5 Christmas dinner party ideas to warm up your winter

A maximalist Christmas-themed table setting with miniature pine trees, nutcracker dolls, and deer.
Paperless Post > Holidays > 5 Christmas dinner party ideas to warm up your winter

With the arrival of shorter days and longer evenings, it’s natural to start dreaming of warm and festive Christmas dinner parties. Hot drinks, twinkling lights, chestnuts roasting (or at least Nat King Cole singing about them)… we’re talking the whole Christmas card picture, in the form of a real-life get-together.

If you want to throw a cozy holiday party this year but you don’t know where to start, we’ve created a guide with all our favorite Christmas dinner party ideas for the perfect holiday gathering. Follow our tips on everything from invitations to menu, and your dinner party is sure to be the hit of the holiday season.


5 ideas for a festive Christmas dinner party

One way to make your holiday party extra enjoyable is to plan it around a certain look and feel. From there, you’ll dive into fine-tuning with some special touches to guide your choices. Here are a few ways you can help your Christmas dinner party bring maximum merriment.


A Christmas invitation with illustrated ornaments in front of pine boughs. Right: Red candles in different shapes are surrounded by pine boughs.Christmas Bulbs” by Paperless Post; Image by The Floral Society.


#1 Use candles and lighting to create a cozy atmosphere

One of the simplest ways you can make your Christmas dinner party feel festive, warm, and cozy is to carefully plan the lighting for your event. Of course, lights are all around at Christmastime—but how you use them to highlight your dinner setting can differ.

Here are a few tips for creating seasonal ambiance with lighting:

— Use candles at the table: Building candles into your table décor can help to provide focused, intimate lighting that your guests can appreciate up close. Choose one candle type, like votives or tapers, and arrange them throughout the table spread. Be sure to choose unscented candles so they don’t interfere with the delicious aromas of the foods you serve.

— Dim the overhead lights: For the candles to work their magic, it’s also important to ensure brash, overhead lighting won’t interfere with the mood. If your overhead lights are dimmable, try keeping them at about half-strength. 

— Add other ambient lighting nearby: If your overhead lighting isn’t dimmable—or you simply want to create a softer atmosphere—try adding some extra lamps to the room and skipping the overhead lights completely. Borrow some floor lamps from other rooms in your house and stage them in corners of the dining room. Be sure to use warm-toned light bulbs and ensure lighting is adequate to prevent any safety hazards.

And of course, if you have a fireplace, now is its time to shine. Aside from providing some extra ambient lighting, the crackling sound of a fireplace can add some acoustic mood to your party, too.


#2 Hang mistletoe and fresh winter greens to salute the season

However you plan to decorate your Christmas party, some seasonal greenery can add a feeling of freshness that’s unique to this time of year. You can source wreaths, garlands, and sprigs of spruce or mistletoe from a local nursery to adorn the various parts of your room and table setting. The subtle scent of pine, cedar, or juniper can add a sweet sensory element to your décor.

If you can’t bring fresh greenery into your house due to allergies or other reasons, artificial options will do the trick. You can light scented candles near the faux boughs to excite the other senses. 


A maximalist Christmas table setting with various decorations like trees, deer, nutcracker dolls, party crackers, and candles. Right: A holiday party invitation with a border of holly leaves and berries and a red bow on top.Image by Mrs. Alice; “Houx” by Nathalie Lété for Paperless Post.


#3 Delight your guests with seasonal party favors

Christmas is a time of giving, but it’s also a time to create meaningful memories. You can combine both in your dinner party by offering guests a delightful party favor they can enjoy now or take home as a keepsake to remind them of this joyful night. 

Place a small party favor at your guests’ table settings to surprise them when they sit down for dinner. This can also spark conversation and act as entertainment before you serve the first course. Some party favor ideas include:

— A party cracker they can pull open for a surprise

— A small decorative bag or tin of Christmas cookies, spiced nuts, or sweets

— A Christmas tree ornament with a place to hold a picture of the evening

— A wearable gift they can adorn to add some humor to the party (think reindeer antlers, a Santa hat, or Rudolph’s nose)


#4 Put together a playlist for extra Christmas cheer

An easy way to set the mood for your Christmas party is to create a playlist of background music to last all night long. Aside from adding some enjoyable tunes to your party, a Christmas playlist can fill the gaps between conversations (or even start them) and turn any awkward silences into cozy, reflective moments.

