An ornament exchange is a great excuse to throw a holiday cocktail party among friends, and I love a good theme! Here’s a checklist to help you throw a successful party.

I love the splendor of the holidays—the decorations, colors, lights, the scents of gingerbread, spice, and everything nice. An ornament exchange is just the perfect theme and excuse to throw a cocktail party. I have a checklist that I use for a successful party so no details are overlooked. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you throw a memorable party.

1. Choose the Date

While we always try to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules, that is an impossible feat, so don’t be hurt if one or two of your invitees is not available on the date you select. For a friends’ party, I have found that a weeknight is typically more practical than a weekend, especially at this time of year, when there are so many business, couples, and family obligations on the weekends. Time is flying, so let’s pick a date, select the guest list, and send out the invites sooner rather than later.

2. Guest List

Girlfriends Ornament Exchange Party Holiday Party Ideas How to Throw a Party

Courtesy of Pinterest

Who to invite? As I said, I find an ornament exchange party the perfect excuse to gather your favorites for a fun evening of being together, catching up, and then going home with an ornament from a dear friend. I consider this type of party a “minus one.” Knowing my husband would love nothing less than participating in an ornament exchange party, I let him and other partners off the hook for events such as these. Also, while it's fun to collect an eclectic group of people to make an interesting evening, for this I suggest keeping the guest list to just the gang.

3. Choose the Look of Your Party

Holiday Ornament Exchange Cocktail Party Ideas

Courtesy of Instagram

Whether your style is rustic, whimsical, traditional, or glittery and shiny, we all have different styles, and that’s what makes great friendships. My close friend group is quite diverse, and what makes us closer and special is that everyone brings a different part of themselves. Since this is your party, choose a look and feel that reflects you. However, encourage your guests to bring an ornament that reflects them.

4. Invitations

Ornament Exchange Girls' Cocktail Party Ideas

Courtesy of Zazzle

Now that you’ve selected a date, guest list, and style for your party, it's time for the invitations. Ensure your invitation is informative as to the attire, invitees (this is a friends' night), and the request that guests bring an ornament of their own personality, wrapped and within a price range. I normally suggest $15 or less, as there are many fantastic ornaments available at that price or below. Remember, an informative invite keeps everyone in the know; you're doing your friends a favor by being kindly specific.

5. Décor

Your home should already be decorated, the tree trimmed, lights twinkling, and all of your Christmas details in place prior to your party. Obviously, you don’t want to host an ornament exchange party in an un-decorated home—that’s just anti-climatic. I love incorporating my ornament exchange theme with my completely different decorated Christmas home as the backdrop.

Therefore, for the décor, incorporate your themed little baubles throughout your existing space; on the bar, coffee and side tables, and buffet. Decorative scented votives placed around the main party area and powder room add extra ambiance. Trust me: it works.

To keep things fluid, I set up my bar in a different area than my buffet, yet still accessible for my guests. You don't want your guests inconvenienced having to search for food or drinks, that's just uncivilized.

Holiday Ornament Exchange Cocktail Party Buffet Table

Courtesy of Pinterest

Now this is the time to pull out all of your treasures: silver, crystal, serving and cocktail plates. While I insist on cloth napkins (I buy packs of 12 white, cloth hotel napkins for about $16 at Home Goods) for both table and cocktail napkins, I have found that sometimes guests are reticent to soil them. Therefore, I always assure my guests that they can be laundered. I love them because they add a finished look to the party. Sometimes, if I find particularly darling paper cocktail napkins that add another element to the bar and absorb the condensation of the cocktails, I will use them—cute, efficient, and protective of your furniture where coasters aren't readily available.

We always need music playing in the background at any gathering. I suggest a playlist of your favorite Christmas songs. I love a mix of upbeat modern and old school Christmas songs; choose whatever mood you want to set for your party.

6. Food and Drinks


I’ve always believed that one of the things people remember about a great party is the food. Therefore, choose a menu you love. For this kind of party, I love an array of fabulous hors d'oeuvres from which to choose—after all, it’s a girls’ night, not a sit-down. These are some of my favorite decadent nibbles: gooey baked brie, sophisticated mini-beef Wellington, mini-crab cakes with remoulade sauce, lobster grilled cheese, a charcuterie board, and ham sliders. We always need sweets: I like cute ornament cookies and fudge—little desserts that are mouthwatering but require little effort in which to indulge.

Neiman Marcus Holiday Food Girls' Ornament Exchange Cocktail Party Holiday Party ideas

Photos Courtesy of Neiman Marcus

And while I admit I don’t make most of these delectable delights, if I am not having the party catered, I find that places like Trader Joe's offer wonderful selections of hors d'oeuvres, cheeses, and desserts ready to be beautifully plattered for a cocktail party. Why re-invent the wheel?


Christmas Cocktail Party Bar Cocktails Oranament Exchange Party

Courtesy of Pier 1 Instagram

My bar, which is actually an antique console table with a festive tablecloth, is set up with appropriate barware, an ice bucket, an assortment of wine and cocktail glasses, and ornaments spread about, as well as several little bowls of nibbles such as nuts and peppermint bark. My friends love to nibble while chatting at the different stations. Featuring a signature drink that is telling of the season and super-easy is a nice addition to selections of both red and chilled white wines. I love the color of a festive cranberry champagne cocktail; click here for the recipe. Also, offer non-alcoholic beverages, such as pretty pitchers of fresh apple cider and water. Don't forget your garnishes—skewered candied cranberries, sprigs of rosemary, mint, and absolutely lemon and lime wedges. Those little touches add the extra something special. Now that is a nicely set up bar!

7. Time to Party

Before your guests arrive, review your checklist, light the candles, and get dressed. Once your guests arrive, check all talk of diets at the door; this is a time to indulge, celebrate, and receive a guilt-free pass to enjoying the evening. Now that's out of the way, have your guests place their wrapped ornaments under your tree until it's time for the exchange. Now sit back and relax with your friends and enjoy a fabulous party!

Holiday Ornament Exchange Party Hostess Ideas

Courtesy of Pier 1 Instagram

Once you're ready for the main event, use a festive vessel, such as a silver champagne bucket, where each guest can reach in and pick a card with a number on it. This determines the order in which the guests select from under the tree.

To make things a little more interesting, you can play the "steal game" or better known as "white elephant exchange," where guests can choose to steal an opened ornament from another guest instead of taking one from under the tree. If you choose to play this game, as hostess, you should be the first to select so that everyone has a chance to steal if they so choose. 

Party Favors

Hostess Gift Pier 1 Holiday Ornament Exchange Cocktail Party Ideas

Courtesy of Pier 1 Instagram

Now that the party is wrapping up and your guests are departing, I always like to give everyone a little party favor, whether a scented candle or a cute frame, a token that will remind them of our fun evening together.

Do you plan on hosting an ornament exchange party? If so, share your social media pics at #OCN. Do you have great tips of your own? If so, please leave them in our comments; we always love your feedback, ideas, and opinions!

We at OCN wish you the happiest holiday season!