From decorating to gift giving, let this list of ideas from experts, RS staffers, and readers inspire every aspect of your holiday season.

By Emily Hsieh
Ellen Moran/Getty Images

DECORATIONS

1. Instead of decorating my mantel, I create a holiday tableau on a bar cart with candles and ornaments. I love that it's portable. Keep it in your foyer or living room and wheel it into the dining area for dinner. –Serena Dugan, cofounder of Serena & Lily, a home and lifestyle brand

2. At my last holiday party, I made a "bow wall" using dozens of stick-on gift bows. Adhere them to the wall like on a present, evenly spaced. –Ebony Chafey, founder of Snow & Graham, a paper company

3. Grouping decorative objects on trays helps holiday accents look deliberate and put-together. I like to fill a trio of apothecary jars with pretty ornaments and surround them with votives. —Thom Filicia, interior designer

4. I love this idea if you don't have room for a tree: Use big bunches of evergreen branches in oversize heavy cylinder vases instead. You can hang ornaments on the branches. —Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy

5. You don't need holiday decorations to give a room a beautiful, wintry look. I cluster white objects–vases, candlesticks, sculptural pieces–in different shapes and textures on a mantel, coffee table, or console. —Rebecca Finell, founder and designer of Finell, a housewares line

6. I buy a bunch of magnolia leaves from a flower shop and loosely scatter them in clusters down the middle of a white tablecloth. It's beautiful and so easy. —Tara Guerard, event planner

7. In the same spot every year (mine is a seldom-used kitchen drawer), stash a container of replacement lights and ornament hooks. Unless you know where these essentials are, the hunt will deter you from fixing the problem right away. —Nancy Negovetich, RS copy chief

8. It makes me crazy when tapers wobble in candlestick holders. RabLabs has a fix: a holder with a ridged socket—like a light-bulb's—that lets you screw in each taper. The grooves grip the wax, so the candle stays put. (To buy: Maquina candlestick, $75, rablabs.com.) —Samantha Zabell, RealSimple.com editorial assistant

9. I make basic votive holders look custom by wrapping a strand of leather cording or metallic thread around the middle. —Yifat Oren, event planner

10. I toss a sheepskin throw on a couch, a stool, or in front of the fireplace to cozy up a space with some winter white. —Josie Maran, model and founder of Josie Maran Cosmetics

11. I use gelt to make glittery Hanukkah centerpieces. Fill clear glass cylinder vases in different shapes and various heights with the foil-wrapped chocolate candy, and cluster them in the center of the table or line them up down the middle. —Geri Albin Pagano, RS reader

12. I love making a table festive by stringing silver jingle bells into garlands and hanging them on the backs of all the chairs. —Meredith Waga Perez, owner of Belle Fleur New York, a floral studio

13. Other than fresh cookies, the happiest smells in our house come from the all-natural holiday decorations we use: pinecone centerpieces, fir wreaths, and cedar-wrapped votives. —Jessica Alba, actress and founder of The Honest Company, a brand of toxin-free family goods

14. It's not necessary to buy a bunch of cake stands to create a dessert display. I set up a super-easy sweets station on my mantel by placing plates of treats on top of gift-wrapped boxes and wide-bottom vases in different heights. —Ebony Chafey

15. We number holiday storage boxes in the order we'll need to bring them out. Box No. 1 holds ornaments, because we do the tree first. Box No. 2 is gift wrap, and so on. —Jessica Fecteau, RS home assistant

16. Instead of hanging mistletoe from the doorjamb, I hang a disco ball for guests to kiss under. It's twinkly, it sparkles, and it adds some glamour. Jonathan Adler, designer and potter

17. I cover the kids' table with black paper, adhered with double-stick tape. Then I put out buckets of chalk, mini pine trees, and small woodland animals and let them go to town. —Christiane Lemieux, founder of DwellStudio and executive creative director of Wayfair

THE TREE

18. The kids get the bottom half of our tree, to decorate with papier-maché and soft ornaments, and I get the top, to dress up with the gorgeous glass ornaments I've collected for years. —Michelle Kohanzo, managing director of The Land of Nod