Your taste in music will likely direct your choices, but to create a cohesive feeling, look for a playlist (or two) that organizes Christmas music by theme or era, such as:

— Christmas pop hits

— Classic Christmas oldies

— Instrumental Christmas music

— Christmas jazz

You can also add a link in your invitation to an online playlist where guests can add their own favorite Christmas tunes. 


#5 Make your table the main focus

It might seem obvious, but at a Christmas dinner, the table (and what you put on it) will be the main focus of the evening. For that reason, it’s important to plan your décor around the table and work outward, rather than save this space for last.

You can organize your table décor by choosing the specific elements, colors, and textures you’ll be decorating with and using them consistently. Elements to consider include:

— Table linens: These include table runners, tablecloths, and napkins. Choosing their colors early on can help to make your other décor feel more cohesive.

— Centerpieces: If you’re working with a long table to seat many people, you should place several smaller centerpieces along the length of your table rather than one in the center. Don’t forget that your guests across the table from one another should still be able to converse, despite the centerpieces.

— Decorative items: If you’re using candles for lighting, be sure to consider where these will factor into the overall look. You may also want to add other festive decorations that add texture—like bells, sprigs of holly, pinecones, faux snow, or any combination of these.

— Tableware: Of course, you can’t forget the most functional part of your décor: the tableware. Keeping your plates, silverware, and place settings neutral and/or metallic can help them fit easily with the rest of your table theme. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go bold here, too—just be sure to balance it with the rest of your décor.


Steps for hosting a successful Christmas dinner party

No matter the theme, we’ve put together a complete list of tips to make sure you’ve thought of everything. Follow these pointers and you’ll be feeling calm, cool, and cheery when the guests begin to arrive.


A red and green plaid Christmas party invitation. Right: A yule log-style dessert on a wooden serving tray.So Plaid” by kate spade new york for Paperless Post; Image by Life, Love and Sugar.


Step 1: Decide on the style of your Christmas dinner 

The style of your Christmas dinner can make a significant difference in the amount of planning and preparation you’ll need to do. For example, an all-out potluck can take most of the cooking off your plate—but you will need to coordinate who’s bringing what to ensure you don’t end up with ten of the same dish.

If you’re planning to do all the meal preparation yourself, constructing the menu in advance can help you stay organized. Traditional Christmas foods can include lots of options beyond the usual ham and mashed potatoes, depending on the style of cuisine you’d like to incorporate. Consider combining dishes from your own family’s traditions, your favorite restaurants or chefs, and traditional Christmas fare from around the world.

Here are a few recipe ideas to inspire your planning, according to the course:

— Appetizers: Cranberry Brie Bites and a Pull-Apart Christmas Tree, paired with your favorite Christmas cocktails

— First course: Pomegranate Glazed Pork paired alongside Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce

— Second course: Peppercorn-Crusted Rib Roast with Candied Yams

— Dessert: A Yule Log Cake or Plum Pudding

You can make your dinner planning easier by writing out your menu in the same way. Then, carefully read over each recipe to find steps that can be done ahead of time. Be sure to batch your prep work. For example, chop all your veggies at once, then split them up into baggies for each recipe and store them in the fridge until it’s time to cook.

Any foods that freeze well should be made several days to a week in advance. Baked cookies and cookie dough both freeze very well and can be made days before the party. Even cake layers can be baked in advance, then thawed and decorated the day of.

Finally, be sure to consider any dietary restrictions that may factor into your planning. For example, you may want to offer a plant-based main course for vegetarian guests, or gluten-free options for those who can’t eat wheat. One helpful way to find out what restrictions you should accommodate is to request guests to share these when they RSVP for the dinner.


Step 2: Prepare your Christmas party timeline

Want an easy way to help your Christmas dinner party go off without a hitch, effortlessly flowing from one moment to the next? A timeline is your best tool.

Like planning an agenda for a meeting, a dinner party timeline can help you coordinate what happens when, allowing you to anticipate guests’ needs and keep from scrambling around on the day of. Here’s an example of what your Christmas dinner party timeline might look like:

— 6:00pm: Guests begin to arrive and remove their coats

— 6:30pm: Serving of appetizers and cocktails

— 7:00pm: Guests sit down at the table; more drinks are served

— 7:15pm: First course is served

— 7:30pm: Second course is served

— 8:00pm: Plates are cleared away; during this brief break, you can offer coffee, tea, or more drinks

— 8:15pm: Dessert is served


An online invite with evergreen boughs and a small Christmas tree with the words “’Tis the season.”Spin Season” Flyer by Paperless Post.


