Holiday Season Family Party Ideas
November 26, 2017 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Now that I've moved back near my extended family, I'd love to create a holiday tradition that I host in my home for my family. I'm trying to come up with some ideas -- they could be cultural celebrations, theme party ideas, types of party ideas, just looking for the right peg to hang my party on, both this year and for years to come.

Right now it will include 6-9 adults, and 6-8 kids under 10, although more of both in the future! Some years it might include cousins or great-aunts/uncles who live in the area or are celebrating with us. Almost everyone is at least culturally (if not religiously) Catholic; the one who isn't celebrates Christmas with us and Hannukah with her side of the family and is unbothered by us Catholicing up the place.

My mother hosts Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, full stop. We already have a family tradition around ornaments and tree-decorating. I hate baking cookies and am not hosting a cookie-related thing under any circumstances. (I will happily have all the grandchildren fingerpaint in my living room but I am not fucking standing over an oven and switching trays every 8 minutes for three hours, ugh, stupid cookies.) They are unlikely to participate in anything involving carolling.

In the very hazy vision in my head I'm making some kind of faux-medieval Christmas feast, only it's fun for the children and people like coming to it instead of rolling their eyes about it, so maybe not that. But something that can become a tradition that people look forward to every year, both the kids and adults.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Twelfth night party?
posted by eruonna at 10:06 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe a get together before Christmas where you all decorate cards to give to the residents of an assisted care facility or organization that feeds the needy or shut-ins. There would be a crafty aspect for kids and adults both and you could all gather at tables and make things together while visiting. You could also eat a specific food theme like hand pies or Chinese food or whatever. Something that you may not traditionally eat at the holidays.
posted by quince at 10:11 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Feast of St. Lucy to "kick off" the Christmas season (LED candles, what with the little ones) (and The Ref shout-out is just incidental fun), or the Feast of the Epiphany to close it out? If you've got any Irish ancestry:

Little Christmas is also called Women's Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women's Little Christmas. The tradition, still very strong in Cork and Kerry is so called because of the Irish men taking on household duties for the day. Some women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. As a result, parties of women and girls are common in bars and restaurants on this night. Children sometimes buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers... The tradition is not well documented, but one article from The Irish Times (January 1998), entitled On the woman's day of Christmas, describes both some sources of information and the spirit of this occasion.

So... you're not the one baking cookies.
Or, you know, store-bought is fine.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:21 PM on November 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Since your family already has a full winter holiday calendar, what about staking a claim to the opposite side of the year, e.g., July 4th or the Summer Solstice, which conveniently falls just after the school year ends? With the Summer Solstice, you can do a Viking Funeral or Druid it up to your heart's content to scratch your pageantry itch. Of course, Winter Solstice is also an option.
posted by carmicha at 1:25 AM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I can't plan parties for shit but I feel like the obvious pegs are Nicholas or Guadalupe. They are relatively early in the season and can involve wrapping presents and/or crafts and/or dinner.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:40 AM on November 27, 2017

Being catholic opens up a ton of Saint holidays.

How about Saint Martin's Day? Traditionally on November 11, and was an important medieval feast (usually featuring goose). In the Netherlands for example, children decorate lanterns and go door to door singing for candy (a bit like Thanksgiving meets Halloween), but you could just make it a family dinner and children's craft project.
posted by PosterGirlwithNoPoster at 4:07 AM on November 27, 2017

One of the lesser known secular(ish) Chanukah traditions is the annual Latke - Hamentash debate. People come prepared with the most intellectual arguments they can muster in favor of their team, silliness is encouraged, and the end result is generally unfairly skewed in favor of the holiday at hand, because it's good to be able to gripe about the unfairness of a system that doesn't matter (also because latkes are clearly better. I mean, come on). While there isn't another Christian holiday that could put up a reasonable fight against Xmas, I'm pretty sure you could find some equally important-yet-stupid Christian schism worth exploiting. Candy Canes vs. Chocolate Santas / Christmas Turkey vs. Christmas Ham / Cookies vs. Fruitcake ... or move away from food to something like St. Nicholas vs. Santa Claus / white tree lights vs. colored lights ... or even Santa Claus vs. the Easter Bunny. The key is people being willing to dig deep into making ridiculous dogmatic or theological arguments about things that have almost no religious merit whatsoever. And unfairness on the part of the judges.
posted by Mchelly at 5:20 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know very little about Catholicism, but I’m guessing a straight up solstice celebration may be out. How about a winter themed party around the 21st? You could make a festive mulled wine or sangria, hot cider for the kids. Hearty foods, whether it be soups or stews. Random, but could you have an annual blind taste test of X item? Cook-off inspired, or something as simple as buying 5 different types of root beer if you don’t want to ask people to bring food.

