12 Fun and Festive Holiday Party Ideas
Sick of the same old holiday party formula? If you're looking for an alternative to egg nog, Christmas cookies and carols, we've got 12 fun ways to spice up your annual holiday bash(12 Photos)
Shake Up the Color Scheme
When it comes to Christmas, the only thing almost as predictable as Santa’s ample waistline is the color scheme. But guess what? “Nobody said you have to stick with red and green,” points out Kimberly Kennedy, lifestyle expert and author of The Art and Craft of Entertaining. “There’s no reason why there should be any rules during the holiday.” So feel free to think outside the ornament and mix up your color combo. Go with fashion trends. Want to try a plum and taupe décor? Go for it. If you’re a tried-and-true traditionalist at heart, then try different shades of red and green. (Maroon and olive, anyone?) It’s a perfect opportunity to represent your own unique style — and with the inevitable barrage of holiday activities, your guests’ eyes will relish the change of scenery.
Personalize your Party Décor
“Entertaining should be fun for the guests and the hostess,” states Kennedy. And Christmas soirees should certainly be no exception. If retro is your flavor, choose a nostalgic Christmas theme to center your party around. (1950s holidays or a vintage Old West December 25th, perhaps?) “Your theme doesn’t even need to be Christmas-related. Anything goes,” Kennedy points out. So if you’re totally into garden gnomes, then you can fashion yourself a full-fledged garden-gnome Christmas party. The sky and your imagination are your only limits.
If you’re using existing decorations for a more traditional look, add something unexpected to catch the eye of your guests. Kennedy recommends adding some humor—enhance your garland by tucking an inside joke with your friends right into the greens. You could even give them a little something to chuckle about by incorporating your Christmas lights (just make sure your jokes are fire-safe).
Create a Time Capsule
Give your guests something to do besides tipple and watch a ball drop at your New Year’s Eve bash. This year, create a group time capsule. “Ask each guest to either bring or write down something that represents 2011,” suggests lifestyle guru Steve Kemble. “Then ask everyone to write down a prediction for the coming year.” Their contributions may run the gamut from sentimental to side-splitting. Place all the timely treasures in whatever sort of time capsule you care to fashion, and promise everyone you’ll open it at next year’s party. The responses will be a huge hit at your soiree the following year — plus it’s a great way to keep ‘em coming back, naturally.
Spin with Style
Anyone who steps foot in a store in December is probably already close to their limit when it comes to listening to Christmas music. So if you’re planning to feature holiday tunes at your shindig, you may want to think beyond the mall tunes. “You do need music as background noise to keep the party going,” Kennedy advises, “so find whatever suits your style.” If a chill vibe is what you’re after, look for Christmas music that’s been remixed in a lounge-y fashion — it’s a twist on the usual that is highly party-appropriate. Or try country or classical or modern kitsch…whatever enhances the atmosphere you want your soiree to have. Of course, if you’re partial to the traditional sounds of the season, find the old standards (think Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby) that never go out of style.
If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, turn the DJ duties over to your guests — all of them. “Ask all of your guests to give you their three favorite songs when they RSVP for the party,” suggests Kemble. Once you’ve got the master list compiled, create a custom party CD with all your friends’ favorite tunes. Burn extra copies of the CD and create a custom cover, then give the copies to your guests as a favor that they can enjoy over and over.
Host a DIY Gift-Wrap Extravaganza
If you plan ahead, you can host a gathering that’s as productive as it is fun. Invite a group of girlfriends over for a casual, make-your-own-Christmas-gift-wrap party. Offer up several spools of ribbon, crafting tools, rubber stamps and pretty paper — then your guests can get busy making fabric bows and gift cards to add a delightful homemade touch to their holiday gift-giving. You and your friends can use your finished products throughout the month (and a box of homemade wrapping supplies would make a great gift in and of itself). Of course, you’ll want to serve up some adult beverages (some nice cava would be a perfect fit) to keep your guests happy and hydrated. “It’s a cocktail party where you’re actually accomplishing something,” Kennedy points out. Finally, the ideal combo!
Skip the ‘Nog
“I don’t know how many people really like eggnog,” says Kennedy. And those who do dig the ‘nog are probably getting their fix elsewhere, which means you’re free to serve up whatever beverages suit your fancy at your Christmas shindig. And the best part? No need to set up a completely exhaustive bar. Try one specialty cocktail, along with a couple of different types of beer and wine. (And stock up on some Izze sodas in fun flavors to provide an unexpected alternative for the teetotalers.)
