Why A Favorite Things Party Is The Best Tradition You Can Start This Christmas

Friends Exchanging Christmas Presents
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Like most people seem to be these days, my friends are stretched thin and spread out. Companions since high school, five of us are in Atlanta, one of us is in Charleston, and one of us is currently living abroad as a U.S. diplomat. But there is one gathering that we prioritize every holiday season, and that’s our favorite things party. It’s been over a decade since the tradition began, and it’s still going strong with no end in sight.

This year, skip the white elephant and dirty Santa soirées and plan your own favorite things party instead. Here’s what you need to know to start your new favorite Christmas party tradition.

What is a Favorite Things Party?

Inspired by Oprah’s over-the-top holiday spectacular in which she gifted audience members mind-blowing items, a favorite things party is a simple get-together where friends get to exchange their, well, favorite things. The rules are simple: Set a budget, and every party-goer purchases a specific quantity of the same gifts, one for each attendee. At the party, which can be a dinner party, a themed Christmas gathering, or anything in between, gifts are exchanged and each guest goes home with an array of new treasures. If you have a large group in attendance, you can set a number for how many items each attendee can bring to help with budgeting.

At our favorite things dinner party, items have ranged from a homemade meal inspired by a grandmother’s chicken soup to magazine subscriptions, robes, socks, makeup, and skincare. The budget guides your selections. Ours started at just $5 and has grown to $25 over the years.

How to Plan a Favorite Things Party

Think About Who’s Coming

Begin with a list of invitees. This will help guide your budget and set the tone for the event. Like any good dinner party, select guests with similar interests or let everyone know who is coming. What someone might select as their favorite thing for an office gathering will likely be quite different from what they select for an intimate party of friends. 

Set Your Budget

It’s important to make sure guests are on the same page when it comes to spending. The number of attendees and the closeness of your friend group will steer your budget, but the goal isn’t to break the bank. Keep in mind that everyone will be buying multiples of the same thing, so even a low budget per item can quickly add up.

Pick Your Party

Next, determine what kind of party you want to host, beyond the gifts. Will it be a potluck dinner or a tacky sweater theme? Perhaps a Christmas movie marathon with gifting between flicks? The options are endless.

Gift and Gab

When it comes time to share gifts, let gifters share why the chosen item is a favorite of theirs as everyone in the group tears into their presents. Be ready for some fun explanations.

Our Traditions

In my group, we take turns hosting each year, and we are now on our third rotation. After a hearty, festive meal provided by the host, often finished with a Christmas cake, it’s time for gifts. This tradition has become the party of the year for us. We start planning the next event as soon as the current party is over, and throughout the year, there are plenty of “I think I have my favorite thing!” texts exchanged. 

The Different Ways to Play

There are several adaptations of favorite things parties. Below are a few tried and true ways to make hosting a breeze. No matter which style you choose, make sure your invitations clearly state a budget and a gift quantity to eliminate confusion. 

Traditional: Enough of the same gift for everyone

The classic method as described above is the chosen way for me and my friends. Since we are a close-knit, small group, it has worked well over the years. The only change that has been made is a bigger budget—which we are already planning to increase next year and beyond. 

For a Crowd: A specific number of gifts set by the host

To include a few more guests, another method is to bring a specific and set quantity of gifts, according to a budget. For example, five $10 items. Like in the traditional method, gifters present their item, sharing why they chose it. Then, guests draw numbers that indicate an order in which they can select from the pile of goods, taking turns until all gifts have been distributed. 

Big Spenders: One big ticket item 

Most similar to a traditional white elephant exchange, this style of party encourages guests to bring a high-end, desirable item. Establish rules around stealing, and let the game begin! 

Above all else, make sure your invitations clearly state a budget and a gift quantity to eliminate confusion. 

Gift Ideas

Thanks to a few very organized friends, we have kept track of our annual presents in a spreadsheet. Looking back, gifts tend to represent specific moments of our lives. There was the year Erin, who was so smitten by a new needlework hobby, embroidered a unique piece for each of us. Or the time Sarah, sent everyone pearl earrings while she was living abroad. And, we can almost always expect a tooth-adjacent gift from our dental hygienist friend.

Trinkets don’t always represent major life circumstances; there have been plenty of “just-because” finds, too, but the ones that are special find a permanent place in our homes and routines. 

Going to a favorite things party this year and stumped about what to bring? Here are a few gift ideas to get you started:

$10 Limit

  • Candle
  • Locally made snack 
  • Cocktail napkins and cheese knife
  • Fun ice cube molds

$20 Limit 

  • Makeup item (mascara, lip gloss, etc)
  • Tech Accessory
  • Clear stadium bag 
  • Family-friendly game or puzzle 

$30 Limit

  • Embroidered kitchen towels 
  • Rechargeable lamp
  • Pickleball paddle
  • Cookbook

Splurge-worthy:

  • Decorative needlepoint pillow 
  • Cashmere wrap 
  • Colorful wine glasses
  • Sound machine