19. Here's my easy trick to bring back the sparkle to old, vintage ornaments: Apply a coat of clear, glittery nail polish. —Yolanda Wikiel, RS senior editor

20. My favorite Christmas-light palette is nontraditional: a mix of deep blues, amber, and gold. You can find the best variety of colors at christmaslightsetc.com. —Bronson Van Wyck, event planner

21. We make ornaments out of oranges. Just push cloves all over them in patterns. Their scent combined with pine needles is heavenly. —Heath Goldman, RS food assistant

22. Heirlooms, like silver baby cups, costume jewelry, and even Grandpa's glasses, make fine and meaningful alternatives to store-bought ornaments. —Anna Brockway, cofounder of Chairish, an online consignment shop

23. The highlight of my Christmas season is the Sunday- afternoon tree-trimming cocktail party I host for my 10 closest friends. I put the lights on and hang a third of the ornaments the night before, so the day is more about catching up and having fun. —Elaine Griffin, interior designer

24. I love the tree skirt I grew up with but have never found a similar one. So now I have my eye on something totally different: Terrain's clean-lined copper tree collar. (To buy: Copper tree skirt, $88, shopterrain.com.) —Chelsea Renaud, RS reader

ENTERTAINING

25. Everyone loves brownies. I like to doctor mine up with chopped peppermint candies or dried chilies and cinnamon. —Jenny McCoy, pastry chef and author of Desserts for Every Season

26. I host Christmas Eve dinner for my extended family every year, catering from a restaurant that serves authentic food from a foreign country we don't know much about. My husband and I are the only ones who know which country. (The anticipation is hilarious.) I also research some facts about the locale to share. —Jacklyn Monk, RS deputy managing editor

27. I love the idea of a holiday potluck, where everyone is asked to bring a favorite childhood dish, along with copies of the recipe. This way, every dish brings with it a story to tell. —Maxwell Ryan

28. A cocktail rimmed in edible glitter telegraphs "holiday fun." I buy the glitter on amazon.com. —David Stark, event designer

29. Adding rosemary leaves to Champagne makes it look even more special. It's my go-to holiday drink. Kelly Wearstler, interior and lifestyle designer

30. Here's one of my favorite holiday "mocktail" recipes for kids: Fill an 8-ounce glass with ¼ cup pomegranate juice, ½ cup sparkling water, and a handful of pomegranate seeds. Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious.com

31. I fill two drink dispensers with fresh punch—one with alcohol and one without. Start with a juice, like cranberry or apple. Add sparkling water, mint or basil, and berries or sliced cucumber. For the boozy version, finish with rum or vodka. —Michele Varian, boutique owner and product designer

32. Hire a bartender. I know, it sounds fancy and expensive. But I've found that it's actually surprisingly affordable (about $18 an hour) to hire a student (21 or older) from a local university to come over for a few hours during the party. —Joanna Goddard, blogger at A Cup of Jo

33. Caramelized bacon is always a hit. I serve bias-cut pieces in a bowl in the bar area. First dredge the bacon in light brown sugar, then pop it in the oven on a cookie sheet (about 8 minutes per side, at ° F). —Amanda Hesser, cofounder and CEO of Food52.com

34. Someone (unnamed) in my family spikes his coffee with eggnog. —Sarah Humphreys, RS executive editor

35. For the holidays, we use eggnog in place of milk in our French toast recipe, with brioche bread and a touch of cinnamon. It makes for a truly special once-a-year meal. —Aerin Lauder, founder and creative director of lifestyle brand Aerin

36. Roasted almonds with herbs are a delicious treat. I mix the almonds with a handful of chopped herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, or any I have on hand. Pour into a big cast-iron skillet and roast at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until they smell toasted. While they're warm, toss with good olive oil and salt, then serve. —Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse

37. Our family always eats Danish kringle from O&H Bakery in Racine, Wisconsin, on Christmas morning. When I was growing up, it was sent by my dad's colleagues, and after he retired, we had one miserable holiday without it before we started ordering it ourselves. —Christopher Morocco, RS staff food editor

38. I like swirling cranberry sauce into vanilla-bean ice cream to give it a holiday twist. —Jenny McCoy

39. Every year, my family members and I hunt the grocery stores for cardone, a vegetable in the artichoke family with a celery-like look, to serve at our Christmas dinner. We boil it and then fry it as a nod to our Italian heritage. —Filomena Guzzardi, RS editorial production director

