This article was previously published.
Hosting a memorable Christmas party takes a little planning, a great guest list, and something unique. It’s that final element that makes your gathering feel distinct and alive, rather than Hallmark-level generic. Pull off a party that hits those notes and your crew will start texting you about it as early as October.
While we can’t come over to plan out your party or choose your guests, we can help you make it lit (or turn it into a nice little kicker, if that’s more your speed). As with most everything around these parts, our best ideas have been pulled from our travels. From Russia to Mexico, we’ve cobbled together six traditions that can easily be integrated into your Christmas and holiday plans.
The traditions and customs below will make your party easier while also making it more memorable. Try any one of them to help you connect with the people you love in a rewarding and experience-driven way. In the end, everyone should be hailing those Ubers or Lifts with full bellies, tipsy heads, and plenty of holiday cheer.
MULL SOME WINE — EUROPE
It’s sort of surprising that mulled wine isn’t a bigger thing in the U.S…. yet. Over Europe way, you can find the stuff on every street corner, in every grocery store, and simmering away in most homes. Svarene vino in Prague, glühwein in Berlin and Vienna, gløgg in Scandinavia, and vin brulé in the Italian Alps encompass all things spice, citrus, and wine heated up to piping hot perfection.
Our recommendation is to grab a couple of liters of decent local red wine, add in a quarter-cup of sugar per bottle, throw in some star anise, cloves, raisins, and cinnamon sticks and let that just barely simmer for an hour on the lowest temp. When you’re ready to serve, throw in some cranberries and citrus slices. It’s an easy way to get everyone in the spirit the moment they walk in the door.
SERVE VODKA AND CHAMPAGNE — RUSSIA
Christmas is Russia is a whale of a time. The partying starts around New Year’s Eve and last until January 7th. While Russians aren’t celebrating on the 24th and 25th, they’re still getting the f*ck down with the holiday. One way they do so is by keeping the drinking options simple. Vodka and champagne are the served and, in some cases, you’ll be handed a bottle of each when you show up for a holiday party.
While we don’t recommend you hand Americans a bottle of vodka and a bottle of champagne to drink all on their own at your Christmas party, we do recommend keeping your drinks cart this simple. Grab some sodas and limes so you can make vodka sodas. And, have plenty of ice and keep the champers chilled. Also, maybe have a party game or two queued up to keep the drinking focused and well-regulated.
SKIP THE HOUSE PARTY AND GO TO THE PUB — UK & IRELAND
One of the great surprises of celebrating Christmas in the UK and Ireland is going down the pub on Christmas Eve. This lovely tradition takes all the stress, cost, and clean up out of hosting your own Christmas party in your joint. Those are all wins.
Granted, this will likely be a lot easier in a metropolitan center like New York, Chicago, or Seattle — where Christmas bars are popping up more and more. Still, bars are usually always open Christmas Eve and if you have the right crew with the right mindset — or an Irish or English pub nearby — give this one a shot. At the very least, you won’t have to spend Christmas morning throwing out red cups and empty vodka bottles.
KEEP CHRISTMAS DINNER EASY WITH SAUSAGES AND POTATO SALAD — GERMANY
If you’re staying in and serving a big meal to your friends or fam, keep things simple. The Germans have this stretegy on lock. While a more patrician Christmas meal is a roast goose, turkey, or duck with braised red cabbage and potatoes, the common folk eats sausages and potato salad and that’s freaking it.
Now to be clear, this isn’t just a hot dog package from the grocery store. Germans tend to hit up butcher shops and delis in droves to order specialty sausages from various regions and with various meats from farms and the wilderness. The potato salad varies as well — from mayo-based ones to vinegar-based to more regional salads with herring or bacon in the mix. In the end, it’s simple, inexpensive, and a big crowd pleaser, with the added bonus of taking almost no time to prep, cook, and serve.
BRING EVERYONE TOGETHER TO MAKE TAMALES — AMERICAS
There’s a pretty good argument to made for, “hey, you’re in America, do American stuff!” especially when it comes to food. Tamales are one of the most iconic American foods across North and South America. The blend of masa (corn and fat) and stewed meats or fruits, all steamed in a corn husk is devilishly simple and the perfect group activity for any Christmas party.
Bear with us here, if you do a little prepping, you can set up stations to make your tamale night a team effort. Everyone can lend a hand in the filling, folding, and stacking of the tamales and then feast on the fruits of their labor. It’s one of those activities that’ll take up an hour while everyone is sipping their mulled wine. Then, as the tamales steam for an hour, y’all can start in on that vodka. Just as the alcohol is starting to take hold, boom, comfort food is ready.
SKIP COOKING A BIG MEAL ALTOGETHER AND ORDER KFC (no, really) — JAPAN
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Over the past few decades, KFC has slowly worked to become a Christmas tradition in a country that didn't traditionally celebrate the holiday. Today, it's hard to deny the brand's popularity during this time of year, which has led KFC Japan to make increasingly elaborate ad campaigns each year for its Christmas dinners that people across the country line up for each year #kfcchristmas #kfcchicken #kfcjapan🍗🍟😋 #christmaschicken #christmasinjapan #adstasher
This tradition feels more Ricky Bobby than Japan. KFC has become such a tradition for Japanese folks on Christmas that there are often hour-long lines at the fast food chain across the country. KFC even offers special Christmas meals with a big bucket of fried chicken, salad, and a whole pie. If you really want to go all out, you can add an order of chicken strips.
Look, we get that plugging a fast food fried chicken joint is probably a little déclassé. But, if you lean into the kitsch, this can be fun. On top of which, it’ll be cheap, satisfying, and easy to clean up. Who, after all, doesn’t love fried chicken? It’s the perfect indulgence food and that’s what Christmas meals are all about — plus it gets you home to your mulled wine and gifts without any dishes.