Instead of throwing yet another Ugly Sweater party this holiday season — we get the appeal: you can be silly and comfortable — maybe it’s time to change it up a bit. White elephant parties are great, too, but you can only act shocked so many times at the unwrapping of more novelty toilet paper. In the interest of shaking up the season, here are a few holiday theme parties we think could make for a jolly good time.

Crafting Fetes: 

Guests of all ages can get down on the fun when you host a crafting party. These parties require a bit more prep than the usual get-togethers, but if you’re of the craftsy ilk, hopefully you have plenty of supplies already laying around. 

Ugly yellow sweater with christmas candies glued onto itDIY Ugly Sweater Party: It’s getting too easy to simply purchase an Ugly Christmas Sweater these days. Instead, have your guests bring an old sweater and provide them with the supplies to jazz it up themselves! You’ll want to have a glue gun (or several), fabric glue, puff paint, and scissors to start. Felt, pom-poms, glitter glue, fabric scraps, and old ornaments or bells are other great supplies to provide, but feel free to clean out your craft closet, too! You never know what will cause inspiration to strike.

*Bonus tip: Feel like your guests might need a little encouragement to participate? Make it a competition, and offer a prize for the Ugliest/Funniest/Best Matching Set.

The Great Christmas Bake-Off: Fans of The Great British Baking Show will love this holiday party theme. 

You have several ways to emulate this beloved competition:

  • Ask guests to bring a “signature bake” that qualifies for a theme of your choice (patisserie week, anyone?)
  • Provide ingredients and abbreviated recipes for your own “technical challenge.” To make it interesting, set up different countertop areas for each guest and you can provide running comedic commentary.
  • Asking your guests to bake a “show-stopper” might be a bit too far, but if you make it reasonable it could be a great laugh. Think along the lines of unorthodox gingerbread shapes, or you could buy pre-made mini cakes and have your guests re-ice them.

*Bonus tip: Depending on how well you know your guests, maybe refrain from being a Paul Hollywood-esque judge. Keep things light and fun.

Man dressed as Santa decorating a red Christmas ornamentMake Your Own Card or Ornament: This idea is fairly self-explanatory and would work with all kinds of crowds. You need to supply the blank cards or ornaments, glue, and whatever supplies will work with the craft that you choose. To make this theme more interesting, create an objective for your party crafters. Are these cards naughty or nice? Can the ornaments feature a Christmas pun? Maybe the end results will be donated somewhere, or gathered to display somewhere everyone can enjoy them.

Gingerbread Houses: Yes, anyone can slap some icing on a pre-built gingerbread house and then dot on some gum drops and call it a day. But what if you made it competitive, and with a creative theme? You could hold a contest for Best Use of Marshmallows, or challenge guests to build Santa’s fantasy vacation home. You could ask them to stick to a particular era of design, like Mid-Century Modern, or build a home for a favorite movie character. If you provide the inspiration, your guests will take it from there.

Costumes n’ Cocktails: 

When throwing a costume party, the key is to exude enthusiasm. Leave no room for doubt on the invite whether a costume is obligatory. If it’s at all optional, most will opt-out. Then, it is equally important that the theme is clear and easy to do. Finally, it’s also best if people can source their costumes from their own closet; people have enough things to shop for this time of year.

Christmas Hat resting on a green hawaiian shirtChristmas In Hawaii: As long as you don’t mind Mele Kalikimaka getting stuck in your head for days, this is a festive theme that really lends itself to fun decorations, costumes, and food. Plus, it can be a nice change from your typical holiday gathering. Be sure to really lean in on serving some Polynesian fare, beachy drinks, and tropical decor.

Christmas Movie Characters: Christmas films almost always feature some pretty memorable characters. Invite your guests to dress up as one of their favorites, and let hilarity ensue. Can you imagine having Cousin Eddie, The Ghost of Christmas Future, and John McClane sitting around sipping eggnog? That’s a good party right there.

Christmas Around the World: It may be safer to focus on the food rather than the costumes for this theme, but Christmas Around the World is a wonderful way to try something new. (That said, we know someone who tries to find any excuse to wear their authentic lederhosen, so be prepared.) Have each guest bring a food or drink item from a country of their choice; maybe it celebrates their own personal heritage, or was discovered on a memorable trip. Ask if they can bring print-outs of the recipe to share with others. You could go even further, and try to source holiday stories and traditions that are different from your own to feature and share with everyone.

People toasting with champaigne at a dinner party. Text bubble over their heads that says "Bah, Humbug!"Scrooge Party: Feel like sometimes you’re tired of Christmas before it even happens? A Scrooge theme is one that forbids any reference to the upcoming holiday. No ugly sweaters. No gifts. No schmaltzy songs playing in the background. Just an excuse to gather and be mer—uh, have fun. 

*Bonus tip: encourage people to loudly yell “Bah-humbug!” at anyone attempting to talk about Christmas.

Swapping Soirees:

“Swap parties” arose as a way to ease the burden of buying a gift for everyone. They’re great fun, but as we mentioned before, sometimes the usual White Elephant/Yankee Swap gets a little stale. Here are a few variations you could propose: 

Stockings hung with presents in themStocking Stuffer Party: Minimalists might cringe, but this is a sweet way to share little *somethings* with a group of friends. As the host, you would provide a stocking for each person, and then ask people to bring a few small, wrapped items, usually worth under $10. These little gifts are then randomly dispersed amongst the stockings, and everyone gets the joy of bringing home a few fun things to unwrap.

Re-Gifting: Instead of buying something new to wrap and exchange, the idea is that the party is held after Christmas, and you have to bring something you were gifted but don’t want. Then you follow the usual rules for a White Elephant/Yankee Swap/whatever you call this game. (Rules can be found here.) 

*Bonus Tip: be careful that you don’t bring something that someone at the party gifted to you. That would be… unfortunate.

three red solo cups taped to the end of a table. Two people are trying to roll ping pong balls into them, while wearing Christmas shirtsReindeer Games: This isn’t a swap so much as it is a rollicking good time. Ever seen those minute-to-win-it games? Like the one where you put a tennis ball into the feet of pantyhose, put them over your head, and then compete to see who can use theirs to knock down a bottle of water placed on the floor like some kind of deranged elephant? These games were designed to look really silly and be tons of fun. Have each guest prepare one of their favorite games (some require some light crafting, after all) to share with others and play away! 

*Bonus Tip: Turn it into the North Pole Olympics by making teams and competing for medals.

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