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Your calendar is probably filled with holiday celebrations, from office parties to cookie-decorating bashes to ugly sweater get-togethers. But the season wouldn’t be bright without gathering with your besties for a day of gift-giving before you get swept up in the blizzard of visiting in-laws, last-minute trips to the mall and school plays. Whip up a few appetizers, mix a signature cocktail and transform your home into a winter wonderland with the help of Tara Berger, owner and creative director of One Stylish Party. Our favorite things party — a modern spin on the traditional white elephant gathering — lets each guest bring three of their must-haves as gifts. “It introduces your friends to some of your own favorite things,” Berger says. “It also takes the guesswork out of picking out the gifts, since you are not tailoring the gift to someone else, but rather picking out something you already love.” Your friends will go home delighted with their new obsessions. Berger shows us how to throw this low-key, yet elegant affair with decorating advice, recipes and more to make this one bash you and your friends will look forward to each December.

Meet Our Expert

Wedding planning can be stressful. But Tara Berger found serenity in all the intricate details of her special day. She never felt the pressure of some brides-to-be when it came to choosing invitations or flower arrangements. After planning her children’s birthday parties, she got the same feeling. So Berger left her corporate job as a social media manager to start a party styling business, One Stylish Party. Now, she has an Etsy shop that offers a full line of handmade boutique party products such as do-it-yourself balloon garlands, tassel garlands and more. She has also provided her styling services to brands such as Pottery Barn Kids and Shutterfly and has been featured in publications such as Mingle Magazine and Style Me Pretty Living. “I like pushing myself creatively,” Berger says. “With every party or photo shoot I work on, my goal is always to create something I haven’t seen before.”

The Decorations

Striking a balance of color and texture in decorations can be a struggle for even the professionals. “I was inspired by a navy and green tartan pattern,” Berger says. “I love that it evokes the feeling of the holidays without being obvious holiday colors.” She gives us three tips on how to deck out your home.

Put a pin in it. Don’t walk into a store and wing it, Berger says. Preparation and inspiration are key to staying within a theme or color palette. Berger uses Pinterest to keep her vision on track. She saves ideas that stand out and then creates a collage of her top six or seven. She takes that with her when buying things for the party. “An inspiration board is the best way to ensure you keep all of the details cohesive throughout the party planning process,” she says.

Layer it up. Once you’re set on your colors, add some depth by thinking about composition. Berger mixed gold and silver metallic highlights in the ornaments to add sparkle and tied intricate bows onto the presents to build structure under the tree. But adding movement to the tablescape can be a more tedious task. “Incorporating texture and visual interest is key,” Berger says. “Rich velvet table runners, soft plaid napkins and lush greenery garlands are a few of the ways I added texture to this party.”

Share your vision. Once you’ve looked through your current lineup of decorations to see what works with your theme, Berger recommends swinging through local shops such as Pettiti Garden Center for trinkets that no one else will have. Don’t be afraid to ask for help — Berger even rallied the staff at the garden center to help her choose the ornaments for the tree. “Rather than making specific requests, I share my vision for the project and ask what they think they can do to help bring the party theme to life or enhance it,” she says.

Expert Advice: Fresh greenery is a cost-effective way to add depth to your space. Head to local florists, such as Ashley’s Florals in Avon, for modern takes on holiday blooms and accents. Use eucalyptus, leather leaf and fern in tablescapes or wreaths.

The Checklist

Stay on task and stress-free by following this party-planning timeline. 

2 Weeks Before

• Send out party invitations.

• Start decorating your home. If you’re not hosting at home, get all of your decorations ready to go.

• Place your order for desserts — most bakeries like two to three weeks notice depending on the size of your order.

1 Week Before

• Select and purchase alcohol. 

• Pick out gifts and wrap them.

• Check inventory of serving ware. Purchase anything you don’t have.

2 Days Before

• Finalize the menu and buy all necessary ingredients.

1 Day Before

• Pick up desserts from bakery and store in a cool, dry place.

• Visit local florists for fresh wreaths, seasonal greenery and floral arrangements.

• Finish any last-minute do-it-yourself projects.

• Begin prepping food.

Day Of

• Set the table with flatware, glassware, china, decor and place tags.

• Style the bar cart and chill alcohol in ice.

• Turn on your favorite holiday playlist.

• Warm and plate appetizers just before guests arrive.

Expert Advice: Remove the added pressure of creating a dessert table by purchasing your treats from local bakeries. Berger used a custom cake and macaron Christmas tree from Kelsey Elizabeth Cakes and vanilla cake doughnuts with sprinkles from Peace, Love and Little Donuts to form a sweet retreat.

The Gift Exchange

A favorite things party leaves the drama at the door. With this gift exchange, there’s no chance to steal or swap gifts like at a white elephant party. Just pick an item you love and bring three of them to the party. Put everyone’s name into a bowl, pull one name at a time and let your guests choose something from the table until all the gifts are gone. Berger added her own twist by giving everyone a canvas tote from Bash Bags Co. with “Let’s Party” stamped in shimmering gold. “I wanted the party to have a festive, interactive element to it,” she says.

Expert Advice: Tailor your party to your guests. If you want to make the bash couples-friendly, make sure you provide examples of gender-neutral gifts such as Great Lakes Brewing Co. Christmas Ale or a hand-lettered Cleveland ornament from Seaworthi.

Day Planner: Help your guest prepare for the New Year by getting them organized. Look for ones, such as Day Designer planners, which have pages for each month and each day and come in fun, trendy patterns such as black and white polka dots and white marble. “Although we live in a digital age, there is something to be said about mapping out your goals on paper,” Berger says.