40. This year I'm using little snowflake-shaped cookie cutters to dress up hot cocoa for a holiday party. I'll spread whipped cream on a wax paper–lined baking sheet and pop it in the freezer. When it's frozen, I'll cut out the snowflakes and use them in place of marsh-mallows. —Stephanie Sisco, RS associate editor

41. For cookie decorating with more precision and less mess, I put the icing in squeezable condiment bottles. —Julie Peters, RS reader

42. I love any cookware that cuts down on cleanup, like HEX's dish set, which does triple duty: You can bake, serve, and freeze in each of the stackable, slideable geometric dishes. Made of ceramic-coated aluminum, they're durable and long-lasting. (To buy: HEX three-piece baking-dish set, $395, finell.co.) —Sarah Copeland, RS food director

43. I love a doughnut bar for a holiday party. Buy plain ones and set them out with toppings like flavored icings, chocolate and caramel sauce, sprinkles, and candy. —Mary Giuliani, caterer



TRADITIONS

44. We have a Christmas Eve picnic under the tree, and every family member gets to choose a favorite guilty indulgence to be served. It never makes a real meal, but it's the best "meal" we eat all year! —Andrea Carter Wilson, RS reader

45. My close friends and I always have a big regifting party at my house just before the holidays. We all bring items we were given throughout the year that aren't quite right for us, and we trade. —Kelly Corrigan, author of Glitter and Glue

46. Every year, I buy a fake tree at Michaels. Using mini clothespins, I hang gift cards and lottery tickets on it. Each one is in an envelope with a question about family trivia. We sit around to play, and the person who answers each correctly gets the prize inside. —Tina Huber, creator of MadPax backpacks

47. My mom once told us how her father used to do the dishes after Thanksgiving dinner and wouldn't let his girls turn on Christmas music until they were done. Now it's our unspoken tradition—we always do the same. —Stephanie Sisco

48. In my family, everyone puts money on the table on Christmas Eve. If you're little, it's just a dollar; my grandfather used to put down a $50 bill. We have fun being together and opening presents all night, leaving the table a mess. The first person to wake up the next morning and clean it all up gets the cash! —Annie Cantrell, founder of Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store

49. The night before our annual Hanukkah party, all of my mom's friends who are attending the next day come over to help her make hundreds of latkes together. It makes the holiday doubly festive. —Rachael Weiner, RS senior style and market editor

50. My parents always left "Santa tracks" on our porch. Just stand a pair of men's work boots up on the porch and sprinkle flour around them, then remove the boots to leave the footprints. —Chelsea Renaud

51. I love this idea if your extended family can't celebrate together: Create a family hashtag, like #fecteau, so that you can do a quick search to see all the moments captured in each location. —Jessica Fecteau

52. My five- and nine-year-old girls love playing "spa." Around the holidays, we do winter-themed treatments with peppermint lotion, a candy-cane sugar scrub, and cucumber sparkling water with cranberry juice. —Besty Goldberg, RS home director

53. Friends of mine woke up their kids on one of the nights before Christmas by announcing a "surprise lights tour." They got in the car in their pj's and drove around to see the decorated houses. —Robin Samuels, RS reader

54. My two sisters and I fly cross-country with our families to our parents' house. We ship our presents ahead with gift wrap, then have a wrapping night when we arrive, where we chitchat and pass paper and ribbons back and forth. —Sarah Copeland

55. We bake lots of one type of cookie and make about a hundred three-packs, with a HAPPY HOLIDAYS label on the bottom of each. The kids bring more than they need to school for teachers to distribute to the custodial staff, the office team, or anyone else they run into in the halls that day. —Danielle Claro, RS deputy editor

56. My family has Bloody Marys on Christmas morning, even though the kids have us up at the crack of dawn. It goes: coffee, Bloody Mary (pretty much). Then we're primed for our nap after the stockings and gifts are open. —Elizabeth Passarella, RS contributing editor

57. I love the matching-Christmas-pajamas tradition, so I adapted it for Hanukkah for my daughters and their cousins, giving them all pj's in one quirky print each year, like sushi, polka dots, or cupcakes. —Betsy Goldberg

