Twelve party ideas for the holiday season

  • Savory fans prefer martinis to eggnog. Amy Raudenbush

  • Think of a cookie exchange as a sweets-only potluck. iStockphoto

  • Potato latkes served with sour cream and apple sauce. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Published: 12/3/2018 1:35:53 PM

Once upon a time, holiday gift giving and enthusiasm kicked off with a partridge in a pear tree and concluded with twelve drummers drumming. Thankfully, holiday gifts and entertaining have evolved. This season try applying a modern spin to an old favorite tune. Instead of live birds, milkmaids and drummers, get festive with 12 days of holiday-inspired parties.

CAROLING FOR A CAUSE Seasonal songs may sound even sweeter when sung for charity. Select a group of friends — the more the merrier. After designating a specific charity, scout out a family-friendly neighborhood or park appropriate to sing in. Bring along a wagon and pack it with hot-apple cider, hot chocolate and cookies to share. Set out a charity donation jar. Encourage onlookers to join in the caroling.

HANUKKAH LATKES AND LIGHTS Light up a Hanukkah party by creating a beautiful ambiance filled with blue and white. Include blue and white lights, candles and serving-ware. Serve variations of the traditional Hanukkah dishes like latkes, noodle kugel and sufganiyot. For example, try Jalapeno Latkes (at and Orange Sugar Fried Donut Holes (at

Get guests on their feet by playing upbeat favorites like "Hanukkah Oh Hannukkah," "How do you spell Channukkahh," and "Sevivon Sov Sov Sov." After spinning the dreidel, provide take-homes as party favors.

UGLY SWEATER PARTY Tacky and gaudy sweaters are the worst, but yet the best when it comes to an ugly-sweater party. Take tacky a step further by offering at least a couple less appealing appetizers like mini gherkins and fruitcake. White-elephant gifts of Christmas' past and stuffed animals are perfect for silly centerpieces and embellishments. Award the male and female wearing the ugliest sweater with — you guessed it — an ugly sweater.

CLASSIC CHRISTMAS "I think about the tree as a focal point," said Peyton Lambton, style expert from HGTV's "Going Yard."

"I'm a fan of white lights, and red, gold or silver ribbon and bows cascading over tree branches. Burlap and linen are great options for a more 'toned down' classic look."

Top off the holiday cheer with finger foods, homemade eggnog and cookies. "Add cranberries to a glass pitcher of champagne for a colorful kick to your bar area," Lambton said.

COOKIE EXCHANGE Invite all guests to bring two-dozen of their favorite cookies. Provide stickers and pens for guests to label confections. Give each cookie-exchange participant an inexpensive festive to-go plate and a voting sheet. After everyone has perused the platters and filled their plates, have guests vote on cookies for: Best Looking, Best Tasting and Best Overall cookie. Offer foil or plastic wrap to cover to-go plates.

SWEET AND SAVORY SOIREE From Halloween to New Year's, households will be inundated with sweets. To balance out the sweetness of the holidays, incorporate savory staples to your next holiday party. "As the host, provide savory and sweet martinis (or similar drinks) and have guests bring a dish of their choice," Lambton said. Or, create a "pairing theme" like chili and cheesecake or mousse and mac and cheese and have each guest bring their favorite versions of each.

WHITE AND GOLD ELEPHANT PARTY Most everyone is familiar with a white elephant exchange, where each guest brings a superbly silly gift to share. This year, apply the golden rule into your exchange: give a gift to others, that you'd give to yourself — bring a cool gift, too. "Prior to the party, set a price limit on gifts so everyone is on the same page," Lambton said.

"Place white flowers in gold vases or ask guests to dress in white and gold to add to the decor."

IT'S A WRAP Wrapping can be tedious, so why not turn it into a reason to celebrate? Organize a party where each guest brings a few rolls of wrapping paper, tissue paper and assorted wrapping accessories: tape, bows, ribbons, etc. Supply snacks and beverages and make sure to clear plenty of space to wrap gifts. Hosts with a generous giving spirit can even spring for a masseuse to do 15-minute neck and back massages for aching wrappers.

SCROOGE PARTY Let's face it; some folks are more enthused about the holidays than others. For those on Team Ebenezer Scrooge or Team Grinch, try throwing the ultimate un-merry Christmas. Instead of holiday decor, adapt a Tim Burton spin and string up some Halloween-inspired orange, black or purple lights. Pin up "Bah Humbug" and other sneering quotes of iconic holiday naysayers. Encourage guests to dress down or come in their pajamas. Provide a cereal buffet, finger foods or anything devoid of the holidays.

FESTIVUS For those not so jolly, but not quite a Grinch, there's "Festivus for the rest of us." What began as a Seinfeld holiday parody has become a pop-culture phenomenon. Take the lead of Frank Costanza and swap tree for aluminum pole. Festivus dinner is a perfect opportunity to carry out the "Airing of Grievances," in which guests participate in a friendly communal roasting session.

Brave hosts can submit to "Feats of Strength," allowing themselves to be wrestled to the ground. Of course no Festivus is complete without an airing of the infamous "Seinfeld" episode.

LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION Even if the weather outside is frightful, the glow of holiday lights can be quite delightful. Invite neighbors and friends for a family-friendly post-dinner drive. Provide coffee, hot chocolate and dessert before wagon-training to a local community or light attraction. Bring a camera and encourage kids to snap their favorite home or yard display. When the light tour is over, head back to a cozy fire and exchange pictures of the evening's tour.

HOLIDAY MOVIE AND TRIVIA "How many times does the line 'you'll shoot your eye out?'" occur in "A Christmas Story?" This is just one of endless fun and frivolous movie quotes to challenge partygoers. Select a favorite holiday movie or a collection of clips and compile a list of trivia questions prior to the party. If any prominent meals appear in your featured flick (like Chinese food in "A Christmas Story"), provide them. Showcase movie-oriented decor like the infamous "leg lamp," or a bell or two for "It's a Wonderful Life."

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