Is the idea of hosting a holiday celebration in your home… ho-ho-horribly stressful?
Perhaps there’s not enough space to comfortably accommodate friends and family. Or maybe the time and effort it takes to create holiday merriment (the decorating, the cooking, the cleaning) is just not something you want to invite into your life right now.
Whatever the case, no need to feel sad or guilty about having to decline the role of host or hostess—that is, unless you’re open to getting creative. Instead of hosting festivities in your home, you could plan a unique gathering with one of these alternatives, and perhaps start a new holiday tradition.
1. DINE OUT
There’s nothing quite like a restaurant reservation. You show up, you feast, you connect with family and friends, then you leave without having to clean the dishes. Another perk is you can split the bill accordingly among family and friends. With more restaurants staying open on holidays, this scenario has become less of a Plan B (a la the final scene in A Christmas Story) and more of an appealing Plan A.
2. HEAD TO A HOTEL
Hotels and resorts don’t close over the holidays. In most cases, neither do their onsite restaurants, lounges and bars. In fact, many hotels invite guests to celebrate the holidays with decked-out buffets, themed feasts, and family-friendly events for the season. Along with holiday meals, hotels also wow visitors during the holiday season with elaborate decorations, Santa visits, ice skating rinks, Christmas markets, and more. If you opt to pair a hotel holiday feast with an overnight stay, some properties—such as Hilton Cleveland Downtown and the Logan Philadelphia Hotel (Curio Collection by Hilton)—even have Christmas trees in holiday-themed guest rooms.
3. RENT A PRIVATE HOME
If space is an issue to hosting a private gathering in your home, consider renting a bigger home for 24 to 48 hours. Vacation rental sites such as Vrbo offers a plethora of choices, especially for those who book well ahead of time. (People begin booking homes for the winter holidays as early as July, according to Vrbo.) By going the private rental route, your festivities can stay cozy and private. Cook and bake to your heart’s content, and spread out. Not to mention, you may even land a home with perks such as an indoor private pool, hot tub, or a game room, to make the gathering even more special.
4. TAKE A HOLIDAY CRUISE
While you and the family could splurge on a multi-day cruise to somewhere exotic, keep it simple by keeping it local. Say “Ahoy” to a 2- to 3-hour holiday cruise that includes a chef-prepared feast and live entertainment. City Experiences by Hornblower offers Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve cruises in more than a dozen U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Think of it as a floating soirée that’ll serve up stunning skyline views to mesmerize your guests.
5. VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME TOGETHER
Something about the holiday season brings out the best in people. So, why not shift your family gathering to helping others during a season that can be particularly challenging and lonely for those in need. Making it a multi-generational activity can be bonding, eye-opening, inspiring, and memorable. Call your local USO, VFW, or VA hospital and ask about volunteer opportunities with veterans. Call your local hospital or nursing home and ask to speak with the volunteering coordinator. Seek out opportunities with your local church, synagogue, or mosque. Your family’s volunteering presence could make a difference, not to mention leave a lasting impression on all who share the holiday together. Note: Many shelters, soup kitchens, dog shelters, etc., are inundated with requests to help on holiday dates, so perhaps consider gathering your troops to devote time during the days before or after Christmas or New Year's.
6. VISIT A NATIONAL OR STATE PARK
Why sit around a holiday table when you can spread out, outdoors? Take your holiday gathering to a national or state park. Burn off energy (and holiday angst) with hikes and other outdoor adventures before meeting up for a potluck picnic. Many national parks and state parks are open year-round. Among them: Zion, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Check websites for the park nearest you to assess the opportunities.
7. HAVE FUN AT A THEME PARK
Add some tinsel to those Mickey ears! Among the most famous theme parks to stay open 365 days a year: Disney World Resort (in Orlando, Fla.) and Disneyland (in Anaheim, Calif.). If you’re fortunate to live within driving distance, or are willing to hop a flight, you could transform an otherwise run-of-the-mill celebration into one infused with a little Disney magic. Holiday fireworks, parades, entertainment, and tasty feasts at Disney dining establishments await. Among the sweetest opportunities: the Holiday Cookie Stroll, a scavenger hunt held during the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays.
8. HEAD TO AN ENCHANTING HOLIDAY POP-UP
Step into your own version of a Hallmark Christmas movie at Enchant Christmas. Billed as “The World’s Largest Christmas Maze and Village,” Enchant Christmas is an illuminated winter wonderland that pops up for the season in nine U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., Nashville, St. Petersburg, and Las Vegas. It features animated light sculptures, ice-skating, dining, live entertainment, and much more. Bonus: It’s open on Christmas (when so many other holiday markets are closed). Enjoy the twinkling lights of this seasonal spectacle, with mulled wine or hot cocoa in hand, alongside family and friends.
9. GO TO A SPORTING EVENT
Host your holiday gathering in the stadium or arena, cheering on your favorite team. The NBA has a full line-up of basketball games on Christmas Day, and college football bowl games are held throughout December and into the New Year, with the most famous being the Rose Bowl, held annually in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1.
10. GO TO THE MOVIES
Make your next holiday a big-screen experience, complete with a giant tub of buttered popcorn to share (or not) amongst loved ones. Christmas Day is one of the busiest days for movie theaters, with many eagerly awaited films typically releasing on Dec. 25. While theaters may begin showing later in the day on holidays such as Christmas and Hannukah, many theaters are open on holidays. Potential perks to a movie holiday gathering include a feast that consists almost entirely of junk food, and not having to speak to your guests for the duration of the film.