E-vites are a free, convenient way to get the word out. Web invitation sites let you track RSVPs, and provide a map with directions for your guests.
A traditional paper invite, however, is a nice touch. Make sure you're clear about details, including what will be served -- is it dinner or just appetizers? Dress up or just show up?
Matching your invitation to your party's style scheme -- elegant, freewheeling or nostalgic cozy -- will set the tone. The invitation's a talisman that helps guests prepare for the evening.
Style at Home magazine's editor Christine O'Hanlon suggests picking a color scheme for the party and sticking to it.
Ikea's blue and white star dish and paper goods collection would suit a dressy or casual affair. Ballard Designs has some fun safari-print serveware. Pier 1's colorful, striped glassware and candlesticks have a festive vibe.
Candice Olson, who is working on a new HGTV behind-the-design series, "Candice Tells All," shares some easy, creative party ideas:
* Switch it up: Turn the Christmas tree into a "New Year's Eve Tree" by replacing ornaments with party favors -- hats, streamers and colorful beads.
* Time to party: "Utilize a countdown theme, and play with numbers as decorating ideas," Olson said. "Apply stick-on numbers to glasses (it's a good way to know whose glass is whose), serve number-cut cookies and put adhesive numbers on pillar candles. Use an inexpensive roll of white art paper, cut to fit the length of your table. Stencil or paint oversize numbers down the center for an eye-catching table display." She suggests setting out a group of vintage alarm clocks on a small table, all set to ring at midnight.
* Keep things rolling: Small gatherings are more susceptible to lulls, so have fun things to do. A great icebreaking idea, Olson said, is to create your own low-tech photo booth with a digital camera and nearby printer, or instant cam. Set out a selection of fun props and accessories. Snap two of everything, so guests have a souvenir and you can create a post-party album.
O'Hanlon suggests icebreakers like trivia, word and board games. Add a little social competitiveness by offering a small prize -- perhaps a DVD, or a gourmet gift card.
Use a side table, console or desk as a bar cart, unless you already have one. Keep libations simple, with a signature cocktail and a couple of drink pitchers, including alcohol-free.
Set up food buffet-style, with appetizer-size nibblers. A round table or two offers a great spot for noshers to gather if you prefer sitting to standing around.
To finish the evening, set out bowls of colorful candies, mints, cookies and mini desserts, along with little take out containers. Guests can bring home a bit more party flavor to enjoy before the resolutions kick in Jan. 1.