To avoid your invited guests groaning about having to attend another holiday party, do something that'll make your party unique -- the party of the season, something everyone will look forward to next year!
Party games are always terrific icebreakers. Play a game of charades using Christmas-themed song and movie titles. Break your guests into teams and you'll see how quickly the hysterics start. If there are a lot of guests who don't really know each other, play a guessing game! Have each guest write on an index card something interesting the others don't know about them. Drop all the cards in a fishbowl. Then, as each card is pulled, let people guess whom the statement is about. Give a point to the mystery party for each person they fool and bonus points to whoever guesses right. More great ideas: karaoke with Christmas carols, a best-dressed elf contest (with prizes) or Mad Libs with Christmas fables.
Plan a Christmas party "girls night out"/"guys night out" at your house. Plan activities that you can enjoy together like a spa night, wine and books, card games, crafting holiday decorations or watching tapes of football game highlights. If you're hosting a party with children, have them dress in top hats and boas and put on a fashion runway show for the adults. Or you can don masks -- and fancy dress -- for a masquerade party! Think about hosting a scary pumpkin-carving party a la "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Or have a fun Christmas-themed movie marathon using DVDs, Netflix or your local cable station. And be sure to serve popcorn!
If you were a Girl Scout growing up, you might remember Juliette Low Night, an event where different countries and were represented by their traditional foods. In that spirit, have your guests contribute their individual cultures and holiday traditions. For a fun DIY Christmas photo booth, set up a corner with lots of costume pieces (Santa's beard, an elf hat, a big red reindeer nose ...) and a digital camera on a tripod. Post the photos on a private Facebook page the next day for all of your guests to see and share.
Food and drink can also spice up a party. The punchbowl is back. Try filling it with a different mixed punch every hour. Everyone does Christmas in July. Why not reverse it and host a Christmas barbecue-style picnic or Hawaiian luau? Get together with a few neighbors and do a round-robin party, switching houses and food selection every few hours. Or host an appetizers-only party and invite your guests to each bring something, potluck-style. You can supply beverages, plus cookies for dessert. One recommendation: Label all the foods, including any known allergens, so everyone can truly enjoy themselves without fear of getting sick.
Have each of your guests bring a small gift (or you can specify that it should be a regift). You can have a simple grab bag, play a game like Hot Potato to music or use the gifts as prizes for games such as charades. Have all the fixings ready for gingerbread house-building -- either one massive structure or individual one -- and invite everyone to participate. Decorate your living room like a winter ski lodge and serve hot chocolate and s'mores.
Why make the day all about yourselves? Invite a group of friends to join you at the local shelter to help distribute meals to the homeless. Hold a celebration dinner back at your house afterward for a job well done. You can also arrange a fun combination animal-shelter-food-donation-cookie-swap! Have every guest bring a small amount of pet food to donate to the local animal shelter and a dozen homemade cookies. Supply gift bags so everyone can choose a combination of a dozen cookies to take home. You can even invite your guests to accompany you to the local animal shelter on its next open day and take pictures playing with the pets. Be sure to call the shelter beforehand to arrange the playtime!