58. Why should stockings sit empty all month? Once ours are hung in late November, we use them like little mailboxes, leaving each other silly notes and treats in the weeks leading up to Christmas. —Donna Garlough, style director of Joss & Main, a flash-sale website

59. Friends of mine do a week-before-Christmas countdown by wrapping seven books and putting them under the tree. Each night, they have their kids choose one to unwrap and read before the big day. —Kelly Matthews, RS reader

60. My family is competitive, so we love giving the little kids Christmas-themed challenges, like a ball toss through a wreath (into a bucket) or a cup-stacking contest using red and green cups. —Chelsea Renaud

MEMENTOS

61. Every year, I give my now seven-year-old daughter an ornament with a note explaining its significance. Last year's ornament was made of Scrabble letters in her name, with a note about her love of reading. One day, when she starts her own family, she'll have this meaningful set. —Suysel Depedro Cunningham, cofounder of Tilton Fenwick, a design firm

62. A friend of mine snaps photos of everyone's reactions while opening gifts, then uses the app Photo Collage Maker [free, iTunes] to compile them as a collage. You can build a collection over the years and display them at every gathering. —Rachael Weiner

63. Years ago, my sister Heidi started buying four of the same ornament: one for each sibling in our family. Every year, the buyer rotates, and now all our trees have these same ornaments that connect us. —Bridgette Henry Deniger, RS reader

64. You can customize a tablecloth by having little ones add their hand-prints with fabric paint and marking the year. I love that each Christmas when you reuse it, you'll see how much they've grown. —Julie Shanklin, president of Syzygy Events International

65 We started a New Year's tradition of having the kids fill out a quick questionnaire with fun topics: favorite food, best after-school activity, one great thing that happened during the year. I'm collecting them in a binder to add to every New Year's. —Betsy Goldberg

66. When I host a holiday dinner, I mix old and new friends. I write their names on both sides of tented place cards so the person across the table sees who you are. —Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert

67. Growing up, my siblings and I would line up on the stairs, smallest to tallest, before getting to the presents. Each year it was fun finding out the order. —Alexandra Mooney, RS reader

68. My dad is a physician. As kids, when my brothers and I helped make jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah, we'd wear white lab coats and "inject" the jelly with big plastic syringes. We still do it these days, and my husband and sisters-in-law join in. —Rachel Christensen, RS reader

69. For a holiday party years ago, I wrote wise quotes on the backs of metallic paper and hung them from the ceiling, which looked magical. During the evening, I had everyone pluck a paper. Some of my friends still have theirs. —Michele Varian

70. My Florida hometown has a Christmas Eve tradition of lighting luminaries. Everyone turns off their porch lights, and people drive or walk by to see the candlelit streets. It creates such a nice spirit among neighbors. —Stephanie Sisco

71. I love the idea of doing an annual holiday-time volunteering activity as a family. You can let the kids take turns each year choosing the cause. —Chelsea Renaud

72. At my grandparents' house on Christmas Eve, between dinner and present opening, my uncle plays a photo montage of family events from that year. It reminds us of all we did together. —Jessica Fecteau

73. To customize our fresh store-bought wreath, our family goes on a hike to hunt for pinecones, berries, and leaves. We add them before hanging the wreath up. —Cassandra LaValle, blogger at Coco + Kelley

74. When our entire extended family gets together for the holiday, each individual family brings their own menorah. It’s so beautiful to have the dining table lined with them, and everyone gets candles to light. —Pam Minkin Fishman, RS reader

GIFTS + GOOD TIDINGS

75. We open stockings before breakfast and gifts after breakfast. The meal in between calms down the present-opening craze, especially effective when my sisters and I were little. —Heath Goldman

76. My kids are too young to read, so I put their photos on their gifts or cards to make them easy to find under the tree. —Jessie Randall, president and creative director of fashion brand Loeffler Randall

77. I like to wrap presents for my girlfriends in vintage scarves. —Clare Vivier, accessories designer

78. We have a tradition that, for each gift they unwrap, my kids need to choose something among their old things to "retire" and give to charity. It leaves us all with the holiday spirit. —Christiane Lemieux

