As ward activity committee members, it can be difficult to come up with unique ideas for the ward Christmas party year after year. Here are some ideas for making this December's event an enjoyable experience for members of all ages.
Christmas in Bethlehem
Add a new level of understanding and reverence to your ward party this year by celebrating in the city of Christ's birth. Let ward members know what you're planning a few weeks ahead of time by sending out a "Royal Decree," summoning all the ward to Bethlehem to be taxed. Have families dress in simple costumes and bring a blanket to sit on, but make sure to have tables and chairs available for those who cannot sit on the floor. Set up booths that sell different kinds of food—pita bread, hummus, olives, couscous and other foods of the Middle East—and give each family a bag of money to buy their dinner and pay taxes. Include a short program, or have everyone sing hymns, and finish the night off with a reenactment of the Nativity.
Christmas in Zarahemla
The Book of Mormon gives another account of the birth of the Savior, so why not celebrate Christmas from the Nephites' perspective? This could be similar to the Night in Bethlehem, but with a change of scenery. Use lots of greenery to create a rainforest atmosphere and decorate in a Mayan style. Since the Nephite Christmas was marked by a night that was as bright as day, make sure the room is well lit. Instead of hummus and pita bread for dinner, try serving tortillas and beans, with tropical fruits like pineapple and bananas.
Breakfast with Santa
Christmas parties don't have to mean a complicated dinner and a formal setting. In fact, they don't have to mean dinner at all. Instead, try celebrating the season with a casual ward breakfast. With some Christmas carols, the Nativity story, and a visit from Santa to top off the event.
Alternatively, for an extra sweet activity, your ward could do a hot chocolate bar! There's nothing better than cozying up and enjoying good company with a drink to keep you warm in winter. Your hot chocolate bar could include tons of toppings. Aside from traditional hot chocolate toppings like marshmallows and whipped cream, get creative with unorthodox hot chocolate toppings like caramel, fun-sized candy bars, Nutella, and peanut butter.
Christmas Carol Sing-Along
Not every Christmas party has to be an elaborate affair. In fact, often the simplest activities can be the most spiritual. And what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than by singing Christmas carols? You could even break up the evening with a few special musical numbers from people in your ward. Not only will the evening be enjoyable, it will cost next to nothing.
What better way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas than with a night of service? You could assemble care packages for missionaries or pick a few different local causes such as a women's shelter, retirement home, hospital, or homeless shelter, and assemble kits or complete service for them. You may also put together hygiene kits for a humanitarian center. Children can make Christmas cards for soldiers or missionaries or wipe down toys in the nursery. Or the ward could decorate sugar cookies to take to widows, inactive members, members unable to attend, or others in need.
Symbols of Christmas
There's a lot of symbolism in the gospel, and Christmas is no exception. There are a host of symbols in Christmas decorations and giving meaning to these decorations could help us remember the Savior even more throughout the season. Objects related to Christmas such as candy canes, bows, the color red etc. can be used as decorations and the ward can decorate a tree as they review the symbols. Here's an example of a program from Little LDS Ideas.
For a more interactive Christmas celebration, plan a Christmas Carnival, complete with festive foods, crafts, and games.
For the kids: Arrange a workshop where children can make garland jewelry. Cover a table with bright red plastic and provide all kinds of stringable candy (Life Savers, gummy rings, Froot Loops, Cheerios, etc.) and some heavy string or yarn, and let them make necklaces that they can munch on throughout the evening.
For the adults: Stuff the Santa is great fun for bigger kids and adults. Get an extra large red one-piece union suit and lots of red balloons. Then, break ward members up into teams and have them race to see who can blow up the most balloons to stuff the fattest Santa in a set time. Have the Santas show off their lumpy physiques before counting the balloons to see who won.
For everyone: The standard carnival fare is fun for all ages. Have face painting and cookie decorating booths as well as a cakewalk (featuring traditional Christmas goodies), and anything else you can imagine. For refreshments, serve cheese ball snowmen (made of cream cheese) and crackers. As a door prize, fill a jar with red and green jelly beans and have each person guess how many jelly beans are in the jar by writing their name and best estimate on a piece of paper. At the end of the party, announce the correct number. The person closest to the right number wins the jar.
Favorite Christmas Stories
Mix up your family traditions this year by sharing your favorite Christmas stories as a ward. Have each family bring in their favorite Christmas story, break everyone into groups, and have the families share their stories with one another. This can bring ward members together and you can hear some really cool stories.
For refreshments, have each group bring their favorite Christmas treats. Have everyone sign up ahead of time to make sure you don't get 50 apple pies. Everyone loves apple pie, but you'll be surprised by how many other great holiday recipes your ward has.
Activity Planning Tips
1. Consider the members of your ward. Are there a lot of outgoing people in your ward, or are they generally more reserved? This is something to consider before you try to get people to stand up and dance to "Jingle Bell Rock" with cardboard antlers on their heads. If you are planning a spiritual evening for a ward that is composed of 200 Primary children, make sure it interesting enough and short enough to hold their attention. And if at all possible, involve them in some skits or musical numbers.
2. Keep it moving. Regardless of how few people have arrived, begin the Christmas party on time. That being said, it may be best to leave the more spiritual part of the night for later in the program to avoid distractions, as some families are sure to trickle in late. Don't leave large gaps of time between musical numbers, skits, games, or refreshments, and end the activity on time. Young children can get cranky as the evening wears on, and the people on cleanup duty would like to get home at a reasonable hour too.
3. It's not about the food. Fancy dinners are enjoyable, but remember that the more elaborate the meal, the more people are stuck in the kitchen unable to enjoy the activity. Consider scaling back on the menu, having a potluck dinner, or serving simple refreshments such as punch and cookies. This cuts down on cost, stress, and cleanup.
4. Reevaluate traditions. Activities that were once wildly popular with your ward may have lost some of their appeal if they have been repeated year after year. Ward dynamics change as people move out and new families move in. And even those who have been in the ward for years may have gotten burned out on the same turkey dinner and visit from Santa.