It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and also, the most insanely busy. I’ve learned from experience that if I’m not careful, the holiday season will go by in a blur and I’m left wondering what happened to all those cozy nights in front of the fire I’d been dreaming about in the lead-up?

This year, I’m focusing on just a few holiday gatherings that are all about making memories and sparking joy for the people I love.

They’ll be filled with magical, festive details, and they’ve got to be simple to put together so I can be present and enjoy them right along with my guests. We teamed up with Target for a gingerbread decorating party at my house to kickoff the season with some of my favorite mamas and kids.

Scroll on for the easy-as-pie details to throw your own gingerbread party this year — I promise it’ll be an afternoon that will go down in the Christmas memory books.

Fill the house with holiday spirit.

First things first: deck out the mantle and trim the tree to set the stage. One of the best things about hosting gatherings at the holidays is that the decorating has already been done. When you’ve spent time decking out your house top to bottom, why not invite friends to enjoy the holiday spirit right along with you?

I turned to Target’s faux-greenery options to create this focal point in the living room, like this red berry wreath on the mirror and Threshold’s Faux Flocked Garland along the top of the mantle. This year, I’ve also mixed-and-matched Target’s Pom Pom Stocking, Plaid Stocking, and Herringbone Stocking for a look that’s a little more playful and relaxed.

shop the look: Wondershop Farm Vehicle Ornaments, Wondershop Snowmen Ornaments, Wondershop Sled Ornaments, Wondershop Winter Animal Ornaments, Wondershop Dewdrop Light Galvanized Star Topper

shop the look: Wondershop Large Green Tree with Burlap Base, Pillowfort Landry Round Activity Table With Stools Natural, Cat & Jack Toddler Boys’ Pull-on Pants, Cat & Jack Toddler Boys’ Skinny JeansToddler Boys’ Corduroy Button-Down Shirt, Cat & Jack Girls’ Skinny JeggingsCat & Jack Girls’ Long Sleeve Denim Button-Down Shirt, Art Class Toddler Boys’ Henley Pullover Sweatshirt, Cat & Jack Girls’ Cozy A Line Dress

One stop gingerbread shop.

Next up? Cue the cookies! From the ingredients to the cookie cutters to the candy toppers, Target has everything I need to setup the ultimate gingerbread decorating scene. Getting party ready has never been easier.

How genius is this gingerbread mold? I’ve never had the best luck building actual gingerbread houses — they never seem to stick together and honestly, they can be frustrating for little kids. But not these! The molds cut out the cutest 3-D houses in one go, and you can use your favorite gingerbread cake mix to fill them up with batter in no time flat.

For decorating these or any other Christmas cookies, I like to set out:

  • sprinkles
  • crushed candy canes
  • gum drops
  • edible glitter
  • mini m&m’s

And anything else that catches your eye on Target’s holiday candy aisle!

shop the look: Threshold Metal Cakelette Pan, Threshold Stripe Melamine Salad Plate, Wondershop Snowman Cereal Bowl

Wondering what to cook for a laid back afternoon gathering like this one? Forget serving courses at a sit-down situation. Instead, I made this slow-cooker pasta e fagioli soup, which was easy to prep, and hearty and seasonal as well. Mamas were able to serve themselves while the kids worked on our gingerbread desserts, making my job as hostess a breeze.

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Let the countdown begin.

The entire family looks forward to kicking off the holiday season with our advent calendar – it makes the countdown to Christmas official, and everyone who walks in our front door gets to share in the joy.

Kids of all ages will embrace the anticipation of discovering a little treat each day in the lead up to Christmas. Candies, trinkets, and ornaments are classic advent calendar treasures, but feel free to think outside the box and fill with Disney characters, Pokemon cards, or whatever else your kid is loving at the moment.

This year I even put together a little “beauty-themed” advent calendar for Phoebe and me to enjoy together — ’cause we could all use a few at-home spa nights during this hectic season!

The prettiest presents.

Let your gifts you’re so thoughtfully wrapping up play double duty as living room decor by choosing a color palette and sticking to it. I always love Target’s collection of seasonal wrapping paper, but this year their designers have outdone themselves: the assortment is seriously stunning.

A black, white, and gold palette with complementary patterns is easy to achieve by sticking to one of Sugar Paper’s chic and on-trend collections. At the very beginning of the season, I stocked up on a variety of wrapping paper rolls, gift bags, tissue paper, and tags (before any of it sold out!) and I’m set for the season.

The gifts turned out so pretty that I didn’t tuck them all under the tree. A stack near the mantle and on a bookshelf ties the entire room together.

shop the look: Sugar Paper White w/ Gold Christmas Trees Gift Wrap, Sugar Paper Green Wreath Gift Wrap, Sugar Paper Green Velvet Ribbon, Sugar Paper Gold and White Twine, Threshold Decorative Braided Tall Basket Natural

Keep it classic.

Sometimes it just feels right to stick with tradition… and for me, Christmas is one of those times. That said, an evergreen and red color palette can feel really fresh when set against a palette of white and neutrals, and a few pops of blush make the palette feel modern and unexpected. I love that it brings a slightly feminine edge to our holiday decor this year.

This Warwick Wood and Rattan Console Table was the perfect neutral piece to style a festive little holiday corner, while Target’s mix-and-match seasonal pillows always look great piled high on my low, more modern sectional.

shop the look: A New Day Women’s Long Sleeve Crewneck Pullover Sweater, Wondershop 3pk Green Flocked Trees, Threshold Bottle Brush Trees, Opalhouse Merry Everything Pillow, Opalhouse Square Textural Solid Pillow, Threshold Embroidered Trees Pillow

The perfect hostess gift.

Everyone loves receiving candles (don’t deny it, I know you!!) You can really never have too many, and this year, I’m gifting my favorite hostesses Target’s Advent Countdown Candle. It serves double duty as beautiful decor and a meaningful way for grown-ups to countdown to Christmas alongside their kiddos. Just light the wick, and watch closely as the wax melts, inching one day closer to Christmas each time!

shop the look: Threshold Laconia Caned Accent Chair Beige, A New Day Women’s French Terry Raglan Pullover, A New Day Women’s Grey Kimono, Universal Thread Women’s Mid Rise Skinny Jeans

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Kristen Kilpatrick