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Gift Ideas for Party Hosts

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While it's okay to show up to a party empty-handed, who wants to be simply "okay"? Fortunately, there are many ways to show your hosts -- and their families -- that you care. Be a great guest and offer your hosts a token of gratitude; all the cool kids (and their moms and dads) are doing it. Here are some ideas to ensure that when that next evite pops up in your inbox, you'll show up to the party prepared.

"The purpose of a hostess gift is to show appreciation for the hospitality being extended to you," says Donna Pilato, About.com's guide to entertaining. Pilato says the only time a host gift isn't necessary is when you're the guest of honor. "On the other hand, it's still nice even in this case to show your appreciation," she says. Tamar Love, author of "Plan a Fabulous Party in No Time," says it's okay to bring a host gift tied to a party's theme, so feel free to be creative and bring an arrangement of fresh hibiscus to your neighbor's luau. Love says the only real "rules" for host gifts are to not bring anything that makes more work for the hosts (like offering uncut flowers without a vase), and to not offer anything that makes them feel obligated to use the gift immediately (like perishable foods).

"A good hostess gift is simple, thoughtful, creative and personal," says Love. Wine and flowers are the traditional "thank you for having us" standbys. If you bring flowers, make them a gift that keeps on giving: a flowering plant, perennials for planting outdoors (peonies look especially lush), or a kitchen herb garden kit for hosts who love to cook. Chocolate, a traditional gift, is now considered a health food in some circles, so bring extra to show you really care.

"For family parties, the gift should definitely show you took the kids into consideration," says Love. She prefers bringing gifts the whole family can enjoy that don't necessarily cost a fortune, like a clear pitcher filled with fresh lemons, a wooden spoon and/or kitchen towel, and a recipe for lemonade. "A big pitcher is something everyone can use, and guests can be very personal in their selection of pitchers -- new, modern, vintage or antique," says Love. Encourage a love of reading by combining a coffee table book for adults with a related nonfiction kids' book . "Shop for the kid's book first, then find an adult counterpart," says Love. "Not only does this gift appeal to everyone in the house, but it also encourages discussion within the family, which is a pretty nice two-fer." Also, don't be afraid to tie a gift into a family's interests, such as a cooler filled with sports-themed water bottles and foam fingers or a "family movie night" basket filled with popcorn, a cute set of bowls, and a movie rental gift certificate.

Offering a token of thanks is a vital part of being a gracious guest. Turning this social obligation into an excuse to be creative and thoughtful will make your contribution memorable long after the party ends.

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