Halloween pumpkins, move over. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza are on the doorstep, and with them come an annual task — planning the company holiday party.
After a couple of years of disrupted and Zoomed-in gatherings, event experts predict this year’s holiday season will be super celebratory. It also might be time to try something new. Here are a few ideas.
Elevate your event
If the pandemic had an upside, it is the uptick in alluring outdoor venues it brought.
Let this be the year the holiday party steps out of the stuffy ballroom and onto a rad rooftop or pleasant patio. Pick a space with firepits to naturally pull people together for s’mores or creamy lattes. Firepits seem to have popped up everywhere, from the Pecan Tree Courtyard at the UGA Center for Continuing Education and Hotel in Athens, Georgia, to three public beaches and a host of oceanfront resorts in Huntington Beach, California. There’ll be no need for glittering holiday décor if you choose a rooftop bar perched above twinkling city lights like Juniper, the rooftop venue at the AC Hotel in Greenville, South Carolina. The massive 16,000-square-foot space sits eight stories above Main Street. The Atlantic adds extra dazzle to the Sky Bar at the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel. Views from 21 stories and up stretch south to the North Carolina border to north to Norfolk.
Pick a color, any color
Party planners say just about anything goes for holiday color schemes this year, so think about what will resonate with your crowd. Woodland colors — rust, green, terracotta, burgundy — are expected to be big, used in tandem with other forest elements like mosses and mushrooms. At the opposite end of that subdued spectrum, though, there’s likely to be some Barbie-fueled pinks and glittering golds to reflect the brighter mood 2023 exudes. Light up the night even more with energy-saving LED lights — fill clear vases and jars with LED fairy lights to brighten tables and use LED candles in luminaries to safely show guests the path to the party. Hang Christmas-theme pinatas filled with candy or funny fortunes, or turn newsprint and magazines into garlands. And if you don’t plan to save your décor for reuse, donate it to a community or senior center or school that will make use of it.
New twists on traditions
Some holiday party themes stick around, but who says they can’t change with the times? Ugly sweater contests always bring Santa-size belly laughs, so simply take a new approach and have guests create their own holiday sweaters on-site. They bring an old sweater; you provide lots of weird and wonderful embellishments and hot glue. The creativity and conversation will take off like Santa’s sleigh. If kids are part of the holiday gathering, hire a professional Santa this year. The International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (ibrbs.org) provides connections to pro Santas around the world. (And, if you want to see a sizeable slice of the IBRBS’s 2,200 members, be in Memphis next April for its annual convention.) Instead of piping in Christmas carols, hire a high school chorus or a choir to sing holiday tunes or have a professional storyteller tell seasonal tales. You can find one through the National Storytelling Network (storynet.org). For nontraditional fun and games, have guests don a VR headset and ski down a slope, surf some waves or swing for a hole in one.
Make the season sustainable
Christmas is, by nature, a huge creator of waste, whether it’s mounds of ripped wrapping paper or truckloads of Amazon boxes. Many guests will appreciate efforts to make a holiday party more environmentally friendly. From the start, seek a venue that promotes sustainable practices. Zoos, nature centers and botanical gardens are logical choices, but many other venues, from hotels and conference centers to wineries and breweries, are also being kinder to the Earth. Then, eliminate as much paper as possible. Online companies like Punchbowl make it simple to create and send attractive evites and manage guest lists. Instead of disposable or even compostable dishes, opt for china and glassware. Partner with local organizations that distribute leftover food to those in need. And instead of cheesy — and often plastic — gifts, make a donation to each guest’s favorite charity. Or opt for something made locally — a decorated sugar cookie from the vegan bakery in town or a chocolate bar made with sustainable ingredients — presented in a recycled gift bag.
Mocktails make tasty toasts
There’s no better time for mocktails than the holidays. In a season of overindulging, leaving out the booze is healthier and eliminates some over-imbibing. Holiday mocktails can be so tasty and colorful that no one will feel like they are missing anything. Most recipes are super simple — swirl three or four ingredients and festoon a pretty glass with fruit or a sprig of rosemary for a festive drink like a winter berry cocktail of apple juice, strawberry syrup, cranberry juice and sparkling water. Another idea? A sparkling blood orange mocktail that lifts not only the spirits but the immune system thanks to orange juice, honey and a touch of vanilla. For a warm-up, there’s always rich hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream, stirred with a peppermint stick. There’s no shortage of mocktail ideas on the internet — they pop up like mushrooms in a forest this time of year.