15 Holiday Party Ideas if You Actually Want Guests to Have Fun

Two young women take selfie at holiday party

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

The holiday season is a notorious time for parties, but since everyone is likely attending multiple parties at this time of year, it can be easy for one shindig to blend into the next one. When you're a host striving for a memorable fête, that's probably not your goal.

As you plan your holiday party, stretch your creative planning skills. Not only will it challenge you, but most importantly, your guests are also more likely to remember your effort. To assist, we've rounded up 15 different holiday party ideas ranging from silly to sophisticated. Whatever you choose, don't be afraid to go all out. This is your chance to make your party a lasting holiday memory—and maybe an ongoing tradition, too.

Here are our favorite ideas to throw the best holiday party ever.

01 of 15

Host a Winter Wonderland

Spoon Fork Bacon's fried chicken and waffle cone recipe
Spoon Fork Bacon

Remember how fun it was to go to a winter wonderland dance as a kid? Relive that magic—minus the awkward phase and curfew—with this themed party. Ask your friends to wear '80s or '90s-style formalwear and create a photo booth that mimics what you had in your high school gym. Then clear the way for a dance floor and play some throwback hits like "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa, or Spice Girls's "Wannabe."

What to Serve: Since this party is reminiscent of a school dance, set up a buffet table of easy finger foods. This recipe for popcorn chicken in cheesy waffle cups from Spoon Fork Bacon should speak to your teenage self.

02 of 15

Try a Pajama Party

Half Baked Harvest's Pretzels
Half Baked Harvest

Ask your guests to put the least amount of effort into their wardrobes as possible—by showing up in their pajamas. As long as their pajamas are holiday-themed, they'll fit right in to a cozy setting of fuzzy blankets, floor pillows, and maybe even a small fort. Then, turn on film favorites like White Christmas or The Holiday, and have everyone gather round.

What to Serve: Keep the menu limited to things that can be easily shared during a movie marathon. Popcorn is a must, as well as candy. A recipe from Half Baked Harvest for roasted nuts and pretzels should be perfect. 

03 of 15

Escape on a Tropical Island Holiday

How Sweet Eats Pineapple platter recipe
How Sweet Eats

Crank up the heaters and pull out the bathing suits, because this party is all about having a tropical getaway at the start of winter. Make sure your guests know to show up in vacation-ready outfits—think frayed denim, tank tops, and sunglasses—and deck your halls with island-inspired décor. You can also make a photo booth using raffia and fake palms, too.

What to Serve: As part of your tropical theme, your dishes should be colorful, flavorful, and perfect for a day at the beach. Hot honey pineapple wedges from How Sweet Eats fit that bill. 

04 of 15

Throw a Holiday Happy Hour

Half Baked Harvest blog's Moscow Mule
Half Baked Harvest

If you want to gather your friends for a lighthearted party that won't take up a full night, open your house for happy hour. Serve holiday-themed cocktails and appetizers and stick to a set time in the early evening. You can also put a football game on in the background or set up a place for darts.

What to Serve: Since this party is all about cocktails, make sure guests have a few to choose from. The frosted Moscow mule recipe from Half Baked Harvest is a good choice. And don't forget the non-alcoholic options for variety.

05 of 15

Celebrate With a Santa Showdown

Cookies by Foodie Crush blog
Foodie Crush

This idea should bring out the silly sides of your friend group since everyone should be encouraged to dress up like Santa, but don't just leave it there. Make the Santa Showdown a costume contest, and the best one wins—so creativity is key. Hold a vote and create a trophy for the guest who gets the most praise. Those not partaking in the costume contest can instead opt to show up to the party dressed as Santa's reindeer, elves, or snowmen (and women).

What to Serve: This is the perfect opportunity to make cookies, of course. Chocolate-dipped almond cookies from Foodie Crush would be great with a glass of bourbon milk. 

06 of 15

Host a Classic Dinner Party

The Modern Proper's chicken and vegetables recipe
The Modern Proper

This party idea is all about the cozy feeling of good friends and an even better meal—think Nora Ephron and her accounts of having loved ones over to eat. Keep this guest list intimate since you'll be designing a full menu. Be sure to include an appetizer and dessert and have some conversation topics picked out for the main course, too.

What to Serve: Stick to comforting dishes, like the recipe for honey mustard chicken and vegetables from The Modern Proper.

07 of 15

Try a Holiday Movie Costume Party

Half Baked Harvest cheese pizza with french fries recipe
Half Baked Harvest

Everyone has a favorite holiday movie, and this party idea asks guests to show up dressed as their favorite characters. For instance, a group can come dressed as the gang from A Christmas Story, another can personify the Grinch, and someone else can re-create the scream of Kevin Mccallister in Home Alone. If your friends enjoy Halloween, this gives them another opportunity to make the most of their costume ideas. Be sure to play some movies in the background as well. 

