friends feel welcome and special.

Here are some of our suggestions for last minute holiday cheer:
• Be sure to have Christmas napkins, paper plates, and even festive cups and plasticware available and sitting out. This gives an air of a party and saves a lot on the cleanup.

• The aforementioned cheese plate is always fun for the holidays. It takes no time at all to arrange cheese, fruit or whatever you want on a beautiful platter. You can use your best dishes or just festive paper plates, the point is, do something extra to show your family and friends you made the effort.

• Oh nuts! Set out nuts for the holidays. The grocery stores have all sorts of mixed nuts in the shells. It is a holiday tradition for many to set out nuts and crackers. Along the line of nuts, you can also set out dried fruit and oranges. They are festive looking and they are also less calories than plates of Christmas cookies.

• Cookies. It won’t be the holidays without Christmas Cookies. But what if you don’t have time to make a lot? Not to worry. Make a few batches of chocolate chip cookies and buy some holiday sugar cookies that look home-made. Mix it all together and you will have a nice plate of cookies that looks home-made.

• Red and green tortilla chips. Nothing says the holidays like the red and green tortilla chips they have out at all the grocery stores.

• Love the Chex Mix recipes but don’t want to make it? Buy it and put it in large containers.

• Plan a game time. It’s fun to just sit around with family or friends, but maybe you didn’t have time to plan a big party. Call a few friends and get together to play a game. 

*Holiday Puzzles. Many people enjoy putting out a puzzle and often getting some snacks out and working on the puzzle is a party in itself. Remember, it should not be about how big and fancy a party is. The holidays are a time to be with your friends and family. Even if it's just a few members of your family, you can make it a party with just a little effort.

And our number one tip for the holidays—get help! Some people are good at hosting a big party, cleaning the house, and then looking wonderful and relaxed when the guests arrive. Others need help. Maybe it’s time to splurge and have your house cleaned, or enlist a good friend or family member to help host. No need to do it all yourself, this is the time to relax and rest with your family and friends.