Holiday parties can blend start to blend together as the season heats up. Between work, friends, and family, every night could bring a new opportunity to celebrate. Give your get-together a memorable theme though and you’ll get your guests in the spirit of the season as soon as they receive their holiday invitation. You might even turn it into a memorable new tradition. Themes make party-planning decisions easy by inspiring (and narrowing down the options for) the decor, food, music, and dress code. Ahead, a few of our go-to ideas for every type of holiday party.
Not sure when to host this shindig? We break down when to host every type of holiday party in our guide to planning the ultimate holiday party.
COVID-19 holiday party ideas
What a year 2020 has been. We can’t think of anything better to celebrate than turning the page on this year and a fresh start in 2021. An unprecedented year means rethinking our favorite party ideas by putting a new (safer) spin on them or celebrating the holiday season in new-to-us ways. As the public health updates are continuously evolving, check with the CDC’s guidelines before you press send on your holiday party invitation.
New (socially-distant) ways to holiday
If you host the same party year after year, it may only need a few thoughtful tweaks to make it work this year. A few of our favorite twists on tradition:
- Opt for a new cookie swap. Have a gingerbread house decorating party where everyone has their decorating station or cookie cutter swap instead of a traditional cookie swap party.
- Hit the road. If you’re uneasy about hosting a tree decorating party this year, go on a Christmas caravan or a neighborhood stroll to take in your town’s Christmas lights.
- Find your new favorite cocktail. Instead of a pretty cocktail party punch, try single-serving options like cans or bottles. You can even bottle your own classics in advance to serve. You might not ever go back.
- Bundle up. It’s (almost) never too cold to host outside if you’re dressed for the weather. Consider hosting a ‘smores holiday party in your backyard or set up tables for a wreath-making party.
Virtual holiday parties
After a virtual school semester and WFH, we’re starting to get Zoom fatigue. Our take? Don’t skip virtual holiday parties altogether but do give them a purpose. Go with a theme that your guests will look forward to from the second they receive their invitation.
- Virtual Christmas caroling: Make a playlist and include the link in your invitation to act as a songbook. Or use our favorite holiday playlist.
- Virtual mixology class: If there is a self-appointed cocktail expert among your group, have them send their go-to holiday drink recipe as part of the invitation and show guests how to make a new seasonal cocktail. Or hire a mixologist to walk you through Christmas classics like eggnog or mulled wine.
- Virtual Secret Santa: Play matchmaker and ask guests to send gifts directly to the intended recipients. Then have everyone unwrap their presents together while you all guess who sent what to who.
- Virtual gift wrapping: Those gifts under the tree aren’t going to wrap themselves. You might as well wrap while you catch up with friends over wine.
Holiday party ideas for adults
- Ugly sweater party: What’s not to love about a Christmas party that encourages you to come cozy, get toasty, and celebrate the season in a very low-key (and potentially lowbrow) way? Have a contest with a few categories on the ballot and hand out cheesy trophies or candy cane prizes to the winners. Create a menu that gives you an excuse to indulge in classic Christmas party food that feels dated but delicious. Our guide to ugly Christmas sweater parties goes into all the wacky details.
- Apres ski party: Aspen has long been the height (pun intended) of celebratory holiday chicness. Your party can cut the lift line to a night of Rocky Mountain glitz with just a few adjustments. Sit around the fireplace or backyard fire pit in cowboy boots and fur for s’ mores, seasonal songs, and merriment.
- Dolly Parton sing-a-long: Crank up the kitsch and host a Dolly Parton-inspired sing & drink-along. Pick up a karaoke mike, turn on Dolly’s holiday playlist, and let the good times roll. The bigger the hair and the longer the nails, the better.
- Winter palace party: The Russians don’t let sub-freezing temperatures get to them, so why should you? Serve fresh blinis, caviar, and Stoli and look to Dr. Zhivago for outfit inspiration.
Holiday party for family get-togethers
- Plaid tidings party: Shake up the ugly sweater soiree with tartan—whether it’s a scarf, socks, or a tie. It’s not too daunting but great for sparking conversation.
- Cookie swap: Cookie exchanges are great ways to experiment with new cookie recipes. Our design partner Cheree Berry believes that presentation is everything: “We love lining a silver tin with patterned wax paper for a pop of color, which also ensures that the doughy delights don’t stick together. Then, top with a bow. We also love delivering the cookies with cute oven mitts and leaving them behind as a hostess gift. And a print-out of the recipe as a tag is a great detail.”