79. Furry booties make a fun alternative to traditional stockings. Fill them with the usual items, and later use them to keep toes toasty. —Ceci Johnson, founder and creative director of Ceci New York, a design studio

80. My mom, dad, and I give each other baffling stocking stuffers–items that are obscure or super specialized. On Christmas morning, the recipient has to guess what it is. One year it took my dad 15 minutes to realize it was a grape peeler. —Noelle Howey, RS deputy editor

81. This may seem obvious, but most people don't think of it: Wrap your gifts from largest to smallest. This allows you to use the leftover pieces from the larger presents to wrap the smaller ones. —Dori McDonald, co-owner of RedBliss Design, a custom-invitation studio

82. I make my own bows using leftover wrapping paper. Cut thin strips and shape each into a loop, then affix them all together at the base with staples or tape. You can mix and match the paper patterns. —Ceci Johnson

83. I cut up holiday cards from the previous year—the decorative parts, not photos—and use them as gift tags. —Donna Smallin, organizing expert and author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness

84. We hang a tiny stocking for our cat, Pony-boy, and stuff it with a can of Fancy Feast—an indulgence she gets only at Christmastime. She loves it. It's like McDonald's to her. —Danielle Claro

85. Friends of ours hang tinsel curtains in the doorway to their living room while the kids are sleeping. In the morning, the kids get to burst through it as they run to find their presents under the tree. —Mary Duncan, RS reader

86. I always wrap each gift as tightly as possible, layering tape on top of tape, so that it’s a struggle to open—to build the excitement for what’s inside. —John Robshaw, textiles designer

87. Once all the packages have been opened, crumple all the gift wrap into packing material in case you need to ship some gifts back home. —Christine Traulich, co-owner of RedBliss Design, a custom-invitation studio

88. If I'm invited to a holiday party, my go-to gift is a nice bottle of olive oil. I tie a handwritten note around the wrapped bottle and include an easy recipe. —Keri Glassman, nutritionist and founder of Nutritious Life

89. My family members leave funny clues on our gift tags. Books are always from Miss Cashman, who was my quirky elementary-school librarian. Scarves and hats are from Jack Frost. —Sarah Humphreys

90. I've taken to bringing a baby pineapple plant as a hostess gift. It's a beautiful decorative object, it can be eaten and enjoyed, and the crown can later be reseeded. —India Hicks, designer at HSN

91. A game is a great holiday gift for hosts, especially if you're staying the weekend. Everyone can play it during downtime–say, before dinner. My top three: Mancala, Apples to Apples, and Wise and Otherwise. —Joanna Goddard

92. We always keep colorful bakers' twine handy. It can be used for tying on gift tags, wrapping presents, and more. It makes amateur wrappers look like pros. —Christine Traulich

93. My mom, a preschool teacher, loves the four-gift rule that some of her kids' families use: The parents give something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. —Stephanie Sisco

HOLIDAY CARDS

94. I love the idea of taping holiday cards to your wall in the shape of a Christmas tree. Create the outline with painter's tape, then place the cards within that silhouette. —David Stark

95. I take a quick snapshot on my phone of every card I get. Then I assign the photo to the caller ID so that whenever a friend calls, their holiday card pops up. —Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of Minted, a design marketplace

96. To display photo cards, I like to form a clothesline from one end of a room to another using a bit of ribbon and alligator-style paper clips. —Jill Pollack, organizing expert

97. My mother puts all the cards in a big bowl on the coffee table so we can paw through them while relaxing on the sofa. —Merrill Stubbs, cofounder and president of Food52.com

98. We pack away the cards with the ornaments so that the next year, when we open up boxes to set up the tree, we have the cards to look through and enjoy one more time. —Danielle Claro

99. People get a ton of holiday cards, so to help mine stand out, I give them a light spritz of perfume. A fresh, pretty scent leaves a lasting impression. —Meredith Waga Perez

100. I come from a family of seven. And as fun as it was to tear open our gifts, it would generate a lot of trash. Now, to be more green, each member of the family picks a song to play while they hand out their unwrapped presents. It's kind of like if Santa Claus had ball-game walk-up music! —Benice Atufunwa, RS reader

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