You stand at the snack table, pouring yourself another glass of eggnog. As you sip and survey the room, you mentally note that the mistletoe is hanging in the doorway between your friend’s kitchen and living room and pledge to avoid lingering in that doorway at any time during the night.
Yes, friends, it’s holiday party season again.
The holidays are a perennially great time to dust off your finest party clothes, see your friends, and eat, drink, and be merry. As December begins you’ll accept invitations with genuine excitement, but as the month comes to an end you’ll be tired of trekking through the snow and about five pounds overweight from the gluttony.
But the truth is, though everyone goes through the same routine every year, the holidays truly are fun. If you’d like to host a holiday shindig of your own that will stand out from the other Facebook invites for the same night, consider more than just the traditional cocktail party. Below, six options to get you started:
The Nightmare Before Christmas Party
There’s a lot of genius in Tim Burton’s animated classic. For holiday party purposes, the genius is that the movie’s feel is part Christmas, part Halloween. And who doesn’t love a good Halloween party? Combine the two with a “The Nightmare Before Christmas”-themed costume party. Give your guests a chance to pull out another Halloween costume and encourage them to dress up as a character, prop, or scene from the movie, or something movie-adjacent. Decorate your home in appropriate gear: Add Jack Skellington pumpkins, Sally-like patchwork decorations, and split the room between Halloween Town and Christmas Town. Music for ambiance? The soundtrack, of course.
Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition MP3 Soundtrack, $11.49 on Amazon
You know you'll want to sing along.
When it comes to food and drink, you have your choice between Halloween and fall-themed fare or traditional Christmas party appetizers. You could also reuse your Halloween candy if you have any left, or create something new, such as a Christmas ode to The Pumpkin King with pumpkin-flavored eggnog or character-themed cake pops.
Creamy and frothy, this Halloweeny version of a traditional Christmas recipe takes only 10 minutes and can be doubled or tripled for parties. While the recipe uses raw eggs as in traditional eggnog recipes, it also provides alternatives if the danger of consuming raw eggs makes you a bit queasy. Get the Pumpkin Eggnog recipe.
As so many characters from the movie have perfectly round heads, they make excellent models for cake pops. Use this recipe as a start and make a sparkly batch for the Christmas side of your party, or coat in white frosting and decorate to look like Jack, Sally, or any other characters for the Halloween side. Get our Cake Pops recipe.
Cold weather equals comfort food and chili is the ultimate comfort food. The great thing about hosting a chili cook-off is you get everyone else to do most of the work for you (shhh). Encourage your friends to enter their favorite chili concoction, and you simply provide the tasting cups and sides like cornbread, shredded cheese, oyster crackers, and beverages. Just make sure that you have enough surge protectors to take care of all the crock pots. Create a scoring system for attributes like taste, texture, aroma, and overall deliciousness. At the end of the evening, give out awards for most traditional, most original, and any other category you can think of. Don’t take the prizes too seriously though: Silly or random trinkets will do. Everyone will go home stuffed and gassy, but happy.
Chili Cook-Off Medals, 3 for $17.95 on Amazon
If you want to award actual medals, this set includes bronze, silver, and gold.
Chili is a super easy recipe yet there are so many ways to do it: beef, turkey, vegetarian, beans, tomato sauce…the combinations are virtually endless. With this recipe you simply brown the beef, dump it in the slow cooker with everything else, and let the flavors meld. If you do enter your own chili in the cook-off, just make sure you have someone else tally up the points so you don’t get accused of cheating if you win! Get the Crock Pot Chili recipe.
If you have chili you pretty much have to have cornbread. This easy skillet recipe whips up in about 30 minutes, which means you can quickly make a double batch to handle all the chili you’ll be tasting. The recipe also lends itself to variations in toppings such as jalapeños or cilantro. Get our Basic Skillet Cornbread recipe.
People love the holidays so much that the “Christmas in July” themed party is actually a well-known thing. So why not switch it up? Get people out of the “snow everywhere” frame of mind and dress up your home with a tropical theme. People love tropical parties so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find the requisite decorations at your local party store, even in December. Provide Hawaiian leis, rum punch, margaritas, and hot dogs and hamburgers as if you’re barbecuing in the hot sun. Crank up the Beach Boys and decorate like you’re on the sand with inflatable palm trees, beach chairs, and pool toys. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll forget about the wind chill outside.
Joyin Toy Tropical Hawaiian Flower Leis, 36 for $13.96 on Amazon
These bright leis can double as kitschy decor and party favors.
While frozen margaritas are a little harder to make and replenish in big batches than mixed ones, this recipe makes it easy with just a few ingredients tossed into a blender. The reddish color from the frozen strawberries gives the requisite nod to the holiday season. If you don’t want to deal with blending but still want the color scheme, simply muddle strawberries into a more traditional recipe. Get the Strawberry Lime Margarita recipe.
