We had the best time over the past month, partnering with Amazon Free Time to throw a couple of fun press and blogger holiday cocktail parties in Philly and Atlanta. Our aim was to give parents a little more me time (Get it? Free Time for me time?) in a completely adults-only environment. Remember that?

Of course the great company and the chance to meet some of our favorite publishers and editors from around the country was the absolute highlight. But we thought we’d share some other fun things we did that could inspire some fun holiday party ideas for your own gatherings this season.

Atlanta photos © Sara Hanna Photography, Philly photos © Jessica Kourkonis for Cool Mom Picks, all rights reserved.

 

Cool Mom Picks + Amazon Free Time holiday parties

Atlanta bloggers and guests at the Cool Mom Picks -Amazon Free Time "Me Time" holiday party

Cool Mom Picks holiday party with Amazon Free Time

Amazon Cool Mom Picks holiday party: The winner!

The new Kindle Fire Kids Edition, recently updated with more features

At the Cool Mom Picks Amazon Free Time holiday party, Atlanta 2015

Cool Mom Picks / Amazon Free Time holiday parties 2015

 

With that, here are some of the hits of our own parties. Steal them, adapt them, run with them however you’d like. It’s all in the spirit of giving.

 

Devise a special holiday cocktail, ideally with a great name

How to make a Merry Berry Cocktail for holiday parties | recipe via Sbraga Philly for Cool Mom Picks

Friends, meet the Merry Berry holiday cocktail, which the fine mixologists at Sbraga developed with (very little) input from us. They tell us it was the most popular cocktail they’ve ever made for a private function and we’re not surprised! The combo of cranberry, citrus and spice was amazing, and you’ll find the recipe over on Cool Mom Eats.

We also had a fantastic custom cocktail at Salt Yard Atlanta in Atlanta called the Ginger Bell Rock.

Lesson learned: Naming your cocktail something fun (as in, not “punch”) makes it more fun to order.  Next time we’re going with our backup name, The Naughty Santa.

 

Don't Drink and Tweet! Great advice from Cool Mom Picks at their holiday party with Amazon FreeTime

We also spread these fun gift tags around, which were pretty popular, as you can imagine. Of course everyone ignored our advice entirely. Naughty list for everyone!

How you can do it: You don’t have to invite the top bartender in your town to your party to end up with something awesome. In fact, there’s so many great cocktail and mocktail recipes around the web (make sure you have plenty of great options for your non-imbibing guests too!), and our editors are fantastic at finding the best ones. Here are some of our most popular posts to get you started:

The ultimate guide to the best winter cocktail recipes

How to make the perfect mulled cider or mulled wine.

-5 eggnog recipes, with and without alcohol

A sophisticated French 75 cocktail and mocktail variation

5 great white wine cocktail recipes

7 skinny cocktail recipes we love

6 delicious champagne cocktails for New Year’s Eve

 

Amazing food including a big honkin’ cheese platter

How to put together awesome food at your holiday party (maybe even as good as the food at Sbraga, Philly and Salt Yard, Atlanta)

You cannot have a cocktail party without food. In fact let’s rephrase that: you cannot have a cocktail party without too much food. If there aren’t leftovers, you need more food! Fortunately the awesome chefs at Sbraga and Salt Yard took care of that for us — our guests are still talking about them!

How you can do it:  If you’re not having a sit-down dinner, then you definitely want heavy hors d’oeuvres which means about 12-15 pieces per guest. We also like setting out easy finger foods like crudite and dips like hummus, a cheese platter (yes yes yes!) and little bowls of nuts that are easy for guests to grab without much fuss.

One thing we always notice, and you may disagree: women are often not inclined to grab a big plate full of food at a party. (The men have no issue with this, of course.) Also, a buffet means guests have to step away from the conversation, and generally settle down at tables, which can change the vibe of your party. If you don’t have too many guests, that can be a nice move, to get everyone sitting and talking. But for a bigger party, we like to keep everyone on their feet and mingling, and pass-around appetizers and small bites, coupled with easy apps on a table

If you’re looking for great recipe ideas, we have no shortage of help for you in this department.

Essential cocktail party foods to keep on hand for easy entertaining

How to make a fancy cheese plate with supermarket ingredients

10 easy snack ideas for entertaining

5 brilliant food bar ideas for parties

7 sophisticated holiday party appetizers that kids will love too.

 

Activities besides eating: Make your own mini terrariums

Holiday party ideas: Make your own mini terrariums | Cool Mom Picks

We loved this idea so much — and turns out our guests did too! It’s super easy to make your own air plants and we didn’t see a bad one in the bunch from our guests. (Look how great this one turned out.) It’s a fun party craft whether you’ve got kids or adults or both, and it’s always nice to send guests home with something they had fun making. Even more so because adults just never expect this at their own parties.

How you can do it: It’s not hard to find a cool hanging air plant terrarium kit. But if you want to do yours from scratch or you’re making more than a few, you need a hanging glass terrarium votive from a local garden or craft shop, or we found affordable options on Amazon. You’ll want to grab some rocks, shells, fake moss or sand for the base. Then you want to add your plants. Specifically, air plants which grow without soil. There are about 500 different varieties of Ionantha air plants (Tillandsia).

