12 Holiday Party Ideas That Will Make Any Festive Gathering Feel Straight Out Of A Hallmark Movie

Tips and themes for hosting an event every guest will remember.

Cristina Lynch of Mi Golondrina Holiday Party with Friends
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Paige Morse

We stand by the expression that no matter the season, there's always something to celebrate. However, this saying rings especially true during the holidays—a time of year when our calendars are packed with work events, family festivities, and seasonal fun.

During the holiday party circuit, which officially runs from Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, festivities can begin to blur together as the nights are dark, drinks are poured, and invites start to stack up. But that doesn't mean they have to, and it certainly shouldn't stop you from hosting a holiday party of your own. Trust us: Your friends will agree, 'tis the season for gathering, celebrating, and living up the last days of the year, after all.

Make your holiday party stand out with the 12 expert tips and ideas below, straight from Southern Living editors and event pro Gary Petro of Shag Carpet Prop Rentals in Texas. Take notes and you'll soon be hosting a holiday party every guest will remember.

Trim The Tree With Friends

Tree trimming with friends is a favorite tradition among many of our editors. Editorial fellow Mary Alice Russell recalls one particular party that her mom hosted years ago. "Each of us got a mini tree and a little box of different decorations like ribbon, poly-fill to make it snowy, and mini lights," she explains. "It was so much fun and everyone loved it! I still have that tree at home. I even brought it with me to college a few times when I needed some extra holiday cheer."

Sure, this event is a traditional go-to but it can also be customized to your group. For instance, if you're hosting little ones, you might want to go ahead and put the lights on the trees or make it a mommy-and-me activity. For crafty adults who love a little competition, make it a contest! No matter your approach, don't forget to incorporate a surprise element into your decoration kit. Mary Alice grew up by the beach, so her mom included shells at their party, but this can also be done with fun ornaments, favorite candies, or even an item that hints at an inside joke.

Celebrate The Winter Solstice

This year, the Winter Solstice on December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year. In some cultures, this is a magical night celebrated with the lighting of Yule Logs, baked treats, and lots of candles. Recreate that feeling with a warm winter solstice party. For colors and tablescapes, think of glistening colors shimmering in silvers and gold. You'll want plenty of candles to illuminate your party space, life-like faux candles can do just the trick.

Host A Holiday Movie Night

Another classic party is an at-home viewing of a favorite Christmas movie. While this idea has surely been done before, you can make yours unique by having the group vote on the showing. To execute, have everyone write their movie of choice on a piece of paper, throw them in a bowl or hat, and choose your winner. Then, make the "winner" wait to the end of the movie to reveal it was his or her choice. You can make everyone rate the movie, then guess who picked it! You might be surprised.

Take A Tour Of Your Town's Best Lights

Take your party on the road by inviting your friends to join you on a tour of the best holiday lights around. Some cities offer special limo tours around neighborhoods that "go big or go home" but you can also DIY this by tapping a designated driver and riding in your own car. Pack snacks for the road, or stop at local restaurants for different "courses" throughout the night.

Gather Your Knitting Or Needle Point Group

The months of December through February are our cozy seasons. Aside from crossing books off your reading list, needle pointing and knitting are common winter go-to's. Invite your guests over for a cozy, creative, and relaxing knitting and or needle-pointing merrymaking. Position oversized floor cushions around a common coffee table and have a place setting for each guest. At each place setting, have a needlepoint or knitting basket pre-made with everything they'll need to finish the evening's project. Cozy candles and a chill background playlist will complete the experience.

Break Out The Ugly Sweaters

The tacky sweater party is an event that deserves an annual representation, no questions asked. This is a fun one to claim as your signature holiday party, then host year after year.

Have A Holiday Potluck

Hosting doesn't have to be stressful! If you want to gather with friends but not break out every pot in your kitchen, ask everyone to bring a dish that's a staple on their family's holiday table. Once your plates are served, ask the group to go around and tell a story about what they made.

Create Your Own Winter Wonderland

Most people think of green and white attire during the holidays, but a white party can be a chic concept this time of year. To execute, ask everyone to dress in white clothing then, as a host, focus on the color for everything from the decor to the drinks. For decor, think in terms of modern elements, LED lights, and sparkle. The end result? A shimmery, snowy dreamland.

Do The Old-School Christmas Cookie Decorating

This idea is not super original, but it's a goodie anyway. Make an annual tradition of hosting a Christmas cookie decorating party with your girlfriends or neighbors. As the host, you'll want to provide the holiday-shaped sugar cookies and perhaps some milk and punch for guests to sip on as they create. But guests can be responsible for bringing icing, sprinkles, and toppings!

Organize An Ornament Swap

With an ornament swap, you can get a gift and enjoy it too. The rules are simple: Everyone brings an ornament, hangs it on the tree, and everyone gets to pick an ornament to take home at the end!

Just Do Food And Drinks—But With A Theme

From milk and cookies to Champagne and cheese, holiday favorites often come in twos. Think about what pairings you like to enjoy this time of year, then streamline your party menu to just that. A great example? Senior News Editor Rebecca Angel Baer once attended a Hanukkah party with a "Vodka and Latkes" theme that she admits was just a cutesy way to have a party in a bar. But, years later, she still remembers the theme and says it was fun! Pro tip: She also hasn't forgotten the late-night doughnuts.

Host A Formal Ball

Fans of Hallmark movies know that the best ones end with "the event of the season," whether that be a fancy ball, apple festival, or baking competition. Create your own party of the year by throwing a formal evening soirée with a black-tie or cocktail-attire dress code. This will give your crew an excuse to dress up like movie stars and live out their holiday Hallmark movie dreams. May we suggest a festive name like "Snow Ball" or "Matzah Ball"?

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