What to Serve: Try to keep the menu specific to different foods from these movies. Kevin Mccallister loves cheese pizza, and Half Baked Harvest serves one up with French fries. 

08 of 15

Host a Hanukkah Potluck

How Sweet Eats's blackberry sparkling wine beverage
How Sweet Eats

For this party, ask your friends to bring classic Hanukkah dishes to your home for a festive but casual potluck. Someone can be in charge of latkes, for example, or the jelly donuts sufganiyot. You'll be in charge of a larger main dish, like brisket. Then, serve everything buffet style and let everyone mingle as they eat.

What to Serve: Aside from your main dish, serve up blackberry sparkling wine from How Sweet Eats to go with dessert. 

09 of 15

Have Fun With a Holiday Card Decorating Party

The Minimalist Baker's potato wedges recipe
The Minimalist Baker

Calling all crafters! Set up a photo booth and a table of supplies—like cardstock, glitter, stencils, and stickers—and ask your friends over to make different holiday cards from the images. Be sure to remind your friends to have addresses ready, too, since you'll also hand out envelopes and stamps for the finishing touches. In fact, end the party by walking over to the nearest mailbox and depositing your creations together.

What to Serve: Keep the menu light for this party since most of the time will be spent working on the cards. Cheesy chili baked potato fries from The Minimalist Baker will be gone before you know it. 

10 of 15

Host a Ski Lodge Holiday Party

Hello Glow's almond butter chocolate cups recipe
Hello Glow

This is a party theme for hosts with an outdoor space because it's the perfect place to re-create the look of a ski lodge. String lights above a patio, crank up a fire pit, and ask guests to attend wearing their best après ski outfits. You can roast marshmallows for s'mores, serve hot chocolate, and set up board games for people to play.

What to Serve: Keep the menu focused on small bites and chocolate desserts. Healthy chocolate almond butter cups from Hello Glow will be a serious crowd-pleaser.

11 of 15

Try an Ugly Sweater Brunch

The Modern Proper's coffee cinnamon rolls recipe
The Modern Proper

Sometimes the best time for a get-together is during the day—especially if mimosas are involved. Put a twist on the ugly sweater party trend and make it attire for an at-home brunch. Serve up various classic dishes, like waffles and cinnamon rolls, and then offer multiple types of mimosas, too. In addition to orange juice, consider offering grapefruit juice and pomegranate juice.

What to Serve: Brunch classics are the name of the game, like coffee cinnamon rolls with maple cream cheese icing from The Modern Proper

12 of 15

Celebrate With a Tree-Decorating Party

Cheese board with fresh figs and whole pears

 Verdina Anna / Getty Images

Instead of decorating your tree on your own, invite your friends over to help you string lights and place ornaments. As a thank you for their help, have snacks handy like a cheeseboard.

What to Serve: Beyond the cheeseboard, set out other snack-worthy items like popcorn and trail mix, and sparkling water or iced tea to wash it all down.

13 of 15

Have a Hot Chocolate Bar

Dairy free hot chocolate by Hello Glow blog

Hello Glow


Warm everyone up with a hot chocolate bar. Go artisanal with a selection of gourmet hot cocoa mixes (like Equal Exchange Dark Hot Chocolate for something earthy and rich, or Swiss Miss for a dose of nostalgia) and homemade marshmallows.

What to Serve: Balance out sweet beverages with opposite flavors and interesting textures, like chips, pretzels, or recipes for Instant Pot hummus or pistachio macaroon granola bars.

14 of 15

Host a Holiday Cookie Swap Celebration

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies by Pickled Plum blog

Pickled Plum

For groups who like to bake, ask everyone to whip up a batch of their favorite cookie recipes to share at a celebratory gathering at someone's home. Be sure to coordinate among gathering participants so everyone brings something different, from sugar cookies to ginger snaps.

What to Serve: How about hosting a milk bar, stocked with everything from whole milk to plant-based options like oat, almond, and soy milk.

15 of 15

Try an International Holiday Food Traditions Party

Chili Verde Chicken Tamales by Hola Jalapeño blog

 Hola Jalapeño

For cultures that celebrate Christmas around the world, there's usually a defining dish, beverage, or treat that symbolizes the occasion. Ask guests to bring something inspired from a different culture or something from their own. For example, tamales are typically served in Latinx cultures, while across Italian communities, seven seafood dishes known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes is common.

What to Serve: In addition to the globally-inspired dishes, ask guests to create an information card so guests have a cultural context for the deliciousness on their plates.

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