‘Tis the season of party planning and all the fun that comes with it.

Each year, we look forward to either throwing holiday parties and dinners for our friends and families or, at least, attending them.

Although holiday parties are meant to be cheerful and exciting, orchestrating them may be quite the opposite. Fortunately, there are ways to keep the stress levels at a minimum to ensure an easy-flowing party-planning process.

Lauren Prefling, owner of Dream Dinners, 3820 E. Ray Road, Suite 28, in Ahwatukee, along with her sister and mother, believe that pre-party preparation is key.

"It will just save you that much stress on the day of your event so you can relax and enjoy it more," Prefling said.

Prepping ingredients a day or two beforehand, like chopping veggies then putting them in Ziploc baggies before refrigerating them, or even making side dishes in advance are just a few easy ways to do this.

And to lessen the clean-up after the fun ends, Prefling says that lining everything with foil is the best way to go.

"I love foil," she said, because it prevents having to clean some of the most messy - yet delicious - dishes.

Of course, there's a lot more that goes into holiday parties and dinners than just cooking.

The party itself may be a challenge when it comes to what to do.

"In this economy, people are not entertaining as much, so there's nothing wrong with asking people to bring something," said Leslie Grady-Atwood, owner of Expressions Boutique, 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., in Ahwatukee.

"People shouldn't shy away from asking. Everyone would love to be invited somewhere, and they'd be more than happy to bring something."

She suggests having a "bring-your-own-something" party where guests are encouraged to contribute anything from a bottle of wine to appetizers.

To Leslie Grady-Atwood, you can really please guests by giving them little gifts, like ornaments.

"You can just have fun around the holidays picking a different ornament that you thought of for that person," Grady-Atwood said. Just place the ornament at their table setting, and not only will they have a memory of your great party to take away, but they'll also have a thoughtful memento.

The gift-giving spirit can go both ways, however.

"A lot of people are coming in and saying, ‘Oh, this is a perfect hostess gift,'" Grady-Atwood said.

Bringing a host or hostess a gift was something that used to be commonly done, and now she thinks it's becoming more of a common practice again.

Small things, like a holiday candle or a festive wine-stopper, can go a long way in showing your appreciation for your host.

At the end of the day, it's all about enjoying your company and jolly good times. Just remember to not let the stress of planning take away from that.

For more information, contact Dream Dinners at (480) 704-5312 and Expressions Boutique at (480) 704-1369.

• Ashley Haines is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

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