Showing up empty-handed to a holiday party, open house, or even an ugly sweater-themed get-together can make you look like a total Scrooge (and no, your presence doesn't count as the present). Remember that your hostess has gone out of her way (and, most likely, out of her budget) to make sure you have a fabulous time at her place.
Now, in my mind, there are three cardinal traits of the perfect hostess gift:
1. Practicality. Keep in mind your hostess is probably about to get handed a year's supply of scented candles and more wine than could be guzzled at four holiday parties. Bring something complementary to the avalanche of gustatory goodies, like monogramed coasters ($11 for 48) to keep all those overflowing wine glasses from leaving rings on the coffee table.
2. Elegance. Since it's likely you'll be attending more than one festive fling this season, keep a stash of under-$20 treats on hand for hostesses. Maria Evora carob-mineral cameo soap ($7) is a pretty, practical way to add a little Victorian glamour to the guest bathroom.
3. Amusement. Fend off boredom or awkward conversation at the party by bringing your hostess an original board game. What's A Dame To Do? ($34) goes perfectly with a bottle (or bottles) of wine and a roomful of tipsy ladies.