Christmas Punch Party – What is it?

If you want to host a gathering this Christmas, but you’re not sure what kind or where to start, I suggest hosting a Christmas punch party.

A punch party is basically a cocktail party where the drinks are pre-mixed. Guests gather to mingle and enjoy drinks, hearty snacks and appetizers. But the centerpiece is a big, beautiful bowl of punch. Or two bowls of punch, if you wish. The emphasis remains on gathering and sipping but it’s less alcohol centered than a cocktail party and you, the host, won’t have to worry about bartending.

You can serve any kind of punch you like. You can also serve large batches of non-punch beverages in a punch bowl. Mulled cider and eggnog are excellent punch bowl drinks, for example. We’ll talk more about punch recipes in a few minutes.

punch party in full swing - table with silver punch bowl and trays of food

One of our festive Christmas Eve punch parties. I like to include plenty of hearty snacks and non-punch beverages. 

Why you should throw a Christmas Punch Party

Why is a punch party better than a cocktail party or a potluck or any other kind of party? Glad you asked! Here’s a few reasons to plan a Christmas punch party:

1.It’s fun and festive. It’s hard to compete with a huge bowl of punch in terms of pure party mood. And if there was ever a time to pull out all the Festive Stops, it’s Christmas.

2. Unlike a cocktail party, a punch party can appeal equally to adults and kids, drinkers and non-drinkers. Everyone can enjoy a bowl of non-alcoholic punch, whether they spike it or sip it straight.

3. Christmas party punches are a great way to serve libations for a large group without breaking the bank.

4. It’s easier to get ready for a punch party and there’s less to clean up afterwards.

5. You don’t need tons of ‘stuff’ to host a punch party.

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What you need for a Christmas Punch Party

You can make your punch party as formal or casual as you want. But there are a few things you do need.

1 – a punch bowl. This can technically be any large, deep bowl but if you can possibly manage it, use an actual punch bowl. They’re built for the job and that really does make mixing and serving easier.

Look for a punch bowl that will hold your punch recipe with some room to spare. Remember that you can always halve or double the punch recipe depending on the size of your punch bowl and party.

Where to find a punch bowl

These days, punch bowls are pretty easy to find on ebay, etsy and in secondhand stores. You can also ask around – you might be surprised how many people have a punch bowl lurking in the attic or basement they’ll lend you. Like so many fab party pieces, punch bowls used to be pretty standard-issue wedding registry item. Which means there’s a lot of them out there waiting for their moment.

I will never advocate for overspending. But I will advocate for investing a reasonable portion of your party budget in your punch bowl (and, ideally, cups). Buy or acquire a nicer bowl if you can. It will look better and probably last longer. And if you’re going to have a punch party, the punch bowl is going to be featured front and center.

Punch bowls come in glass, crystal, silver and plastic. Glass and plastic are usually the least expensive, followed by silver and crystal. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, so there’s sure to be something for every taste and budget out there.

Taft Museum's punch bowl and antique silver display

This silver punch bowl was part of a gorgeous display of antique and vintage silver at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, OH. 

2 – punch cups. Often, you can find a gently used punch set that includes the bowl, cups and even a ladle. Ideally, you’ll have two cups per guest, especially if you’re serving more than one kind of punch.

If you can’t find a set, you can just shop for punch cups that tickle your fancy. They don’t have to match your bowl, or even each other. Again, second hand stores, ebay, etsy, etc are the place to go.

I am not a fan of single-use plastics, so I’m going to encourage you to try and source punch cups you can use year after year.

Like bowls, punch cups come in glass, silver, crystal and plastic. And like the bowls, they come in a huge range of styles, from classic to playful.

If you’re serving a hot punch, be sure the cups and bowl can handle a warm beverage. Silver will transfer heat and can also warp if the contents are too hot. Glass is best for hot punches.

On the other hand, silver will keep the punch cool longer – so if your punch needs to be frosty, consider silver cups and bowl.

2.5 – a ladle. You can, technically, use a handled cup for this but it will be very messy. A ladle makes the job a lot easier. Many punch sets include a ladle but there are tons of them on ebay, etsy, etc. Look for one that’s specifically for serving drinks, it will work much better.

By the way, I store my punch sets away during the year. The cups go in this hard-sided case, which I highly recommend.

setting up for a punch party - the things you need to host

Setting up for the punch party goes quickly, which is one of the many perks. 

3 – The actual Christmas party punch. It goes in the bowl, as you may have expected.