- Christmas in Provence: Use the region’s rustic elegance to inject your annual holiday cocktail party with some Old World charm. Deck your halls with eucalyptus and olive branches, boughs, or garlands to give it that “away from home” feel, no passport required. Set out earthy reds like Syrahs and serve up hearty classics like coq au vin and Bûche de Noël.
- Holiday movie night: There are almost too many good Christmas movies for the season, so we’ll leave you the challenging task of picking just one. For extra credit, try and make a few themed bites: flatbreads with extra cheese to accompany Home Alone or something frozen for A Christmas Story.
- Game night: A board game is a great way to ease a small group into conviviality. There’s only room for so many players, people need to work together (or at odds with each other), and having an activity gets people’s minds off their shyness.
- A Texas Christmas party: Take a bit of inspiration from somewhere that’s warm nearly year-round. String some lights on a decorative cactus and put on Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family.” Ask guests to come in pearl snaps and boots—formalwear the Western fashion—and line dance the winter blues away.
- Gingerbread house-making party: For a gingerbread house decorating party, we give each child an assigned workplace. Line the table with butcher paper so once the houses are in their boxes and out the door, you can roll up the paper.
Holiday party ideas for friends
- A favorite things party: Instead of bringing gag gifts for your next gift exchange, ask each guest to bring something they love. We have a guide to hosting a favorite things party to match your guest count and budget and our go-to gifts.
- Wreath-making party: Sometimes, all it takes to breathe new life into an annual event is an activity. Set out greenery from the local farmer’s market or your backyard for guests to get creative with– we love using evergreens, eucalyptus leaves, dried citrus slices, magnolia, or wheat. Warm up with cups of soup once everyone has finished.
- Traditional potluck: Encourage everyone to show off their best sides and save yourself work. Take care of the main course and leave the rest to your guests: assign appetizers, side dishes, cocktails, and desserts to those you know will shine at the task.
- Open house: There’s no wrong way to host a holiday open house. Invite the whole neighborhood: school friends, work friends, and your kid’s soccer team. The drinks can be pre-made, the food can go out in nibble-friendly increments, and the kids can roam free. We sat down with Los Angeles-based caterer Annie Campbell, who has quite literally party-making her business who shared her tips on creating a party that feels traditional with a twist, even if it’s 60 degrees in December.
- Scandinavian holiday brunch: Scandinavian design is known for its minimal elegance, but it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its array of cozy tricks to beat the brutal winters. Set out tea lights, pick up gravlax and smorrebrod and finish with lots of aquavit to chase.
- Hawaiian holiday: Not all holiday parties need to be winter wonderlands. Pair poinsettias and palm trees with Christmas lights. Ask guests to wear their best aloha shirts and hand out Christmas leis when they arrive. Serve roasted pork and with everyone a Mele Kalikimaka.
Corporate holiday party ideas
- Go on a group outing. A morning at a museum and a formal lunch is perfect for small teams. Skip the decor or party favors and spend on a luxurious lunch.
- Use a theme for your gift exchange. Update a white elephant gift exchange simple and work-appropriate with a book or cookbook swap or gift each other desk upgrades.
- Host a toy drive for families in need in your community. Spread holiday cheer together, organizing or wrapping gifts before dropping them off.
- Host a game night. Design partner Gray Malin loves a little friendly competition at his office party: “Any game that gets everyone involved makes the party that much more fun. Splitting into teams for Charades or Pictionary is fun, but if you don’t want too much competition, bring out a microphone for some karaoke, a crowd-pleaser.
- Turn water into wine: Take a tip from stationer Cheree Berry “One year we had the party in our office, so we turned our water cooler into a wine cooler. Out of this came our Wine Cooler invitation. It’s a festive spin on a universal office motif. And yes, the water came out slightly pink the next day.”
- Rent a party bus. The founders of Sugar Paper once hired a party bus and toured the speakeasy bars of downtown Los Angeles. Food was served street-side from a taco truck.
- Make mocktails. Our design partner Jonathan Adler hosts one every year. “My husband Simon Doonan and I are both big fans of hosting an informal cocktail—or in our case—mocktail party. It allows guests to mix, mingle, and motor if needed. There’s nothing worse than being shackled next to someone boring at a sit-down dinner party.”
Ready to break out the eggnog, wrapping paper, and turn up the Mariah Carey? Browse all holiday invitations to find the one that speaks to you.
Once you’ve brought joy to your corner of the world with your holiday party wish friends near and far a Merry Christmas with our guide to Christmas card ideas. Not sure what to say? We’ve rounded up 101 holiday messages and wishes for your holiday cards and everything you need to know about when to send holiday greetings.