How to Have a Holiday Tailgate Party, Complete with a Hot Cocoa Bar

These festive ideas will help you celebrate (and stay cozy) outside.

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hot cocoa bar tailgate
Photo: R. A. Wilson

If you've been looking forward to holiday get-togethers with your favorite peeps, but you're concerned about COVID-19 this year, consider bringing the party outside! A holiday tailgate is the ultimate solution: It's portable, cleanup is easy and you can still decorate to show off your holiday flair.

Based on the size of your crowd (and your trunk), mix and match these ideas to suit your festivities. You can even invite friends to set up their trunks too for a bit of an untraditional round robin!

How to Have an Outdoor Holiday Tailgate

Clean out your car (or at least the trunk).

You don't have to get your car detailed, but if you haven't cleaned your car since your last beach vacation, now's the time to break out the car vac.

Decorate like a boss.

Like a holiday trunk-or-treat, use this opportunity to show some style. Add chalkboard signs (like this one from Target) or tags (like these from Amazon, $8.59), battery-powered fairy lights (we love these from Target, $10) and a few simple holiday decorations. Choose a theme or do a homey mix-and-match.

Organize your offerings.

Try small wooden crates, baskets, boxes or cupcake tiers. Put your items in cute mugs, Ball jars, milk bottles, etc. (Bonus: These could double as cute, grab-and-go party favors for guests!)

Grab your coziest blankets and pillows.

We love adding furry throws (like this one from Amazon, $19.99) for an extra-cozy vibe. Plus, it'll help keep you warm if temps drop!

BYOC: Bring Your Own Chair.

Whether you opt for camp chairs (like these from DICK'S, $9.99) or simple stools from IKEA (like this one, $14.99), suggest that friends bring their own so they can relax around the tailgate, 6 feet apart.

Set up your cocoa bar.

You can provide a cocoa mix, which makes for a great gift, but we think it's simpler to pour the hot chocolaty goodness into mugs from a thermos (we love using this recipe). For larger crowds (and trunks), make a large batch and keep it hot in a camp crock (like this one from L.L. Bean, $65). Include festive napkins and spoons, or opt for hot-beverage disposable cups to keep cleanup extra simple.

Offer cocoa add-ins.

Based on the space you have, consider offering:

  • Stirrers such as candy cane spoons ($16 for 12, Amazon), Pirouette cookies, chocolate swizzle sticks, chocolate-dipped spoons and cinnamon sticks.
  • Sprinklers such as shakers of espresso powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, chili powder and sea salt.
  • Toppers such as mini marshmallows, whipped cream or marshmallow fluff.
  • Mixers such as flavored chocolate chips, crushed peppermints and flavored syrups (like salted caramel).

For a trendy twist, try our hot cocoa bombs.

If you haven't seen these viral cocoa bombs yet, you're in for a treat. We're huge fans of them—so much so, in fact, that we've come up with our own recipes (check out our regular, sea salt-caramel and white chocolate-peppermint flavors). Just make them in advance and provide a thermos of hot milk or your favorite alt-milk for guests to enjoy.

Set out some noshes.

Make (or buy!) snacks that are easy to grab and eat. We love these Pistachio-White Chocolate Pretzels, Chocolate-Drizzled Gingerbread Cookie Thins and Sugarplum Biscotti, and they pair perfectly with cocoa. Yum!

Don't forget to include treats for four-legged friends!

How could we forget the pups?! Try these holiday-themed sweet treats from Uncommon Goods ($13). Now all that's left to do is text out the invites, gather the goods and cozy up for what's bound to become your new favorite tradition.

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