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How to Host a Festive and Fun Family Holiday Gathering

Hosting a family holiday gathering is an impressive feat, but it can be exhausting! Take some stress out of the season with these handy tips.

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Whether you’re a “hostess with the mostest,” and throwing a party is what you live for, or you just drew the short stick for this year, hosting a get-together often comes with a little stress. Even the best party planners can get overwhelmed by all the details. The menu, the decorations, the guest list, the cleaning, and above all, finding party activities that your guest will enjoy. With a little help though, your holiday bash can be a blast and fun to plan. Here are a few tips to help you throw a family holiday gathering without all the stress.

Enjoy family time all year ’round!

The holiday season is a time for family, friends, food, and fun! It’s not very often you get to spend the day with your extended relations and long-lost cousins. So why not make the most of it with Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition? This beautiful book is chock-full of challenges that will test your creativity as you build deeper bonds. You’ll work together as a family, and celebrate the wins together!

Step By Step Process

In order to make sure you get all the details covered, and don’t give yourself gray hair in the process, follow this step-by-step list to get your party train rolling.

1. Make your guest list.

The most important part of the holiday season is spending time with family members and loved ones. The right guest list can make or break a holiday party. Obviously, family gatherings don’t have as much leeway in this department. We don’t really get to choose our family, but you still have the option to include a close circle or the whole extended family. When planning a gathering for friends, think long and hard about who you want to be there, their relationships with each other, and the vibe you want to elicit.

2. Pick your location.

Just because you’re hosting the family holiday, doesn’t mean it has to be at your house. In fact, it might be less stressful for you to have it somewhere else. Most of us get a little overconcerned about the cleanliness of the baseboards or how others will perceive our homes when we host within our own walls. If having all those people in your halls, makes you nervous, you could choose a public place instead, like a city park, recreation center, restaurant, or local pub. Think about the personality of your guest list and decide on a place that fits your idea of a good party.

3. Set the rules.

Every bash has a set of parameters. Before you send out your invites (or a mass text), you need to decide a few things. Will you be providing the holiday meal or are you going to do a potluck? If it’s a Christmas party, will you be exchanging gifts? Will you draw names, play a gift-exchange game, or have a price limit? Will it be casual or black-tie? You might consult a few key members of your guest list and decide on these important aspects before you get too far into the planning.

4. Pick a theme.

Developing a cohesive theme for your party will help you consolidate options for food, dress code, and games. This one step can alleviate a lot of stress by bringing everything together in your mind. Once you have an exciting theme to work from (more on that later), you’ll find that the rest falls into place. Plus, people are more likely to get on board when they get to look forward to something out of the ordinary.

5. Decide on a menu.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to a holiday meal. You can go traditional and make it all from scratch, or have a taco bar and have everyone bring an element. Even if you do a potluck, we recommend you develop a menu. This way, you can send out the theme and the list of needed items, and people can sign up for what they would like to bring. This way, you won’t end up with 10 desserts and no meat.

To keep everyone in the loop, you can use an online menu planning website or app like Potluck by Meal Train. It allows you to put in the details of your gathering and the menu with quantities, allowing everyone in the group to see what has been claimed and what is still needed. It’s a quick and easy way to keep everyone on the same page.

6. Send out invites early.

The holiday season is an extra level of busyness for most people. Between work gatherings, family obligations, school gatherings, and friends, most people have something every weekend from November to January. Get your invitations out early! Six weeks in advance is advisable, but a month, at the very least.

Be sure to include an RSVP section, the “rules” of the party, the address, the dress code, and any parking instructions.

7. Pick a partner.

Choose someone off your guest list that you work well with. They can help you pick decorations, think of game ideas, and take some of the stress off of planning the whole thing yourself. They may even want to help financially if that is a concern for you. Time to go shopping!

Building Ambiance

Creating an environment that is beautiful, comfortable, and appropriate for conversation is the key to throwing a truly great gathering. There are a lot of little things to consider, and every party is a little bit different, but here are a few aspects to think about:

Create an easy flow.