Ohio Necklace: Sure, we’ve all got plenty of T-shirts that proudly display our local pride. But snag this Francesca’s gold Ohio script necklace to add that perfect amount of subtle sparkle to any outfit. “This necklace lets any Clevelander proudly show some love for their home state,” she says.

Bath Bomb: Winter is the season of dry skin, so help rehydrate your loved ones with a bath bomb. Try some from Lush, which are full of luxurious and fragrant ingredients that dissolve in your bath when dropped into the water. “Bath bombs turn bath time into a more indulgent experience,” Berger says. “And most people don’t buy them for themselves that often.”

The Recipes

Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds

Active time: 16 minutes

Total time: 26 minutes

Serves: 8

30 small basil leaves

⅔ cup dried cranberries

1 lemon for zest

4 large sweet potatoes

6 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons blood orange olive oil

4 tablespoons olive oil

⅔ cup candied walnuts or pecans

10 ounces goat cheese

4 tablespoons balsamic reduction

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Combine the olive oil, sea salt and paprika in a small bowl. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into 1-inch thick rounds. Coat each potato in the olive oil mixture. Completely cover and place them on a baking tray so they don’t touch. For 8 to 10 minutes, bake the sweet potatoes until they are golden on each side. Carefully place them on a serving tray and top with the goat cheese, candied walnuts and dried cranberries. Drop a bit of honey on top of each potato round, sprinkle with the lemon zest and add a light drizzle of orange-infused olive oil. Finish with a balsamic glaze and garnish with the fresh basil leaves.

Mini Chicken and Waffles 

Active time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Serves: 15

1 20-ounce bag frozen chicken

1 box of mini frozen waffles

¼ cup honey

¼ cup Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar



Microgreens for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place chicken nuggets in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Toast mini waffles in toaster until golden and warm. For sauce, mix Dijon mustard, maple syrup, white wine vinegar and add salt and pepper to taste. When chicken is done, place mini waffles on serving tray and top with one nugget, one tablespoon sauce and garnish with microgreens.

Cranberry Pecan Brie Bites 

Active time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Serves: 12

12 ounces fresh cranberries

¾ cup sugar

½ cup orange juice

½ cup water

1 cinnamon stick

2 8.8-ounce packages naan flatbread

1 8-ounce Brie

24 pecan halves

Orange peel

Pinch of salt

Fresh thyme 

For the cranberry sauce, combine sugar, orange juice and water in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir. Add cranberries, salt, cinnamon stick and orange peel. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, or until all or most of the cranberries have popped. Let cool for 30 minutes and leave in fridge until time to serve. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Cut naan into pieces using a pizza cutter. Aim for 6 to 8 pieces per naan. Cut small wedges off the wheel of Brie and place on top of the naan. Spoon a small amount of cooled cranberry sauce on top of the Brie. Top with a pecan half. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until Brie starts to melt and bubble. Remove, top with a sprig of fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Holiday Cheese Wreath 

Active time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves: 10-15

2 packages rosemary sprigs

1 8-ounce extra sharp cheddar cheese, cubed

1 8-ounce Vermont sharp white
cheddar cheese, cubed

1 8-ounce colby and Monterey Jack cheese, cubed

1 8-ounce pepper jack cheese, cubed

12 Kalamata olives

5 pimento-stuffed green olives

2 red pepper strips

Cut 10-inch circle of parchment paper and place on plate. Arrange rosemary sprigs around edge of the parchment and top with cheese cubes, following the circular shape. Add olives throughout on top of the cheese and refrigerate until ready to serve. Add pepper strips at bottom of wreath to simulate ribbon.

Expert Advice: Using your own flatware, glassware and china will save money and allow you to get more creative with the tablescape. Then layer linens, florals, candles and other decorative accents to make your place settings look top-notch.

The Cocktail

Cocktails like Manhattans and gimlets are making a comeback, so don’t settle for just wine or Champagne at your soiree. Berger relied on her friend Devryn DiJohn to stir up a French 75. Mix 1 1/2 ounces of gin, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice and a splash of simple syrup into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until the contents are well chilled — about 10 shakes — and strain into a coupe or flute glass. Finish it off with Champagne and garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary to bring home the festive vibes. “The rosemary pairs well with the bright, citrusy notes of the lemon,” Berger says. “It is a way to get the party started and tie in a theme or color scheme.” 

The Budget

We’re all about saving money so we can put more toward our holiday shopping list. Berger recommends taking a glance at the decorations you already own before buying anything and trying a do-it-yourself project or two. She made her own linen napkins by selecting fleece green-and-navy plaid fabric, then cutting it into 18-by-18 inch pieces and folding them under plates. “It was such a simple and inexpensive way to add a pop of pattern to the tablescape,” she says. For a party with eight guests, Berger recommends sticking to this budget. 

Food: $150-$200

Beverage: $50-$100

Decor: $250-$300 

Favors: $100-$150

Total: $550-$750

The Credits

Decor: Petitti Garden Center,

Greenery: Ashley’s Floral,

Desserts: Kelsey Elizabeth Cakes,; Peace, Love and Little Donuts,

Stationery: Minor Details CLE,

Calligraphy: Seaworthi,

Tote Bags: Bash Bags Co.,

Food Styling: Casey Nickels,

Hair: Mackenzie Watts,

Makeup: Alyssa Grimm,

Mixologist: Devryn DiJohn,

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