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4 Tips for Making Holiday Parties Fun and Festive for All Ages

Hosting a holiday party this season? A few thoughtful gestures that keep the youngsters busy, involved, and gives them some downtime will help ensure a fun celebration for all, and one your friends and family will look forward to every season.

The holidays are, in large part, about setting aside time to celebrate with family and friends. And at these celebrations, one will often find a wide range of ages (not to mention personalities) in the mix. As a host, your job of orchestrating a holiday party that is fun, festive, and even a little fancy for everyone can be a bit more challenging. Having quite a few of these shindigs under my belt, I’ve got a few tricks under my Santa hat to ensure my holiday parties are fun for all ages.

1. Have a Pre-Dinner Activity for Children.

Having an activity planned early on at a party keeps the kiddos busy and allows the adults to socialize and catch up (typically not little one’s favorite foray). Plan to set up pre-party, then enlist a non-hosting adult (Grandparents are great here) to supervise. We have a couple “elder” cousins in our family who are happy to earn a few bucks and handle overseeing the younger kids as well. Depending on the time of day, and the length of the party, I have a variety of go-to pre-dinner activities for kids:

  • Craft Project. Set up a station where the youngsters can get their craft on. For Christmas-themed parties, the cute TP roll figures (shown below), homemade ornaments or snow globes are always fun (a quick Pinterest search will deliver tons of ideas). Oriental Trading offers a variety of craft kits if you want to cut corners. Another fun, and even helpful craft is enlisting the children to make name cards for the dinner table. Simply provide a variety of supplies and let them have at it. Kids typically love being involved and the adults usually get a kick out of what awaits them on their plate.
  • Puzzles. Locate two holiday puzzles for you next family party; one for the adults, and another for the kiddos (I suggest under 100-pieces). Find an open coffee table or set up a card table or two with the puzzles. I turn all the pieces upright, and put together a small portion prior to party time. As is the way with puzzles, your guests will find them irresistible.
  • Interactive Dessert. Have your young guests assist with assembling a child-friendly dessert that can go into the freezer or sit on a back counter until post-dinner time.  Ice cream sandwiches are a great go-to. I provide a variety of different cookies, softened ice cream (don’t forget the peppermint!), and toppings to roll the sides in for kiddos to put together various creations. Another favorite is this recipe for Santa Hats brownies. I bake the brownies and prep the strawberries ahead, and let the kids handle the assembly. Bonus points that these cuties include fresh fruit!
  • Candy Cane (or Other Holiday Appropriate Treat) Hunt. Candy hunts, or really any sort of scavenger hunt, are always a hit with kids. I do like to have these hunts outside (so my house doesn’t get overturned), but will typically only do so if the weather is somewhat favorable. Hide a bunch of candy canes that have water proof packaging, then break the kiddos off into teams to see who can find the most in a set amount of time. Either way kids get to take their findings home, so everyone feels like they win end the end. Warn parents ahead so they can bring along rain boots and warm coats.
  • Ginger Bread House Decorating. I wouldn’t undertake this with a large number of kids, but if there are a handful it can be fun. The key is setting up the houses ahead (yes, this usually involves me and a hot glue gun the night before, mumbling a few bah humbugs under my breath). Layout a variety of frosting and toppings and let the kids go wild on the décor. I like this mini cookie version for younger kids and this standard size option for elementary school kids.

2. Group Games.

After the meal (and before the tryptophan sets in, or worse, the electronics!) it’s time to rev up everyone’s energy and join in a group game. I know as the host you’re probably gunning for a glass of wine by the fire at this point, but I implore you to not let the lazy-Susan’s set in and keep the merriment going. Group games are some of the most memorable parts of the holidays for me, not to mention an exciting and entertaining way for all ages to interact. The key here is finding something reasonably uncomplicated, that all ages can enjoy, and having some kitschy prizes like these hilarious holiday headbands for the winners. Here’s my go-to:

  • Connect 4 Tournament. Pick up one of these jumbo boards and have a tournament, with the group watching in suspense as two individuals match off. Draw names to see who starts first.
  • Jeopardy. I create my own board each year, highlighting subjects each of my family members are well-versed in (a few categories this year include Harry Potter, Costco, and Seattle Sports). I play the host, “Alice Trebek,” and my little daughter puts on a fancy dress and serves as my Vanna White (yes, I know, wrong game but who cares).
  • Spoons. All that you need for this game is a couple decks of cards, spoons, and some warmed up vocal cords (which kids always seem to have on hand). Is your party hitting a lull? There’s nothing like the fast-paced game of spoons for a quick revival.
  • Bingo. Like spoons, Bingo has been around the party block a time or two. And that’s because it’s always a winner among party goers of all ages. Increase the excitement by including some of the various alternative methods of play, such as Blackouts, Four Corners, or Big X.

3. Make Food Feel Fancy and Fun for All Ages.

Holiday menus are typically a bit fancier than everyday fare. But being a parent, I know not all ages are going to indulge in the caviar or foie gras. Put a little effort into making the meal feel fancy and festive for all ages. Here’s a few tricks I’ve got up my sleeve.

  • Cocktail/Mocktail Hour. We typically start parties off with a festive cocktail for adults, and an equally festive mocktail version for the kids (or those not imbibing). My go-to favorite is a Dirty Shirley/Shirley Temple combo (basically just add vodka, and a little less ginger-ale for adults to the traditional drink). Or simply have a little fun with chocolate milk and glassware rimmed with sprinkles.
  • Include Bite-Sized Favorites. I like to include appetizers that appeal to all ages. There are of course cheese plates and shrimp cocktail, but I also throw in a few bite-sized apps the kiddos will love (and let’s be honest, adults too). Favorites include bite-sized mac and cheese bites (made in mini-muffin tins) and pigs in a blanket. Tip: head to Trader Joes for time savers on both of these options.
  • Skewer It. I’ve also noticed folks of all ages love themselves a skewer. Meatballs and a variety of anti-pasta bites are always a hit with the adults. I also throw in some fun versions the kids will like, such as fruit skewers with marshmallows in the mix, or even mini-PB&J bites.

4. Finish the Night with a Holiday Movie (for the Kids) and Grownup Socializing.

Finally, if your party will span more than a few hours, as family holiday parties often do, I build in a Christmas movie viewing for the kiddos at the end. I set up a space away from the main party area, such as a den, bedroom, or finished basement, which allows the young ones an escape from socializing, and the party is then able to shift to a more grown-up vibe. Kids are invited to bring their holiday pajamas, popcorn is popped, and a variety of movies are available for them to choose from (favorites include Elf, The Grinch, and Home Alone).

Happy Holidays!

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All Photos Licensed from Adobe Stock.