It's our end-of the-year issue, and with the holidays coming soon, we have some presents for you.

Nothing brings a special event to life as well as lighting. In our “Divine Decor” column, contributing editor Natasha Garber interviews some of lighting's brightest lights to see what tools they are using now to work their magic. You might be surprised at what new technologies — and one old one — are making their designs even more dramatic. Turn to page 37 for the story.

And nothing brings a special event guest to life as well as a festive cocktail. In our “Food for Fêtes” column, contributing editor Susan Cuadrado mixes it up with a trio of mixologists. Custom simple syrups, “speakeasy chic” or drunken cranberries, anyone? Come pour it on starting on page 33.

This issue also brings the 14th edition of our “30 Top Rental Companies” list; it starts on page 19.

In many ways, rental is the true bellwether of our business. When I want to know what's really going on in the industry, I ask the rental guys. They know what inventory is moving and what is still sitting in the warehouse, who is busy putting out bids and who isn't, and who is paying their bills — or isn't.

On the bright side, some respondents say that business has firmed up considerably since the darkest days of the recession.

“We are starting to see budgets ease somewhat,” says management at Stamford Tent and Event Services of Stamford, Conn. “We did more events in 2011, and the average job size increased as well. It's not completely back to normal, but it's a big improvement over 2009 and 2010.”

But others are far more cautious.

Landover, Md.-based Perfect Settings warns that although 2011 has been good, “The economic outlook is sketchy at best,” management says. “Fuel costs are still very high, and the cost of products continues to rise as the dollar weakens in the world economy. At the same time, budgets for special events are reduced or flat. Special event companies who run a tight ship and watch waste in their operations will be the survivors.”

I hope you have gone well beyond surviving this year, and that 2012 will be better still. The one present I would like? It's for you to go on sharing your stories, strategies and dreams with me.