In a nod to both the traditional Christmas ham and the Hawaiian theme, whip up a batch of this pulled pork and turn it into sliders by serving on small buns for easy finger food. To make this an easier self-serve dish, keep it on warm in the slow cooker and let your guests assemble their own. Get the Hawaiian Pulled Pork Sandwich recipe.
Terrible Movie Party
Sometimes you just want to do the opposite of getting all gussied up for a party and simply chill. In this case, amuse your friends by hosting a casual movie marathon of the Worst. Movies. EVER. While movie badness can certainly be subjective, go for the “This is so bad it’s hilarious” type films, not the “This is so painfully bad I’m going to slip out of this terrible party before anyone notices” kind of flicks. Suggestions include “Sharknado” (or any of its sequels) and “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Never seen Plan 9? It’s generally considered the worst movie ever made. It wins the Terrible Movie title by, among other things, the fact that you can see the strings the spaceships dangle from and that the main bad guy spends most of the movie wandering around with his cape obscuring half his face: The original actor, Bela Lugosi, died mid-filming and it was the only way the director could substitute a new actor without the audience knowing.
Since it’s a casual party, keep the food casual and easy with typical movie-watching finger food: popcorn, candy, pizza, and even nachos. Though it’s a Terrible Movie party, stay away from any foods that have Rotten Tomato associations. Self-explanatory.
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The movies may be terrible, but the popcorn should be on point. These gourmet seasoning blends make it, well, pop!
Nothing says movies like bowls of popcorn, but save yourself from artificial chemicals and the inevitability of over or under popping microwave popcorn. This recipe is super quick and easy, is virtually burn-proof, and provides a delicious seasoning suggestion, though you can customize your toppings any way you like. Best yet? Not a single kernel burnt. Get the Stovetop Popcorn recipe.
Nachos in general are a great finger food, but with a bunch of people crowding around a TV you’ll want to avoid encouraging them to get up again and again for seconds. These potato skins help out by providing a single-serving size portion of nachos in an easy to grab package. Get our Loaded Nachos Potato Skins recipe.
Holiday Movie Party
If you prefer to spend your hard-earned downtime watching good movies, go for a holiday movie theme. Studios spend lots of time and money cranking out a few of these every year so you’ll have your pick of favorites. To make sure you’re catering to different tastes, mix old and new, comedy and drama: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Elf,” “Die Hard” (yes, it’s absolutely a holiday movie), “A Christmas Story,” or the classic “Miracle on 34th Street” are just a few to get you started—though unless you plan on an all day marathon, you may want to limit to just three movies. Make your food and drink selections easy so people don’t have to keep getting up and blocking the screen—anything in bowls or large plates means your guests can reach over and grab a piece of this, a spoonful of that. To stick with the theme, go for cozy and Christmas-themed food and drink like hot chocolate topped with red and green marshmallows.
This takes some time and effort but your guests will be super impressed by your light and fluffy homemade marshmallows. You can theme these up by using holiday cookie cutters to cut them into fun shapes like Christmas trees. Adjust or add to the powdered sugar coating with red and green sugar crystals or throw a little food coloring into the batter. Get our Classic Vanilla Marshmallows recipe. And serve them with our Real Deal Hot Chocolate recipe.
As long as you’re sugaring up your guests…sugar them up some more! These pinwheel cookies take a few steps but the gorgeous results are well worth the effort and make a ton of cookies to handle a large party. Get the Red and Green Icebox Pinwheel Cookies recipe.
New Year’s Day Hangover Brunch
Hold on, hold on, I know what you’re thinking: “It’s New Year’s Day. Why in the world would I want to do any cooking whatsoever?” The great news is if you do it right, you’ll barely need to lift a finger that day. Everyone spends Jan. 1 in their pajamas, eating takeout and watching football or binging on Netflix. So why not do that with some of the friends you may or may not remember seeing the night before? The key to pulling this off is to get everything ready a day ahead: Set a timer on the coffee pot, lay out disposable or easily washable plates and utensils, and stock up on assemble-yourself-type food such a mixed fruit bowl, bagels, cream cheese, and lox. You can pull those out of the fridge and just set them on the counter for guests to serve themselves. Also prep this amazing breakfast casserole: It’s designed to be assembled the night before and left in the fridge, so all you have to do is roll out of bed, preheat the oven, and pop it in. Then hand your guests the spatula as you load up the Netflix account.
Pro tip: Only invite friends who live super close to you; if they have to get in the car and drive 10 minutes they’ll never make it. Those who live just down the street or on a different floor of your apartment building? You’ll be their hero.
There are a lot of great breakfast casserole recipes out there, but this one works particularly well for a hangover brunch because it’s got all the right ingredients to take care of your pounding head: hash browns, sausage, bacon, and cheese. Another option is to layer the bottom with chunky pieces of day-old French bread (day-old keeps it from getting too mushy) then put the remaining ingredients in. Assemble the day before and voila—brunch is ready. Get the Fully Loaded Cheesy Breakfast Casserole recipe.
Related Video: 7 Healthy Eating Tips for Holiday Parties
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