Think about the flow of people through your space. You should have clear walking paths between your points of interest. For instance, guests should be able to easily move from your snack table to the coffee bar, to the fireside seating without impediment. Create space anywhere you can by removing unnecessary objects and producing a flow that feels intuitive.

Play the proper music.

Music sets the ambiance like nothing else. If you ignore the rest of this list, have a great playlist in the background. For a black-tie cocktail party, consider a classical music list. For a family-centered get-together, turn up the Christmas favorites, and don’t forget some fun jams for the kiddos. If you’re gathering with friends for drinks and snacks, then just bust out the oldies from your glory days. You could even lay out old CDs or vinyl and allow guests to choose what comes next. Make it part of the party activities.

Set mood lighting.

Another key to creating a fitting ambiance is to control the lighting. For a classy dinner party, consider dimming the overheads and brightening the table with Christmas lights or candles, along with the firelight. While you don’t want anyone tripping over their feet, bright, fluorescent lights tend to make people feel exposed, especially if there are any social anxieties.

Create conversation pits.

In any large group, people tend to break off into pods for conversations. For indoor gatherings, rearrange your furniture so that you have several different seating areas. Even some big throw pillows, in a corner, can create a cozy spot, so don’t go buying a bunch of new chairs or anything.

We also suggest a good outdoor spot for those who need a little fresh air. Whether it’s rockers on the porch, benches around your fountain, or a few logs around the firepit, having an outdoor space is a relief for those who don’t like close contact.

Pro Tip: Make sure that your guests know what areas are available to them, and place food and drinks at each of the sites. If it’s too cold to congregate outside, you may consider a few open windows for those who get a bit claustrophobic.

Offer apps!

If your party includes a large meal, serve some appetizers for those who can’t wait (or are nervous eaters). Spread them out around the area and include cute labels, with ingredients, so everybody knows what they are eating.

Provide a beverage station

There will be at least one person in your group that will need a glass of wine to calm their nerves or put them in the mood to socialize. Your beverage area should be well-stocked, well-lit, and easy to access. Consider making a festive cocktail that fits your party theme to serve with dessert. If your gathering is on the dry side, offer non-alcoholic bevvies at the bar instead.

Sprinkle decorations to draw the eye.

A great way to utilize your decorations is to highlight your seating areas. Consolidate most of your decorations to these areas, drawing in the guests and giving them some conversation starters. Great decorations do not have to be expensive. In fact, you can use just about anything to add to the ambiance, including your prepared food items. Set up a table for all the beautiful desserts. They are literal “eye candy.”

Candles are a cheap and effective accessory, and so are Christmas lights. Remember to stick to a color scheme, two or three colors, nothing too overwhelming. Local craft stores and even Dollar General have great options for inexpensive decor, and you can find plenty of inspiration on Pinterest or Instagram.

The Best Party Activities

Tree Decorating

You may consider having multiple trees for your party, but leave one to be decorated as a part of the night. You could set out pre-made decorations or provide a craft table where each guest can make their own ornament. Then you can decorate and have a tree-lighting ceremony to kick off your gift-giving segment.

Treasure Hunting

Entertain your guests with an indoor scavenger hunt from Let’s Roam. Through our interactive scavenger hunt app, you can keep your guests busy with some friendly competition! These activities can be performed at any time and don’t take much prep on your part. Choose from several different categories, each with something for all ages. Have other ideas? Turn them into a custom scavenger hunt event!

Icebreakers and “Team-Building” Games

Sure, you’re meeting with family, but you might not necessarily know everyone in attendance. There are always significant others to meet! Additionally, it can never hurt to get to know your distant relatives a bit better. Why not bring everyone together for a little team-building exercise? We happen to know a thing or two about team building, and it can be fun for anyone!

Try some icebreakers to get the conversation flowing or engage the gang in some improv games, team up for holiday trivia, play a group game of Pictionary, or battle it out with Family Feud! Guests would love a game night after dinner, don’t you think?

Finish the Lyrics

This game is easy and plays on our ability (or inability) to remember song lyrics. Play a few bars of a famous Christmas song and challenge guests, two at a time, to “buzz” in and finish the lyrics. This one always brings out the laughs, whether from mistaken lyrics or horrendous singing ability. Make sure to have a little gift for your winner.