Try to make the official drink of the party something that will surprise your guests. Kennedy’s go-to specialty is a "Panache" — champagne with almond syrup and a cinnamon stick (which lets the bubbles travel up the stick, making it tasty, cute and even a wee bit scientific). Or take advantage of the Mad Men fever sweeping the nation, and reintroduce people to some old-fashioned cocktails that they may never think to actually order in a bar. Sidecar or perfect Manhattan, anyone?
Change Up the Dessert Table
Christmas cookies are wonderful—that’s a fact. But there comes a certain time each December when people have just about reached their sugar-cookie breaking point. “Offering savory and sweet dessert combos is always a good option,” says Kennedy. If you gotta have a cookie, why not make it a rosemary biscotti or a wafer with toasted sesame seeds? For another not-so-sweet sweet, try berries with fresh herbs (like tarragon or sage). Or you could go with the biggest dessert trend right now—salty sweet—which adds a nice kick of salt to traditionally-sweet desserts. Try a salted caramel pie for a major crowd-pleaser.
There’s nothing stopping you from extending your dessert creativity to New Year’s Eve, as well. “I love to make my own fortune cookies,” Kemble explains. “There are many great recipes online, and they’re much easier to make than you would think!” Then comes the best part—once the cookies are made, you can create your own custom messages to slip inside. What better way for your guests to kick off 2011 than with a personalized fortune from you?
Nix the Crudités
Let’s face it…people are basically hardwired to expect crudités and dip whenever there’s a gathering of more than five people. Well, it’s time to buck the trend of veggie predictability. At your Christmas party, go for pickled vegetables instead. You can get pickled green beans, carrots, okra, tomatoes and more at your local mom-and-pop shops. These munchies will give your guests something with a little kick to truly take notice of at the snack table. Serve them up alongside cured meats and unusual cheeses (give Brie and cheddar the night off). Ask the people behind the cheese counter at your market for suggestions — they’ll jump at the chance to share ideas.
DIY Party Hats
They may be a bit on the cheesy side, but everybody loves a party hat come New Year’s Eve. You don’t need to be beholden to the same tired old finds from the party store aisles, though; you can actually make your own personalized headwear, which is sure to impress the guests at your bash. “They’re very easy to make, and they look ten times better than the store-bought ones,” advises Kennedy. You can go online to download templates to make the hats, or head to the party store to buy the most generic ones they have — and then embellish them with whatever flourishes strike your fancy. Play with paper and add a little dose of spray mount to keep it all together. Make them extra-personal by putting inside jokes for your friends on the inside of the hats. Pair the hats with vintage noisemakers found online to make the ringing-in portion of your evening a true knockout.
End the Year with Eggs
It’s true that New Year’s Eve parties aren’t typically known or remembered for the food served, but you can change that. You can still serve light hors d’oeuvres and snacks at the start of the evening, but offering a breakfast buffet shortly before midnight is a great way to surprise your guests (and their tastebuds). Do some make-ahead breakfast casseroles and serve those up alongside some pastries and fresh fruit. “It’s a change for people, and it puts something in their stomach toward the end of the evening,” says Kemble. (And their stomachs will surely thank you the next day.)
Send Them Home with a Care Package
Don’t let your friends start the new year empty-handed. After the ball drops and your guests start leaving, give each one a “care package” in a small paper tote for New Year’s Day, Kemble suggests. Stuff the bag with aspirin, Alka-Seltzer, vitamin C and a custom CD of the music played at the party. Pair that with a to-go hot chocolate for the drive home, and you’ll have some very pampered-feeling (not to mention grateful) guests. “Not only is it unexpected, but it is actually something they can use and will certainly remember!” says Kemble. In other words, it’s a favor that really does a favor.
Save the Celebration for New Year’s Day
After a month of parties, many people find themselves with nary a plan on New Year’s Day. So, to offer your friends something out of the ordinary, you can host a brunch on the morning after. It’s an invitation that will be much appreciated by all — especially those who were partying it up hard on New Year’s Eve. Serve up some good ol’ fashioned comfort food and a fully decked-out DIY Bloody Mary bar (with olives, pepperoncinis, horseradish sauce, the whole nine yards). “It’s a relaxed atmosphere, and everyone can sit around and laugh about what happened the night before,” says Kennedy. Just be sure not to expect your guests too early…