Step 3: Plan and send invitations early

Send your invitations at least two or three weeks in advance. With so many events happening at this time of year, it’s helpful to get your party on the books as early as possible. 

Paperless Post has hundreds of beautiful Christmas party invitations, so choose something that fits the tone and style of your Christmas party theme. Online invitations are the easiest method to track opens and replies, RSVPs, and message your guests all in one place. Some of our favorite ways to tell guests about your dinner party include:

— Text message invitations: Sending party invitations by text—an option with all Paperless Post invitations—is a simple way to quickly get the word out to guests who always have their phone close by. It also makes replying quick and easy, so you’re likely to get RSVPs sooner. 

Share a link to your invitation: Is Whatsapp or Messenger your favorite method of communication, or is your guest list more fluid? Try a shareable link invitation. Drop it casually into a group chat or share anywhere and everywhere for your potential guests to see.

— Animated Flyers: Throwing a more casual dinner? Try a cheery holiday-themed animated Flyer invitation. You can even upload your own favorite gif for a personal touch. 


Step 4: Enlist help from family or from other guests

Delegating tasks to your kids or your best friend doesn’t just get chores off your plate—it’s also an opportunity to make sure everyone feels like part of the fun. Kids especially love to contribute in ways that put their special skills and interests to use. If your kiddo is artistic, let them help with decorations. If they’ve got big dreams of being a baker, let them help with a cookie recipe. And even if you aren’t doing a potluck, asking your bestie to contribute a favorite recipe or festive cocktail to the table will get one more dish out of your kitchen.


Step 5: Clean early to lighten the load

Rather than one marathon cleaning session that leaves you frazzled by the time the doorbell rings, clean the house a little at a time in the days leading up to your party. Plan the cleaning list in order of how fast grime accumulates. Dusting can be done a week ahead, the floor mopped a day or two before, the bathroom cleaned in the morning, and so on.


Step 6: Set the scene the day before

Use the day and night before the festivities to do as much as possible so you can ease into the celebration without hectic day-of tasks. 

You can do the following ahead of time:

–Tidy and decorate

–Lay out flatware/glassware

–Set up tables and chairs

–Food prep (this can include pre-chopping vegetables for a roast or presetting trays of snacks that will keep in the fridge)

–Test your sound system

–Set up games, activities, or other supplies for your party’s events


A place setting with a wooden deer-shaped place card that reads “Amelie” with sprigs of evergreen and red berries on the plates. Right: A Christmas party invitation with three gold deer on a green background.Image by Etsy; “Reindeer Friends” by Paperless Post.


Step 7: Make up a seating chart and set out place cards for guests

While seating charts are optional at smaller, more intimate dinner parties, there are plenty of reasons you might want to include them. Here are a few benefits to consider:

— You can seat people next to others you want them to meet. Know your friend and neighbor have something in common and may hit it off? They might never know if they end up at opposite ends of the table.

— It’s a thoughtful way to welcome your guests. Sitting down to a seat with your name on it can show just how much the hosts anticipated and prepared for your arrival.

— It can avoid the shuffle of finding seating before the meal. Having pre-set seating can make a smoother transition to dinner and prevent any questions of who should sit where.


Step 8: Enjoy the festivities!

With your boxes checked, your goodies on display, and the mistletoe hung strategically, it’s time to sip your favorite winter beverage and wait for the guests to arrive! 

Warm up your Christmas celebration with Paperless Post

With everything else planned to perfection, you’re ready to choose your invitations and send them off to your guests! Your invitations will set the tone and build anticipation for a memorable evening of holiday cheer. 

When you choose invitations from Paperless Post, you’ll have a world of designs at your fingertips, so you can find the perfect fit for any Christmas party theme. Whether you’re planning a wintry cocktail party, a traditional Christmas feast, or an out-of-the-box theme that’s uniquely you, Paperless Post is ready to help you design, send, track your invitations, and message your guests all in one place. 

Your party is sure to be the best time of the year with a little help from Paperless Post.


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