1. Candy Cane Relay
Where to play: Family room or living room, obstructions pushed aside
Gamers: Eight or more players (say, four adults and older four kids)
Best for: Boosting comradery and teamwork
You need: At least one candy cane per player (extra, in case some break)
How to play: Players form two teams, with two parents and two kids on each team. Teams stand face-to-face, about six feet apart, with kids in the first and third positions. Each player places one end of a wrapped candy cane in his mouth with the curved end sticking out. Another candy cane is hooked to the curved end of the candy cane of the child standing in the first position in each line. Players pass the “team” candy cane down the line without dropping it, and using only the candy cane, not their hands. If the team cane drops anywhere along the route, the cane goes back to the beginning of the line.
Game ends when: One team passes the candy cane down the line without dropping it. Candy canes go to the winning team.
2. Selfie Scavenger Hunt
Where to Play: Indoors or out
Gamers: Any number of teams or players
Best for: Families seeking a shared adventure
You need: one smartphone per team, along with a list of five to seven holiday items to search for and photograph (you choose the items). Ideas for outdoor play include: white or multi-colored Christmas lights, an inflatable holiday decoration, wreaths, a manger scene, lights in the shape of a star, candles visible from the street, or a party down the block. For an indoor hunt, consider: an ugly holiday sweater, a really nice one, a pet wearing reindeer headband or festive collar, a specific ornament, a stocking that says…(you fill in the blank), and more.
How to play: divide players into family teams that include kids, parents, and grandparents; make sure each team has a phone or digital camera to document the hunt. If the weather outside is frightful, opt for indoor play. If the weather’s OK, or you come from hearty stock, head outdoors. Teams take selfies of found items and players.
Game ends when: Each team checks off all items on the list. All vote for the most creative pics, the best group shot, the hardest item to locate, and the one kids had the most fun finding. Post the pictures on social media: #BestHolidayPartyEver.
3. Flashcard Snowball Fight (Real Snowballs Not Required)
Where to play: Indoors
Gamers: Four or more kids and parents
Best for: Stirring up laughs while encouraging creativity
You need: At least 26 sheets of white letter-sized paper, a stopwatch or digital clock, two large brown grocery bags
How to play: Using a thick black marker, write a letter of the alphabet on each sheet of paper—26 in all. Crumble the paper into little balls, and place them in equal number in the bags. Kids (or families) line up and face each other from opposite sides of the room. Players take turns throwing one “snowball” at a time at opponents. If a player gets hit, he opens the snowball and reveals the hidden letter, and then states a holiday-related word that begins with that letter. E, for example, can be eggnog, elf, evergreen, etc. If a player needs help after 15 to 30 seconds, the team can shout out options and the player can select one of them, but points are not awarded. Teams earn points for each legit word a player offers.
Game ends when: All the paper snowballs are opened and read. The team with the most points wins.
4. Santa Hat Stacks
Where to play: A large table or an obstacle-free space on the floor
Gamers: Two or more players
Best for: Smaller groups and families with younger children (the game tests motor skills) and the young at heart
You need: Small, red plastic cups, several handfuls of small white pom-poms, and some “Jenga”-like skills
How to play: Player number one places one red cup upside down on the floor or table, and adds a pom-pom on top of that. The next player stacks a new cup over the first one and places a pom-pom on top. The game continues. A player is out if the stack tumbles on her turn.
Game ends when: There is only one player left.
5. Pass the Parcel
Where to play: Around a table or on the floor in a circle
Gamers: Six or more
Best for: A unique way to deliver party favors
You need: Small inexpensive stocking stuffers, such as peppermint bark or vanilla-scented lip balms. (More meaningful or goofier gifts are welcome.) All presents are wrapped in multiple layers of giftwrap or tissue paper. The more layers the merrier!
How to play: Guests remain seated (or let off steam by dancing in a circle). The DJ—otherwise known as you—runs through a holiday (or other) playlist. Participants pass one gift around the circle until the music stops, and that player unwraps one layer of paper. The round continues until one player unwraps the final layer, the present, and leaves the game. Play resumes with remaining players.
Game ends when: The last gift is opened.
6. Cheap Ornament Challenge
Where to play: outdoors or in a large open room
Gamers: Any number but at least two
Best for: A little friendly competition and a lot of belly laughs
You need: Shatterproof ornaments from the dollar store and teaspoons for all
How to play: Each player chooses an ornament, balances it on a spoon, and stands at a designated starting line. Participants hold their spoons in one hand; the other hand is behind the player’s back. On “Go!” the gamers head to the finish line. If an ornament drops, that player starts over.
Game ends when: The first guest crosses the finish line. You can add more fun for older kids by adding a physical challenge, such as lunging instead of running or race-walking to the finish line, or holding the spoon between two fingers.