How to make your own hanging air terrarium: Fun holiday party craft, and guests can take home the results

You can also embellish with color like rocks, beads, minerals, little animal figurines (the kids will love that) or just tie a pretty ribbon for hanging. They’re very easy to take care of, but check a site like Plant Oddities for some good tips.

 

Set up a craft station just for adults

Fun holiday party activity: set up a gift tag craft station. We tried origami gift tags. Fun! | Cool Mom Picks

Turns out adults like to get crafty too. We set up our own crafting table in Philly where guests learned how to do origami napkin folding (very Martha, we know, but huge hit!). In Atlanta, we made our own origami gift tags complete with clothespins on the back for easy clipping right to the ribbons on your gift boxes. You can see some of the results hanging from branches above. Fun!

 

Custom nail polish mixing station: Fun little gift for holiday guests

In Philly, we also had pro makeup artist Kristyn April of Shimmer and Spice making custom nail polish colors for the ladies — and even the gentlemen. Well, maybe they made them for their wives. But we don’t judge. We wouldn’t expect you to do this at your own party, but so many press events offer free makeovers, and we thought since everyone already came looking swanky, we’d send them home with something to give them a little “me time” there, too.

How you can do it: There are so many cool ideas for adult craft stations you can set up but we think making your own gift tags is the most fun and easy, and so perfect for holiday time. While the origami tags require just some instructions, origami paper, and mini clothes pins, get creative. Set out ready made tags plus decorative touches like:

– glitter glue or plain glitter
-craft punches
-calligraphy makers
-tiny ribbons that can be made into bows and glued on
-stamps and ink pads
-stickers
-festive shapes cut out of colorful paper or felt, like stars, moons, Christmas trees or snowflakes
-emoji stickers. (Okay, our kids said to include that one.)

 

 

Giveaways, gifts and goodie bags

Holiday party ideas for giveaways and goodie bags | Cool Mom Picks

We were lucky to be able to send each guest home with an Amazon Kids Bundle, while a few lucky raffle winners won prizes like an Amazon backpack filled with kids’ goodies,  and even a swanky Marc Jacobs bag from Amazon fashion. Gifts were a small part of the party but a nice surprise that made things fun.

 

How you can do it:

If you’re throwing a personal party, you don’t necessarily want to host a raffle like we did, although there are some fun, appropriate ways to make sure no one goes home empty-handed.

-Ask guests to each bring a small gift (say, under $10) and host a Secret Santa gift trade.

-If you’re hosting children, make them each an award that’s special and different and a little silly, like Liz does each year at her family’s holiday cookie decorating contest.

-Find a small gift to send each person home with. These funny holiday hostess gifts are a great place to start, or try this list of gifts for adults under $15.

-One of our favorite ideas: If you have lots of desserts and holiday cookies, set out some Chinese take-out boxes nearby so that you can send guests home with some sweet treats.

 

Lots and lots of photos

Party photos from Cool Mom Picks Philly + Atlanta holiday cocktail parties with Amazon Free Time

Cool Mom Picks Amazon Free Time Philly holiday party for bloggers

Picture or it didn’t happen, right? Selfies were taken. More selfies were taken. Joey Fortman even went one step further and brought us in on her live Periscope of all the fun in Philly. We also had pro photographers (thanks, Sara Hanna and Jessica Kourkonis) and of course there were no shortage of photos taken by our guests.

How you can do it: Selfies are always fun but you can set up your own photo booth too, and you need little more than a tablet or laptop and a great photo booth app. In fact, we have four here to choose from on Cool Mom Tech, like this SimpleBooth app for iOS.

Favorite photo booth apps: Simple Booth iPhone app

 

And remember the days that wedding parties left disposable cameras on each table and then had to gather, print and sort all the pictures? No more. Just provide guests with your own party hashtag, if you’ve got a social-friendly crowd. Like, you can see more of our own guests’ party photos at #AmazonFreeTime.

Put the hashtag on the evite, invitation, or just mention it casually as guests walk in. It’s probably not something to do for small gatherings, but if you’re throwing a big bash whether it’s a neighborhood block party or something for your office, we find it’s really fun to see all the fun shots in one place the next day.

 

Have a great sponsor

Amazon Kindle Fire Kids Bundle and Kindle Kids Tablets

Thanks so much to Amazon Free Time who partnered up with us to give a lot of parents some essential me time, if only for one night. We also loved hooking up our friends — and their kids — with some awesome gifts

Really awesome. As in, we even ended up buying a few of the new, affordable Kindle for Kids bundles for some of our own kids this year.It’s a great deal on sale right now, and we’re really looking forward to sending our kids off to bed to read, and knowing that they are in fact reading, and not playing games secretly under the covers. Not yelling, PUT THE GAME AWAY: That’s going to buy us plenty of our own me time each night. Yay for small favors.