Dishes, ugly sweaters and giving: the holiday party survival guide

Regardless of the type of gift exchange party you’re having, an ugly holiday sweater is almost always a great conversation piece. Bobby Block

Navigating the complexities of the holiday party season is a challenge for many. Whether the party is at work, a friend’s house or your place, challenges range from finding the perfect ugly sweater to obtaining that rare white elephant present in the exchange that actually feels like a gift.

By following these tips, you can not only survive these parties, but thrive at them. Some of it comes down to research or the right recipe or having the right luck online — if you know where to look. 

Ugly Sweaters 

Over the past two decades, ugly Christmas sweaters have become a ubiquitous feature of holiday parties.

While questionable fashion choices have been around for as long as there’s been clothes, the ugly sweater specifically is believed to be a trendy, if oft-unfortunate byproduct of 80s fashion. As far as themed parties, most believe those started gaining traction around the turn of this past century, and they’ve grown in popularity ever since, according to “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On.” 

Ugly Christmas sweaters are sold practically at every major retailer in the Santa Clarita Valley, including Target, Walmart, JC Penny and others. These sweaters come in a wide variety of designs, so there is an ugly sweater out there for everyone. 

They’re also available on online retailers like Amazon and Mark Hajjar, co-owner of, equates ugly sweaters with Halloween costumes — everybody wants to have the most original one yet. 

Hajjar describes the best sweaters as ones with “unexpected humor with relevance to the group of people around you.” His site offers a sweater customizer where customers can create sweaters with their own designs. 

“It is hard to be sad in an ‘ugly Christmas’ sweater,” said Hajjar. “It brings fun and joy to the people wearing the sweaters and to the people around them.”

Holiday dishes 

Most holiday parties have a potluck element that can be intimidating to an inexperienced cook. Rather than buying a premade food or snack, impress the party by making an appetizer, which can be a lot easier than it seems.

A charcuterie plate is an eye-catching addition to any holiday party, and offers a snacking combination that works with most crowds. Cory Rubin

Charcuterie boards are a quick appetizer to prepare for a crowd to enjoy. According to Amanda Kasahara, an experienced charcuterie board creator, these boards need to be sweet, salty, brined, crunchy and have fruit. Not only do they offer a wide range of flavors and textures, but they’re also aesthetically pleasing. 

“Most people at holiday parties want to snack and chat, so keeping all the items different but mild and complementary usually means the tray gets devoured,” said Kasahara. 

On Kasahara’s boards, she recommends cheeses of all different styles, salami or prosciutto, olives, grapes, berries, nuts. Kasahara usually uses candied sweet and spicy pecans, crackers or cucumber slices. 

If charcuterie boards still seem a bit above your level of expertise, Hillary Janikula offers a quick and easy dip that may sound odd, but is delicious. 

“Put a brick of room-temperature cream cheese in a shallow dish, pour a jar of Hormel chili sauce over the top of the cream cheese, and serve with Wheat Thin crackers,” said Janikula. 

Growing up, this was a dip her mother always brought to parties. It is easy to prepare and Janikula claims that people cannot resist eating the dip. Regardless of what you’re bringing, it’s always good to run things by the host.

‘White Elephant’ 

It’s safe to say, you want to have the gift everyone wants to steal. As someone who has been gifting and researching gifts for a long time, Julie Kenney, creator of The Gifting Experts page on Facebook, offers some advice for the best White Elephant gifts to give this season. 

“I absolutely love white elephant parties and we host one almost every year,” said Kenney. 

There are a lot of ways to look at buying your gift. It could be a gift that the recipient would get a lot of uses from, or you could go down a more creative route and buy something uncommon. 

A useful gift could be a food maker of some sort because everyone eats. There are s’mores, breakfast sandwich, quesadilla and so many other food makers on the market today. This is a gift that would get a lot of use, and something they may not have. 

To get a more uncommon gift, options like a color-changing umbrella or a corgi succulent planter are a good start. These are not gifts you could find at your local major retailers, but one that shows that you did some research. 

By putting in the effort to find a creative or unique gift, everyone at the party will be able to see that and they’ll be fighting over your gift all night.

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