This year you can hand out ballots for suggestions for next year’s taste test.

Is there a local activity you could do with family and then return to your place for a non Christmasy meal? Holiday light display followed by sushi or a sundae bar?

To me something low pressure and not blatantly festive really appeals. I love Christmas but every year this introvert finds it harder and harder to handle.
posted by nathaole at 5:24 AM on November 27, 2017

Everyone buys everyone else one of these Korean face masks - here is a broccoli one (BROCCOLI y'all) - and on Christmas morning before anyone showers and while people are having Chill Morning Present Opening Times everyone opens them at the same time and wears them and takes ridiculous photos. There are animal-print ones, there are super-fancy ones, there are some that are designed for kids and older folks and all kinds of people. They are hilarious and the whole thing will leave you glowing (for the real photos later!) and only last 15 minutes.
posted by mdonley at 5:49 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

New Year's day brunch?
posted by lazuli at 6:10 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd just go for something nice like Solstice which i think you can make an argument it's ok to celebrate. It's always going to be a few days before the Christmas holidays. Have a bonfire or a big raging fire inside (somehow) and have it just be a "Welcoming the longer days" or "Welcoming in the light" sort of thing. Crank the heat up til 11. put a bunch of neat lit up stuff around (to your tastes) and have a big dinnertime meal. When i was a kid we'd celebrate this with my uncle and make wishes on pieces of paper which we'd then put into the fire.
posted by jessamyn at 6:11 AM on November 27, 2017

nthing Twelfth Night - a friend has an annual Twelfth Night gathering (on the Saturday or Sunday closest to Twelfth Night) and everyone looks forward to it. The holiday pressure is over and people show up without worries about Christmas gifts or New Year's Eve plans.
posted by jointhedance at 6:20 AM on November 27, 2017

One of my favorite childhood memories is of a Christmas-adjacent event hosted by a family friend: the annual Souper Eve. It was a drop-in gathering, running mid-afternoon to late evening, with a soup and light bites spread. Guests were welcome to bring booze and cookies, but the understanding was always along the lines of "No theme, everybody eats what appears, the goal is hanging out comfortably and chatting for a while." Kids had their own small spread in a different room full of games so they could play while the adults hung out sipping drinks by the fire.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:22 AM on November 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

A few years ago we had a bunch of extra nacho chips from a burrito night that got out of hand, and I'd also just bought a bag of sodium citrate on a whim, and we ended up throwing a nacho party that we dubbed "Noche de Nachos." Each year since, it's grown in size; this year we had 14 adults and 11 kids over. We basically just made a bunch of cheese sauce and some refried beans, and set out a bunch of fixins' (pickled jalapenos, black olives, sour cream, etc.), and let everybody go to town. I also made a pitcher of palomas, and virgin palomas for the kids. It was a blast, and everybody had a great time.

Our tradition is to do it the night before Thanksgiving (because we typically do Thanksgiving at my mom's house) but the great thing about Noche de Nachos is that it's completely made up nonsense so you can do it whenever.
posted by saladin at 6:35 AM on November 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

Before Christmas, you could do creche/nativity scene building, maybe each year using a different craft (paper, clay, cardboard, 3D printed, bark & twigs (acorn baby Jesus), wood, toy diorama...).

Another nice winter tradition is stringing popcorn and cranberries on a thread and decorating outdoor trees and bushes with them for the animals.
posted by xo at 7:01 AM on November 27, 2017

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day in the UK. It's a good day to hang out and do not-Christmas stuff, but it also allows you to share your Christmas decorations. Roast beef, roasted Brussels sprouts, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas crackers, and flaming plum pudding are festive and British, which would distinguish it from Mom's Christmas.

12th Night is Jan. 5, and you aren't likely to have the tree up, if that's a thing. But it would be a good time to have a big feast.

You could also stake out the Saturday before Christmas. I have friends who do this. They have a tree that was cut down that day, and they use actual candles. The fresh tree is not a fire hazard, and there are fire extinguishers. They ask all guests to bring an ornament, preferably homemade. It's genuinely magical, and lends itself to your desire for a feast, again, the roast beef menu would work.
Or, if you like to sing, have a caroling party. Go to a nursing home, find and pay someone to play piano, and have a big old sing-a-long. It's corny, but it's fun. Then back to the house for the feast.