Cocktail Contest

If you’re having an adults-only party, then challenge each guest to create their own, unique, holiday cocktail. You can have everyone bring a specific kind of liquor or additive to help with the cost, like a potent potluck. Give points for categories like taste, potency, and presentation. No booze? No problem! Compete in a fancy mocktail contest instead!

Baking Together

What better way to bond with your loved ones than to whip up some of great-grandma’s famous recipes together? Too many party planners run around for hours before the get-together trying to make sure that everything is perfect and complete, but this keeps guests separated from the planning and uninvested. Successful event hosts know that the more people feel involved in the process, the more they will enjoy the gathering.

You could also decorate pumpkins, gingerbread houses, or cookies together as an edible craft project or competition. Get creative!

S’mores By the Fire

Nothing facilitates conversation like a firepit. When people have something to do with their hands, a warm ambiance with a mesmerizing flame, and a chocolatey treat in hand, all the world is right! Roast some delicious s’mores and enjoy sweet conversation with your delectable treats.

Ugly Sweater Making

Ugly sweater contests have become a pretty common party theme. It’s even more fun when you create your own sweaters! Head to Hobby Lobby or your nearest store full of bobbles and beads, and stock up on tassels, sequins, hot glue, and funny patches. Let your guests create their own masterpieces, and have a fashion show to determine the winner!

Saran Wrap Ball Game

You might be familiar with this mess of plastic wrap that’s become a festive favorite in households worldwide! The objective is to wrap as many little trinkets, baubles, and treats as you can inside a tightly wound clump of plastic wrap, carefully placing each far enough away that it’s a challenge to get to but close enough that it helps build your ball. For an eco-friendly twist, use packing materials that would otherwise be discarded or wind up your presents in strips of cloth headed to the rag pile. Whatever you use, the game will be just as exciting!

Once your ball is ready to roll, have everyone sit in a circle. Each person gets to throw two dice to see who gets the highest number. That player goes first. He or she must put on mittens or oven mitts (to increase the degree of difficulty, of course), then pick a spot, and start unwinding. The person to their right will roll the dice until they hit doubles. At that time, the ball and dice are passed to the right. Keep playing until the ball is gone! Everyone gets to keep their prizes.

Tips for Lowering the Stress

Don’t procrastinate.

While you’ll certainly want to serve the cheese dip warm, holiday decorations, game setup, and playlists can be made ahead of time. If you send invitations out six weeks in advance, then begin collecting your decorations then. Putting everything off until the last minute will make you a worn-out, nervous mess by the time your guests arrive.

Ask for help.

In addition to finding a party-planning partner, get input from your other guests on food and activities. Two brains are better than one, and three or four are even more efficient. Don’t be too proud to ask for help, and don’t assume that your guests don’t want to help!

Betty Crocker is A-Okay.

You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen, making every dish from scratch. It’s perfectly okay to mix and match pre-made deli trays and bakery goods with grandma’s potato salad. If your local baker makes the best cookies around, then preserve your mental health, grab a box, and present them in a creative way. There’s no shame in it, and you’ll be supporting local businesses!

Get some digital help.

Check out an all-inclusive planning app like Event Planner to keep all your ducks in a row. They can help with invites, menus, and budget management, among every other aspect of the preparation process.

Don’t be afraid to change it up!

If you have had the same-old-same family gathering for the last thirty years, then your new ideas will likely be met with some resistance, but the truth is, if you’re bored with the normal, then the likelihood is that other family members are too. If you’re keen on making some changes, start with one or two things, incorporating a new activity or an easy-to-accomplish theme, while keeping the familiar menu. Conversely, choose a non-traditional meal, but keep the gift-giving process familiar. You want to spice up the party, not flip the whole table. Keeping the family involved in the process is important too, so ask family members to take on a task with the planning or preparing of an activity.

Suggested Holiday Themes

Autumn Harvest

With scarecrows, hay bales, and pumpkins of every color, a harvest theme is perfect for a family-center Thanksgiving gathering. You can assemble traditional games like pinning the tail on the donkey, bobbing for apples, or making caramel apples. It will be hunting season, perhaps you install an archery pit or a dart board for a little competition. Set up a photo booth for the mandatory family photos.

