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Dressing down and cartooning up: 11 unconventional party ideas


With all the holiday plans you’re making this year, one of them may or may not be hosting your very own Christmas party for family and friends—lucky you! While it’s easy to have a standard, typical potluck, why not think outside of the box this year with a party that your guests will remember for years to come as being exceptionally unique? Check out some of these wacky, fun and festive ideas to get your creative Christmas brain juice flowing.

Creative gift giving

Perhaps one of the most beloved (and yes, hated) party themes this time of year is the white elephant party—where participants are asked to bring wrapped tchotchkes in varying levels of “tacky” and exchange them with each other—the catch being that someone can “steal” your gift during the trade.

Yes, it’s not exactly the nicest party. If the white elephant gift exchange sounds too intense, another fun idea is to do a secret Santa-type of party where each participant chooses a name beforehand and buys a gift based on the recipient’s initials. So if you chose “Regina Philange” out of the hat, you could buy her a red pen or some Reese’s Pieces (setting a budget is important!); you can have a lot of fun with this idea!

Be a real-life character

Have all your party guests dress like their favorite character from a Christmas movie—not only is it fun to pretend to be Buddy the Elf or Kevin McCallister, but it could also be a fun contest: Whoever is the most convincing in their character (or can pretend to be in character for the longest time!) can win a prize or get lots of high fives.

Crazy cookie swap

Have all your party guests each bring batches of their favorite go-to holiday cookies to swap and go around the table telling why it’s their favorite—and if their grandmas are ok with this idea—maybe share decorated recipe cards so people can not only take home an array of tasty treats, but also make their own. Whatever you do, don’t forget the milk!

A few of your favorite things

If you find yourself channeling your inner Maria this holiday season—much to the annoyance of your family (and maybe family pets), singing “these are a few of my favorite things...”, then this is your kind of party.

Think of something you love that costs less than $10 and buy one for each of your guests (this idea works best for smaller gatherings!). Have your guests do the same—everyone leaves with several presents! You can also do this with foods: Have your guests bring their favorite food/snack item from childhood. Not only is this a great way to learn about your guests, but to try new things.

Cartoon yourself!

Who doesn’t love a good cartoon version of themselves? You know, your mom might like a framed photo of your angelic self with exaggerated features performing some type of activity, like skiing or playing tennis. Moms love gifts like that. Plus, you and your friends will get to experience the pure joy that comes from someone painting you like you’re royalty. It’s a win-win! Click here to find your local caricaturist.

Feast upon a hot chocolate buffet

‘Tis the season for cozy sweaters, crackling fires and perhaps the staple beverage of the winter season: hot chocolate. Whether you’re 5 or 35, there’s nothing more delightful than sipping on a warm cup of cocoa sprinkled with tiny marshmallows. So why not use this as an excuse to turn your party into a hot chocolate free-for-all-buffet? You can have different varieties of the classic beverage (even lighter or lower-sugar versions) along with different toppings like marshmallows, cinnamon, or peppermint pieces.

Be helper elves

Perhaps one of the most rewarding holiday activities you can partake in is giving back to others. Gathering a group of friends and family together to volunteer with a local church or hospital is a great way to spend time together and help the community. Many facilities participate in “adopt a family” programs where you can shop for families in need during the holidays—this is a fantastic opportunity to don your best elf hat and spread some holiday cheer. The Shelter Pet Project is also a useful resource for those of you that want to help out needy pets.

Wear that ugly Christmas sweater with pride

Ah, the conventional unconventional Christmas party theme: the Ugly Sweater Party. If you’re lucky, you may already own a fantastically tacky holiday sweater to show off at your party…and you can always ask your mom/aunt/grandma (nicely, of course) if they have any cheerful Christmas sweaters from, say, 1995. Ask all your friends to wear their very best/worst sweaters to your party and have a contest—whoever has the ugliest sweater wins a prize!

You can also change it up by wearing your favorite cozy Christmas pajamas and having your pals do the same; and let’s not even pretend we don’t own Christmas onesies—you know, the ones that we “just had to buy” because it was “really cheap” and the heat in your house wasn’t working properly, so it was practical… yes. That one. Wear it with pride!

Movie marathon

Whether you’re more of a Charlie Brown Christmas type of person or an Elf type of person, having a Christmas movie marathon is a fun, casual way to enjoy spending time with your party guests—especially if you all enjoy quoting It’s a Wonderful Life as much as some of us do…just don’t forget the fancy popcorn!

Embarrass your pets

While you should only consider this option if your pet is okay with the idea of wearing a tiny Santa hat, hosting a party where your friends bring their pets while donning their very best holiday accessories is—let’s face it—a really fun idea. So long as Fido will allow it (and is bribed with a treat or two), dressing up your pup in a Rudolph costume or a dashing little elf is a fun time to set up a photo booth—bonus points if you can have someone dress like Santa.

Love it or list it: Gingerbread house style

We all love a good reality show about finding/repairing/selling houses—so why not have a Christmas party themed around creating your dream (gingerbread) house? Have plenty of gingerbread house supplies on hand for your guests, choose a “judge” and set time limits for everyone to create their masterpiece. You can offer prizes for different categories such as “most creative,” “most likely to survive a spectacularly cold winter” or “best use of candy interior design.”

Of course, with any party it is important to remember the reason for the season: being with the people that you love and cherish the most while celebrating the faith and traditions you hold dear. It’s a time to think of others and to put forth all the holiday cheer that you can. And if you’re finding yourself having a bit of holiday-related stress (I mean, there are so many parties to plan! People to see! Snowman cookies to make!), check out this article for some tips on staying happy and healthy during the season.