There's usually a Saturday between Christmas and New Year's. You could have a family party and maybe focus a bit on winter activity. Even if it's just a walk to see neighborhood lights.
posted by theora55 at 8:34 AM on November 27, 2017

Ok, this is probably not the answer you want to hear, but I encourage you to revisit the idea of a cookie exchange (if you're not familiar, it's a party where everyone brings a plate of cookies and leaves with a mixed plate of everyone else's cookies). From what I've seen, cookies are the last thing a host of such an exchange needs tend to because, well, that's everyone else's job. At the one we regularly attend, the host provides some savory bites (soups, ham, etc) and seasonal drinks and people just drop in and out throughout the night.

I think it's a great party because it's good for all ages, makes for a fun tradition that people look forward to, and it's casual enough to adapt to changes in the family or community easily.
posted by mosst at 8:44 AM on November 27, 2017

Oh yeah, and I'll add, I've heard of cookie swaps where people bring many dozen cookies but honestly with the number of sweets around Christmastime I think that's completely unnecessary. Our party where people bring one normal-sized batch has been perfectly successful for years. Also we don't do a formal swap - people just leave their plate of cookies on the cookie table, and then when they head out they pick out their favorite cookies from all the other plates and they leave their extras wherever there's space. It doesn't need to be large or fussy.
posted by mosst at 8:49 AM on November 27, 2017

I just went to a friend's tradition: the morning-after-Thanksgiving pie breakfast. Everyone comes and beings their leftover pies from the day before, and/or a new pie (an excellent time for the experimentalist options not allowed by the mandatory pie flavors for traditional Thanksgiving dinner), and the host baked some quiches. A giant delicious brunch tradition that would work equally well on the morning of Dec 26.
posted by aimedwander at 9:19 AM on November 27, 2017

How about Saint Martin's Day? Traditionally on November 11

In Slovenia, St Martin’s Day is also when the new wine of the year is first drunk. It’s an awesome wine-centric holiday!

This year we had friends over for a pie festival on Saturday. Shepherds pie, with more pie for dessert.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:24 AM on November 27, 2017

...I actually think a finger painting party sounds amazing. Supply plenty of red, gold and green paint, big empty posters, and let everyone create holiday pictures to decorate your home for the day! Then stick all the kids in the bathtub.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:50 PM on November 27, 2017

If you would like themes rather than dates, some winning ones I've had the pleasure of attending:

Graham cracker "gingerbread" house-building parties
Coffee & hot chocolate bar
Scrapbooking party
Ornament making party
PJs and movie party
Skating and marshmallow roast

For timing I would suggest Boxing Day or a New Year's Day levee (midafternoon).

If your family could be convinced to shake up Christmas Eve, you can't really get more Catholic in some ways than a Réveillon.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:17 PM on November 27, 2017

A day-after pie celebration is a great suggestion. I'd be thrilled to have that on my calendar!

We host a candlemaking buffet on or about December 1st. It was inspired by a long lost book about celebrations around the world, but has since become our favorite made up holiday. We provide candle making supplies and a variety of yummy appetizers, snacks, and drinks. It is a fun, festive, and (depending on type of candle) simple activity that everyone looks forward to.
posted by this-apoptosis at 4:24 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been to competitive gingerbread house decorating parties where the host puts out rectangles of gingerbread to build with and lots of candy and icing for decoration. I like the idea of using graham crackers for that, as someone said above. You can provide a theme or have guests pick. Like... Movies? Current events? TV shows? Now I want to make an Orange is the New Black gingerbread house.

Board game night? Clue party?

Love the idea of candle making, nice twist on the "lights" theme.

Agree with whoever pointed out above that if you host a cookie exchange then you don't need to bake. Others bake! You provide the forum, and drinks, and some purchased deliciousness, and paper boxes for folks to take their stuff home in.

Cheese party? Everyone brings an interesting cheese or cheesy item to share?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:24 PM on November 27, 2017

I’ve been to parties where the only lights are Christmas lights. You could spend the first half of the evening with lights on and make candle (or electric candle) lanterns, and the second half without the main lights on, telling stories.

I’ve made pinecone birdfeeders at my solstice celebrations before, and it’s a hit with kids.

RE cookies: these no-bake cookies are a Christmas tradition for my family and are fun for kids to make (and eat). Buckeyes (we have an older recipe; we mix by hand and use real chocolate for dipping)
posted by metasarah at 7:33 AM on November 29, 2017

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