Favorite Film

Choose a Christmas movie like The Grinch or A Christmas Carol, or go completely random with Wizard of Oz. Guests will come dressed as their favorite characters, and all decorations and food items should pertain to the movie somehow. If the weather participates, you might end your evening with an outdoor showing of the film. Set out blankets in the yard with a screen and projector, or create comfy palettes in your living room for a late-night showing. Don’t forget the hot cocoa.

International Smorgasbord

Celebrate Christmas with an international flair. The holiday is celebrated in most of the world at this point, but the festivities vary greatly! Check out the customs and traditional foods in France, Korea, or South Africa. You could choose one country, or have people bring their favorite traditional dish from their favorite destination.

Pajama Party

If you’re having a close family get-together or a girl’s party, make sure everybody is comfy by throwing out the sparkly holiday dress code and making it a pajama party instead! Pick a great movie, put on some cocoa, build a fire, and celebrate the holidays with a laid-back evening with your besties.

Old-Fashioned Fun

Bring in a little nostalgia by planning your party around old favorites. Set up Monopoly, Twister, Charades, and tug of war. Arrange a candy table with old-school treats like buttons, tootsie rolls, Pez, and gumballs. Break out the classic Nintendo for a rousing game of Mario. Whatever it’s that brings back happy memories for you and your clan, collect it, and spend your holiday reminiscing happy times.

Murder Mystery

Sure, the holidays are festive, but what’s the harm in a little mystery? Set yourselves up to solve a crime, as you play characters involved in a tricky whodunnit! Each guest should be given a script so you can learn a bit about the characters and their personalities. If your family is up for it, go all out! Accents, funny dialect—the works! Break out into team sessions to see which group can determine the culprit first!


Everybody loves tacos, and it’s an easy meal to create for a large crowd. Find some appropriately-themed, brightly-colored decorations, and host a fabulous fiesta! Set the table for around a giant sombrero, and have a party like never before, as you enjoy red and green tortilla chips, dip into fried ice cream, and try to bust through a holiday-themed pinata.


Go to Old-World Spain and bring on the tapas. These tiny dishes are perfect for a casual party, as they are usually finger foods, so no dishes, and they are visually appealing. For a unique aspect, consider hiring a flamingo dancer for a group lesson.

Safety Precautions

Unfortunately, all the good holidays fall during the winter, putting those with severe illnesses and compromised immune systems at greater risk of contracting coronavirus or other winter illnesses. If you’re truly concerned, it’s your gathering, and you’re more than entitled to request that guests disclose their vaccination status, wear masks, and adhere to other guidelines from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The pandemic is now a part of our world, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

You might want to ensure your venue is large enough to maintain social distancing and, before joining holiday festivities, ensure that you are up to date with your own booster shots. Keep hand sanitizer readily available, and take extra precautions if you know that there will be unvaccinated people and high-risk guests in attendance.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re bored with your normal holiday gathering, then take a risk this year and try something new. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like it, and you don’t do it again, no harm done!

Have a unique holiday tradition? Drop it in the comments for us!

While you’re here, be sure to check out some of our other holiday posts. From Friendsgiving ideas to winter break suggestions, we’ll keep you moving and grooving with your family all season. And if you’re one of those late shoppers, we’ve even got a list of last-minute gifts to help you ensure you’ve purchased perfect presents for everyone on your list this year!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you host a good holiday party?

Hosting a party can be stressful, but with these tips for hosting a family holiday gathering, you’ll have it covered. will help you choose a theme, plan a menu, create the proper ambiance, and include fun activities!

What do I need to host a family holiday gathering?

Every family holiday gathering needs an abundance of food and fun! Head to for more details. While there, grab a scratch-off adventure book with over 50+ family activity ideas!

How do you host a stress-free holiday party?

Take the stress out of planning a family holiday gathering by using an event planning app, involving loved ones in the process, and starting early. Holiday tips from could help you sail through this season!

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