Christmas Cookies

Big on holiday cheer but short on time and energy? No excuses! It’s easy to throw a seasonal soiree if you stick to one of these simple-as-pumpkin-pie themes.

Tree-Trimming Party: This classic Christmas party is a cinch to pull off. Simply dress the tree with lights and a garland or tinsel before guests arrive and put out a spread of un-messy finger foods so your ornaments don’t get all gunked up. Provide ornaments for guests to hang, then give them a special one to hang on their own tree as they leave. Or, if it’s your first tree, you can ask guests to bring an ornament (homemade, vintage, or otherwise) to help you start your own collection; you can even ask them tell other guests the story behind the ornament before they hang it on the boughs. As host, you get to cap off the festivities by placing the star on the top of the tree.

Open House: Allowing for flexibility with arrivals and departures means you’ll have the most overall visitors with this Christmas party theme, particularly during a season when most people’s schedules are as tight as Santa’s waistline. On the invitation, tell guests they can come and go anytime within a window of four to five hours, then set up a buffet with eats that can stand up for several hours at room temperature. Bonus: The open-door structure means you’re more likely to have time to spend with each guest.

Christmas Movie Night: Make a theme of the night — ’80s movies (A Christmas Story; Scrooged), television classics (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer; A Charlie Brown Christmas), or even unconventional picks set at Christmastime (Die Hard; Gremlins). To up the anticipation (and encourage punctuality), guests can vote on the theme or flicks when they arrive. Boost the merriment with a drinking game (take a swig of eggnog every time someone says “Christmas” or Santa appears on the screen), or put your guests to work making popcorn strings to trim the tree while they watch.

Ugly Sweater Party: Quite possibly the simplest of all holiday parties, the ugly sweater party is also the theme that keeps on giving: Months later, when guests least expect it, post photos of your revelers in their appalling apparel so that everyone can relive the tacky memories. Before the big event, hit up the local thrift store to stock up on spare uglies to be used as decoration or as backup, should a guest dare not to arrive in dapper duds. Major bonus points for horrible holiday-themed sweaters. Hold an awards ceremony for best worst sweater. Get more Ugly Sweater Party tips.

Christmas Cookie Swap: Invite guests to bring a batch of their best holiday cookies and a tin or other take-home container. Arrange the cookies on serving trays so guests can “shop” for their favorites. You may want to state on the invites that store-bought confections are fine so your baking-impaired friends don’t get left out in the cold. You may also want to ask guests to bring an index card listing ingredients in case anyone has food allergies or diet restrictions.

Wrap Party: Gift-wrapping can feel like a chore, but turn it into a party with friends and hot toddies and you’ve got the makings of a seriously merry soiree. As host, you provide a roll or two of wrapping paper and plenty of tape, ribbons, bows, and gift tags, then ask each guest to bring their own scissors and a roll of paper for variety. Keep it to three or four guests; otherwise you’ll be fighting for wrapping space and the chaos will outweigh the benefit of beating the boredom. Serve grease-free hors d’oeuvres or cookies so the gifts don’t look like they were wrapped by sticky-fingered elves.

Christmas Carol Karaoke: Casual or competitive? You decide. Invite guests to take turns hilariously slaying holiday classics or make a serious contest of it with your very own panel of Simon Cowells passing judgment. Should you go the cutthroat route, be sure to provide a stocking stuffed with goodies to the winner as well as consolation prizes for the runners-up.