The red mouth stained by sprinkles, the frosting covered hands, the laughter and glee as it all comes together. These are the signs of a really great Gingerbread House Decorating Party. Every year we invite all our friends- the whole family! It turns into one crowded house but a whole lot of fun! It's definitely one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Ready to make a Gingerbread Party a tradition in your house too? Follow these simple tips for a smooth sailing party:
Make it an Open House for the Whole Family
Instead of having a designated start time with scheduled activities throughout, have a bigger block of time and allow people to come and go. An open house allows you to invite more people but they aren't all in your house at the same time. People's schedules are so crazy especially at this time of year so they'll appreciate the flexibility too. Be sure you stress this is a family party. Take the time to get to know the whole crew. Plus the children will need help building the houses and you can't be everywhere at once.
That means that the activities you plan need to be flexible as well. Play a Christmas movie in the living room, have the Gingerbread House station set up in the kitchen area and leave some games out for people to play (ones that you won't have to lead). If you want some planned activities like Christmas Karaoke put a specific time on the invite for that but also expect more people around then. You can also do a certain activity every hour instead. For example, have story time on the 1/2 hour. The Gingerbread Pirates or Gingerbread Friends are excellent reads for this party. At 45 minutes play Name That Tune and give an extra cool decoration like ribbon candy as the prize.
BYOC (Bring Your Own Candy)
Provide all the basics but leave the decorations up to the guests. Providing all the candy for everyone adds up...especially with the 3 year old category (can you see that entire bottle of sprinkles in my son's igloo?). Some people still have a Halloween candy stash that they'd be happy to share too. If you do it every year, start reminding people to save their extra candy after Halloween to bring to your party. Provide some ideas on the invite but leave the rest up to them. You may be surprised at what people bring and why you haven't thought of it yet. Here are some things you'll want to supply:
Sugar Cubes (think igloos and gluten free)
Pretzel rods (think log cabin)
Plastic knives (lots and lots) or ziploc bags with the tips cut off
Cardboard pieces wrapped in foil
A few starter decorations like gum drops, sprinkles, mini M&Ms
You'll want a few candies to get the party started but mainly the basics for the houses. Cardboard pieces work better than plates because they don't have any edges to work around and you can write names on the foil with a Sharpie (remember to do this BEFORE they start building). Plan a spot in the house for all the completed houses to go so people can still hang out when they are done decorating.
Keep it Super Simple
Sure, baking and assembling a whole bunch of houses for people beforehand is cute but it is very time consuming and totally unnecessary. Using graham crackers instead of gingerbread not only saves you time but also helps keep the houses smaller so you don't go through all the candy in the first hour. It is so fun to see everyone's creativity as they build their own houses, igloos, or even zoos. Here are some other ideas to keep things super simple:
Lose the idea that all the candy needs to be in its own unique bowl. Mix it all up so everyone can have access to everything. Trust me- it's going to end up like that anyway.
Go with plastic knives that you can just toss as you need because you will see lots of tongues licking the frosting. You can also use sandwich bags with the tips cut off. If you do, be prepared to go through a lot and for some to break....especially in the younger age groups.
Divide up some frosting in mini paper cups to make it easy to hand out (and not spread germs).
Store bought frosting is great for building after you mix some powdered sugar and some corn syrup in. You'll probably need more frosting than you think so stash some store bought frosting and sugar in the back just in case (You can always return what you don't use). It takes no time at all to whip up a nice frosting. Add about 3 tsp of corn syrup for each tub of frosting then add powdered sugar until the frosting has stiff peaks. Added too much sugar? Just splash a little of milk in and you're good to go again.
Cover the work space for the houses with butcher paper or cheap plastic tablecloths- clean up is so much better when you can just throw it all out at the end.
If you are using a table- get rid of the chairs. You can squeeze more people in and there won't be any fighting over chairs (and less cleaning when you are done).
Have baby wipes on hand. Prepare for people to get messy! Instead of using a hand towel in the bathroom, put out a box of Kleenex White Hand Towels in the bathroom. You're going to need them!
Save Some Supplies for Later
Don't put everything out! How many hours is your party? Divide up your supplies by hour and go from there. When people bring candy, poor only some of the bag out and save the rest for later. Decide the max number of graham crackers or sugar cubes per person and let them know that's all they get. Sugar cubes can go really fast if you don't regulate them. If someone brings a repeat of another candy, keep it for later. Keep some candy for the end of the party. This way you are guaranteed to have at least something at the end as the last few people show up. And if you have extras, you can always stash it for next year.
Have Some Non Sweet Snacks
You know how kids decorate things- they put something on the house then something in their mouths. To avoid cranky tummies, put some non sweet treats out on the tables too. Popcorn is great because you can eat it and decorate with it too. Carrot sticks, crackers, Chex Mix, even mini pigs in a blanket are great to have around. Skip the soda and juice and have some water out....but not next to all the houses!
Plan Other Activities
Since this is a party for families, some other activities are really nice to have. One brother may take an hour to make his house while the other is done in 2 seconds (just dump sprinkles on it, right?). Play a Christmas movie in the other room, put up a pin the red nose on the reindeer game (click on the picture to print yours), even Twister would be lots of fun. Open ended games that can be fun with a little or a lot of people are great. Try lining the floor of another room with bubble wrap- it's a lot of fun and easy to set up over and over. This gingerbread template below is a great play dough mat or use the paper Gingerbread house with some glue sticks instead for those with lots of food allergies. Have a Santa Letter Writing Table then drop them all off at Santa's Mailbox inside Macy's. Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish for each letter mailed there so get the adults to write one too. Here's an easy Santa letter template to put out on the table.
Remember the Adults
Have some adult friendly snacks and sitting areas. Encourage the adults to help their children make the houses. Some adults really get into "helping" their child decorate his house so have some extra cardboard pieces for them too. Have an ugly sweater contest for the adults with prizes every hour. You can set the example with this gingerbread sweater and these Ugly Sweater pins make great, simple gifts.
Go with the Flow
Most importantly though- whatever happens, happens. Remember the whole point of having the party is to have some Christmas fun. So when 10 more people show up with 5 minutes left in the party, don't stress! Plan to have the party go for an hour later than what you put on the invite because it'll happen. Remember everything will work out in the end. Take pictures and enjoy the moment! And have a really good vacuum.
And at the end of the night, surprise your family with these gingerbread family pajamas. Snuggle up together and go through all the photos you took earlier. Then turn on one of your favorite Christmas movies and bask in another great family memory.