During the hectic holiday season, "nobody has three weeks to plan a party," says expert David Tutera, who makes brides' dreams come true on We TV's My Fair Wedding
. "Everybody is doing it spur-of-the-moment, so the party needs to be easy and accessible." Step No. 1 to a stress-free event in a snap: Instead of splurging on new servingware, Tutera advises "raiding your basement, attic, cupboards and closets" for platters and glassware you already own. And if you're not adept around a stove, "takeout food can be less expensive than cooking everything and takes less time," he says. After all, "people don't care if the food is the best they've had in their lives," says Tutera. "They just want to be together and enjoy the company of one another."
1. JUST DESSERTS
Who to invite: The neighbors
When: After you're done setting up the lights and decorations outside your home, bring the block together to start the season off on a sweet note.
What to serve: Tutera suggests red velvet cupcakes and madeleine cookies paired with hot cocoa. (Irish cream optional!)
2. ZEN HOLIDAY PARTY
Who to invite: Girlfriends
When: After a busy work week, host this weekend lunch to "give your guests a break with this light and laid-back atmosphere."
What to serve: Order in your favorite Chinese dishes and "simply replate to add a bit of sophistication," says Tutera. Top off the afternoon with champagne with a splash of green tea.
Add to the decor with these Asian-inspired fixtures, $1.50 each; paperlanternstore.com
3. FESTIVE FAMILY FIESTA
Who to invite: The extended family. "It's great for young, old—it's universal."
When: After bringing home a tree, invite folks over to help trim and decorate it.
What to serve: Adapt Mexican takeout by adding jalapeños to chicken quesadillas for an extra kick or mixing melted cheese with an order of guacamole for a new dip. Then, once the tree is done, gather everyone for a holiday toast over colorful Ice Blue Martinis.
ICE BLUE MARTINI
Combine 1 oz. vodka, ½ oz. blue curaçao, ½ oz. crème de cassis and a splash of lime juice. Shake, strain and pour into a martini glass rimmed with white sugar. To garnish, add a blueberry kebab.
Fun for kids!
Reindeer piñata, $12.99; partycity.com
4. TOP YOUR OWN PIZZA NIGHT
Who to invite: Friends and their kids
When: With the kids on holiday break from school, put together this family-friendly party for a "low-key weeknight," says Tutera.
What to serve: Order plain cheese pizzas or pick up frozen pies from the grocery store. Then set out a buffet of fresh toppings such as mushrooms, bell peppers and crumbled sausage, so guests can customize their own slices. To drink? Warm cider to ward off the winter chill.