This is my Christmas Punch recipe. It is very basic but everyone loves it and it looks fabulous in a silver bowl. There are some wonderfully complex Christmas party punches out there, though, so don’t feel like you need to limit yourself.

Christmas Party Punches

And remember, you can serve any almost beverage in a punch bowl. I also serve a smaller punch bowl of homemade eggnog, for example.

I’ve already mentioned my Christmas punch recipe and linked to it but here are a few other top notch Christmas party punches:

Alcoholic Punch

The Kitchn’s Cranberry Prosecco punch is a light, fruity alcoholic Christmas punch that’s sure to be a hit. And Pappy’s Bourbon Milk Punch (yes, milk) hits all the right notes for a rich, creamy party punch.

For those who want a historical punch recipe, check out this Claret Cup punch recipe from my friend Brian of the Victorian Barroom. If you’re looking for a classic hot punch recipe, consider a bowl of smoking bishop. It’s warm, fruity and as Dickensian as it gets. For the sake of your punchbowl, you should probably skip heating it by putting a red hot poker into the bowl. Try warming it on the stove top or in the crock pot instead.

Many alcoholic punch recipes are, effectively, a giant mixed cocktail. You can also make a large batch of classic drinks like a Manhattan or a Godfather and serve it from the punch bowl.

I would suggest staying away from a boozy punch unless you are certain all your guests drink alcohol or you’re also serving plenty of non-alcoholic options.

cranberry citrus christmas punch in a large silver punch bowl surrounded by cups

The cranberry citrus punch I serve on Christmas Eve. It’s a basic, non-alcoholic mix that everyone loves it and it’s equally enjoyable with a splash of bourbon or brandy.

Christmas Party Punch Non-alcoholic

There are tons of non-alcoholic punch recipes out there, many dating from the mid-20th century. From the classic sherbet wedding punch to fruit punches, there’s plenty of options.

One of my favorites is this simple Pineapple Citrus Punch.

1 large can of pineapple juice

2 liter bottle of 7UP or Sprite

2 cups of orange juice

A good rule of thumb for creating your own non-alcoholic punch is to combine 2-3 fruit juices with an equal volume of fizzy soda. Ginger ales and lemon-lime sodas are the go-to for this. They loosen up the juice and give it some bubbles. For a fun, foamy texture, add a few scoops of orange, lime or pineapple sherbet.

It’s very easy to spike most punches, so you can keep an assortment of spirits or sparkling wine on hand if you’re accommodating a mixed crowd. Brandy, bourbon and rum are all great add-ins.

Punch Temperature

Consider whether the punch needs to be kept cold or warm. Decorative ice shapes, frozen fruit, punch rings and even ice cream or sherbet are all great ways to keep the punch bowl cool.

I prefer to freeze punch ingredients rather than plain water. That keeps the punch from diluting. Consider using decorative ice molds if you’re going to freeze juice, soda, etc. They’re fun and festive in the bowl.

eggnog in a glass punch bowl

Your punch party isn’t limited to punch – this glass punch bowl is the perfect way to serve our homemade eggnog. 

Punch Party Details

There’s a few other things to consider if you want your punch party to be a raging success.

  • Make sure you have cocktail napkins. Ideally, they’ll be nice reusable cloth napkins but you can, of course, use paper cocktail napkins. Even if I will admit there are tons of fun paper napkins out there and owning and laundering a big set of cocktail napkins can get unwieldy. But no matter the material, punch can slosh out of cups, so napkins are a must.
  • Provide snacks. Especially if the punch is boozy! You don’t have to get carried away with the food, especially if you’re trying to keep the party simple. But spread around foods that are easy to eat with standing or perching and that don’t require cutlery.  I like to do a cheese board, some charcuterie and a veggie tray at our punch party but you can really tailor the food to your own liking.
  • Make sure there’s a place for guests to put their dirty cups and plates. At a ‘stand and mingle’ party, it’s especially important that your guests can easily find a spot to discard dirty plates and cups. You can use a small side table to freestanding tray for this or an area of the kitchen.

And finally….offer a beverage that’s not punch. Wait, am I telling you to serve something that’s not punch at the punch party? I am indeed.

At the very least, have water and water glasses readily available. Some guests may not fancy drinking punch at all and some may want a break from sweet or strong punch. A pitcher of cold water and glasses is easy to add to the offering. You can also put out a few bottles of sparkling water and offer some lemon slices.

If you wish, of course, you can have other beverages available like wine, beer or spirits. You’re the best judge of what your guests will enjoy.