While this is a great time of year for hosting parties, be sure to plan for your parties all year!
Start by talking to your friends and family who will become your party guests and ask them what their likes and dislikes are. Ask others who may never get an invitation but whom you respect their tastes and preferences. Then, keep a binder with ideas, photos, and lists that you gather - be sure to include a section for recipes as well! One thing I have learned from hosting AND attending parties is that unless it is a formal event, most guests like an environment where the hostess is not perfectly prepared with everything done and in it's proper place. Surprised? Don't work so hard! By letting your guests help in the final preparations, a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere is created which will in turn, lead to more fun and laughter for the rest of the party.
If it is a family gathering where kids will be present, be sure to stock up on kid-friendly games and movies. Games will encourage involvement and fun by young and old alike...or if preferred, simply keep the kids entertained and quiet. (There is not much that will frazzle my nerves more than other people's kids misbehaving in my home.)
Pick up various decor over the course of the year. Holiday decorations are always on sale right after the holiday - just make sure you have space to save them. Make a note in your party binder outlining what you bought so you don't forget about anything! Miscellaneous candles, ribbons, whimsical items and so forth can just be picked up when you see it on sale. Check out my Thanksgiving blog ("Gobble Gobble") for examples of simple table decor.
Finally, HAVE FUN! Happiness is contagious and the fun & laughter you share with your guests will more than make up for anything thatisn't quite right.