A Tale of Two Parties

Getting together with friends and family is one of the best ways to celebrate the season.

For some, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without an elaborate, multi-course dinner, complete with the good china, the crystal and the champagne. But you can make your guests feel welcome without spending a fortune.

Several local experts offer tips to set the stage for a successful gathering — whether it’s formal or casual.

The Matthews House is the setting for our formal dinner, complete with china, crystal and linens in seasonal red. Christin Hilliard, of Every Bloomin’ Thing, who provided the dramatic floral arrangements, suggests using ornaments in the centerpiece or on the table, not just on the tree. Cute Buttons Gift and Paper Boutique provided the custom place cards printed with a popular reindeer motif.

Formal Parties

The experts say:

  • Custom paper goods. Invitations should arrive at guests’ mailboxes no later than two to three weeks before the party to allow time for guests to RSVP. Printed place cards will make your guests feel special, and assigned seats can ensure everyone sits next to someone they know.
  • Rented venue. Whether your dining room doesn’t seat more than four, or you just don’t want to clean.
  • China and crystal tableware. Napkins can be cloth or high-quality paper. Consider custom-printed napkins embellished with a monogram or holiday motif.
  • Catered food or professional bartender. Hiring professionals to take care of the food or beverages frees the host to socialize.
  • Dramatic table. A centerpiece of fresh flowers and greenery appeals to eyes and nose.

“There’s nothing better than receiving an invitation in the mail. It adds a personal touch; it gives your event that panache you need. It really sets the tone for what you are trying to do. It lets people know about the attire, what to expect, and it lets them know that you’ve spent time and effort to get ready to host a fabulous event.”

— Alison Perry, Cute Buttons Gift and Paper Boutique, Cary

“A lot of people outgrow their house in a hurry, and some people just don’t want to mess with the food. It’s much easier to come elsewhere rather than worrying about cleaning your house.”

— Elizabeth Parker, The Matthews House, Cary

Casual Parties

The experts say:

  • Emailed invitations. Phone calls or in-person invites are also fine.
  • Drinks and appetizers. Mingling is the goal for hosts and guests. Attendees can nibble a variety of dishes as they socialize.
  • Party central. Well-placed decorations define the focal point of your gathering, whether it’s the bar or the kitchen table.
  • Seasonal paper napkins. Even for a casual event, paper napkins printed with seasonal sayings such as “Merry Christmas” or “Cheers!” can add a festive touch.
  • Use what you have! Don’t be afraid to break out the crystal for a casual party, says designer Paige Dick. It makes your guests feel special, and you don’t have to buy plastic.
  • Borrow what you don’t! You may not have a punch bowl, but one of your friends might.

A signature drink or holiday punch can be a great conversation starter. This punch bowl takes center stage along with decorative LED lights, mirrors and sparkling glassware.  

“A big part of any holiday décor is fresh garlands. So much of creating that environment is the smell of the holiday.”

— Paige Dick, Paige Designs

For AnyHoliday Party

  • Use lighting to set the mood.
  • Bring in greenery, pine cones and other natural items.
  • Ring in the bling! Add sparkle wherever you can, and don’t be afraid to mix silver and gold.

— Paige Dick

“Use candles or even LED lights. You can get lights in different colors, and arrange them so the lights shine through the greenery.”

— Christin Hilliard, Every Bloomin’ Thing, Cary

“We’re really focusing on canapés this year, these little bite-size things. One bite might be collard greens, cornbread and the cranberry relish. It’s one bite, but it still invokes the sense of the holidays. A decade ago we were doing a lot of family-style sit-down dinners or buffets, but now everyone just wants to chat and catch up.”

— Daniel Whittaker, Green Planet Catering, Cary

An elegantly decorated bar can be the focal point of a cocktail party. While Dick says she prefers a more pared down approach for the rest of the year, the holidays are a great time to amp up the glitter and shine. Garden Supply Co. in Cary provided our elegant wreath and festive evergreen garland.


Cute Buttons Gift and Paper Boutique
115 W. Chatham St., Cary
(919) 462-9618

Paige Dick

Every Bloomin’ Thing
118 Kilmayne Drive, Cary
(919) 469-5026

Garden Supply Co.
1421 Old Apex Road, Cary
(919) 460-7747

Green Planet Catering
120 Dry Ave, Suite 010, Cary
(919) 832-6767

The Matthews House
317 W. Chatham St., Cary
(919) 467-1944

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