By Sharon Naylor

November 10, 2014 4 min read

When you host family and friends at your holiday dinner, you invest a lot of time, thought and money in making sure everything is as perfect as it can be. One of your top priorities is making sure your guests have a wonderful time, and a smart way to help achieve that goal is to create fabulous first impressions the moment they walk through your door (if not before they even get to the door). A warm and delightful welcome sets the tone for a highly enjoyable holiday celebration for all.

Here are some of the top ways to plan fabulous welcomes to your holiday dinner:

*Before They Get to the Door

--Illuminate your walkway from the driveway to your front door with outdoor-safe LED candles, luminarias and lanterns, blending several different kinds of lighting effects to light their path and create a magical glow.

--Display a welcoming sign outside your front door. It may be one you buy or make, in festive holiday colors to match your wreath details or evergreen garlands in your decor. The message may be simple -- such as "Happy Holidays!" -- or it may be more in your signature humorous style, such as "Yes, the eggnog is spiked. Come on in and join the party!"

--If you have outdoor speakers, play your choice of holiday music, either classics or fun songs, such as tunes from your favorite animated holiday specials.

*Upon Arrival

--Have music playing inside your house, ideally the same music playing outdoors, to share that festive holiday spirit. Create a lengthy playlist, and put it on repeat so that it can play throughout your celebration without requiring any extra work from you.

--Illuminate your home with candles. "Flickering candlelight is beautiful, but if small children or pets will be part of the celebration, substitute battery-powered votive and pillar candles for a warm glow without the worries," says Sandra Lee, host of HGTV's "Sandra Lee Celebrates," a series of holiday prime-time specials. "A lit fireplace is beautiful but can quickly heat up a room filled with guests. To get the look without the warmth, instead fill the hearth with lit pillar candles."

--A warm and delicious scent helps set the tone for your holiday dinner, so if there aren't scents from your cooking food wafting through your home, light some scented candles, such as vanilla in safe hurricane lanterns, by your front door at least a half-hour before guests arrive to create a subtle, relaxing aroma.

--Set a tray of welcome drinks by the front door. Guests will be delighted to get a flute of bubbly or their choice of spiked or unspiked apple cider. If you'll have small children or underage guests at your party, it may be safest to have unspiked drinks on the tray and keep the spiked ones on your bar to prevent any mishaps.

--Offer a welcome bite. A tray of appetizers, ideally cold and non-spoiling ones, gets a delicious pop of flavor into guests' mouths at the start of the party, paving the way for your delectable meal to come.

--Have a tag-team partner help you with welcoming guests. Alternate on taking coats and offering welcome treats so that guests don't stand awkwardly at the open door while you rush to hang coats and say hello.

--If you have a dog, put it in a separate room during arrivals so that it doesn't jump on guests or get underfoot during welcomes. You can bring your dog out later during the party if you wish.

--And one of the best ways to welcome guests to your holiday dinner is to give compliments. Guests have spent time deciding what to wear, so tell them you like their holiday tie, earrings, scarf, shoes, handbag -- whatever you notice. A compliment goes a long way to putting guests in a celebratory mindset.

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