10 fun and festive holiday party themes
Holiday card portrait party
If the idea of sitting down for an "official" family portrait sounds about as fun as getting a few teeth pulled, why not invite a bunch of friends over and have some good, silly fun taking each other's pictures? You don't need a fancy camera to make a decent photo these days. The camera on most folks' phones will do the trick, and there are plenty of free or dirt-cheap apps for editing images. Upload all the pictures, play a slideshow, and then award prizes for cutest, silliest, coziest, most photogenic and so on. Host it early enough in the year-end party season so guests can use the pictures for their holiday cards. If you can't pull it off early, the photos will look great on a Happy New Year, Lunar New Year or Just Because card.
Hot cocktail bar
Who doesn't love taming the chill of a winter night with a piping hot cocktail? Maybe your belly-warming libation of choice is a Hot Toddy. Maybe it's a Peppermint Patty or an impeccably spiced mulled wine. Invite your favorite people over and serve up a few. Or channel all your bartending mojo into making one perfect cocktail and ask your guests to bring the fixings for their favorites. If you make a contest of it, be sure to have plenty of small espresso mugs on hand so your guests can sample a splash of everything without getting (too) wasted. Offer an ample supply of non-spiked cocoa and hot cider for the designated drivers.
Light the darkness
Toast the longest night of the year with a winter solstice soirée. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it's happening on Dec. 21 this year (a Friday … thanks, party-planning gods!). The actual solstice — the moment when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky — is happening at 6:12 a.m. Eastern Time. Astronomy nerds take note: This means that winter is officially arriving earlier this year than it has since 1896, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac. Great excuse to get your party started early. Kick it off with happy hour nibbles and cocktails. Turn off all the lights in your place and set the mood with candles (lots and lots of candles). For a touch of mystical fun, have a tarot-card reader on hand.
Comfort food cook-off
Pot pies. Hearty stews. Casseroles so thick you serve them up like slices of cake. Who doesn't love comfort food? It's one of the true joys of winter. So fire up that slow cooker, whip out your best Dutch oven and make an unforgettable dish that will stick to your guests' ribs. Invite a gaggle of your least weight-conscious friends and ask everyone to contribute their own comfort-food creation. Have them all send you their recipe in advance, print them all on recipe cards, and display them alongside each dish. Compile them all into a cookbook that the winner of your cook-off can take home.
Who doesn't have one of those impossibly thick sweaters festooned with a snowman, a Santa, a wintry landscape or all three? You know, the one that makes you look like you just packed on 20 pounds, the one you only wear in the presence of the fool who gave it to you. Time to dig it out of the basement or attic — wherever you hide it for 11.5 months of the year. Wear it shamelessly and invite your favorite people (everyone but the person who gave it to you, of course) to wear theirs for a night of unabashed tackiness. Bonus points for gaudy earrings, scarves and other accessories.
Fruit cake party
When's the last time you sank your teeth into a piece of fruit cake without cringing? Never? Right. No one has. Ever. It's awful stuff. So vile it might make you wonder if there's some secret society of fruit cake recipe writers who try to outdo the yuck factor of every other fruit cake recipe they've ever encountered. Whatever makes it so disgusting can surely be tweaked, slightly or drastically, to create something palatable. Challenge your guests to give their recipes for banana, pumpkin or zucchini bread, or pound cake — anything yummy — a fruit cake-y twist. Award prizes for best-tasting, most creative, most festive and, yes, worst, because there's bound to be at least one that tastes like a brick layered with jellied candies.
Holiday karaoke party
What is it about karaoke that can tease the inner opera singer out of that shy colleague or neighbor you thought you knew? If you aren't the proud owner of your very own karaoke machine, A) it's not too late to ask Santa for one, and B) you can rent one and queue up a night chock full of "Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night," and other holiday classics. Or stick to the rock and roll to which you boogied down at prom, or that you play to keep your commute from driving you nuts. Burn a CD of your holiday favorites and send it home with your guests. Have folks vote on the best and worst performances. Best wins an online music gift certificate. Worst wins a singing lesson.
Food or toy drive
Channel the true spirit of giving and invite your guests to bring donations of nonperishable food for your local food bank, or toys for a charity that gives holiday gifts to underprivileged youth. Reach out to the organization ahead of time and ask if it has fliers or posters you can put up at your party. Create a factoid quiz about your cause and post the answers throughout your house. The statistics might be sobering, but your guests will appreciate knowing more about an important need in your community. And they'll feel good knowing they've done a little something to help.
Unwanted gift giveaway
Instead of dragging your worn-out self to the mall for the inevitable post-holiday gift-return-a-thon, invite folks to a low-key early-January gathering where everyone brings an unwanted present — and then set those suckers free. Let guests pick and choose whatever goodies (or not-so-goodies) catch their eye. Then haul whatever's left to Goodwill or a charity that serves people who can put those items to good use.
"Après Les Deux"
In French, this is roughly translated as "after them both" — meaning after the Christmas/Hanukkah holiday and New Year's Day. A tip of the hat to Seattleites Kymberly and Aaron Evanson for sharing this mid-to-late January party idea, which they came up with more than a decade ago and have been hosting ever since. Their guests love the excuse to get all dolled up while most folks are trying not to succumb to the post-holiday blues. The dress code is cocktail attire. The menu: cream puffs, lots of cheese, French 75s and other cocktails.