10 Tips for Entertaining Outdoors In the Winter

Cold and snow don't mean the party has to move indoors. Here's how to make your patio and yard a winter-long outdoor entertaining hangout.

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Icehouse Igloo, Made out of Compacted Snow and Ice, pictured in the winter season against a forest scene in a blue hue day9PARUSNIKOV/GETTY IMAGES

Winter: The Perfect Season for Outdoor Parties

We shifted our winter entertaining to the outdoors a few years ago. Though we live in snowy Colorado, it feels nicer to be outside than in the house. It’s less stuffy, there’s always something interesting to see, and our guests feel more connected to nature and safer from seasonal sicknesses.

It might feel like there’s a lot that can go wrong with cold-weather entertaining, but it’s actually pretty easy — and your adventurous side might just be the envy of the neighborhood.

Here are some tips for entertaining your guests outdoors confidently this winter.

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Group of mature friends in their 30s and 40s gathered around a fire pit in a garden.
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Find the Perfect Location

Choose a place in your yard for the main guest area. Be sure it’s sheltered from the wind. Using the leeward side of a building (the one facing the wind) can work well. Or you can put up some tall shelter-tents, like this one from Big Agnes.

If you can partly cover the area with an awning, or a couple of side-by-side pop-up tents like you see at farmers markets, that will help retain heat.

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Close up at radiant outdoor gas heater working at night in the street restaurant.
Jacus/Getty Images

Set Up a Heat Source

A fire pit adds actual warmth and makes people feel more cozy. You can add fire easily with a chiminea or a smokeless fire pit from a company like Solo Stove or Breeo. Stand-up propane-fired patio heaters, like you see at restaurants, are also a good bet, along with portable Buddy Heaters.

If you go the wood-fire route, make sure to follow fire safety techniques. Whichever heat source you use, place one in a central area or along the outer perimeter of your tent so the heat rises into the enclosure. If you can make a deflection wall behind your fire, that will also direct and enhance the heat radiation.

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Group Of Friends Drinking Mulled Wine In The Cold at A Christmas Market
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Serve Hot, Winter-Themed Drinks

Hot chocolate with marshmallows, mulled wine, spiced cider with cinnamon sticks, tea and coffee warm guests from the inside out. Don’t forget about adult drinks, too, like hot toddies (warmed whiskey, lemon and honey), eggnog with rum, Irish coffee and liquors like Irish cream and brandy.

You can keep drinks warm in insulated drink containers or slow cookers. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even hang a cast-iron cauldron over the fire. But to keep things safe, assign the person tending the fire to also ladle out those drinks.

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Traditional Brick Outdoor Pizza Oven, with Wood Burning Logs, open flames and a long handled, metal pizza paddle shovel
MTreasure/Getty Images

Cook Festive Outside

One of our favorite outside entertaining centerpieces — for adults and children — is our Pi pizza oven. We set up a pizza bar at one end of the tent, where partygoers can assemble their ingredients, then bake them in the 750-degree flames. The radiating heat from the oven also warms everyone nearby.

Other hearty snacks and finger foods to try include hot dogs, chestnuts and marshmallows/s’mores (each with a roasting station), soup shooters, fondue, charcuterie and festive toppings like whipped cream, nutmeg and cinnamon.

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Group of Friends enjoy a Relaxing Evening By The Fire
Anchiy/Getty Images

Create Ambiance

Winter-themed decorations and warm lighting add to the cozy festivity. We love these solar-powered string lights and MPowered’s solar Luci lights that flicker like candles. Both offer nice, warm color spectrums. Other good options include tabletop Terraflames and yard tiki torches.

If it’s been snowing, try building a snow-block wall on the side of the guest area. That will deflect and hold heat in the tent area, as well as create a fun storage place for cans of cold beverages.

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A Robin Bird Sitting On A Hanging Bird Feeder in the winter with snow on the birdfeeder and in the background
FocusEye/Getty Images

Feed the Birds

Being outside in winter means endless entertainment from birdwatching. Get an array of feeder types, suet and seeds to attract a range of species. Have some binoculars, a bird ID book and a camera with a zoom lens on hand to make it special for human guests curious about their wild neighbors.

For extra fun, set up a Birdify feeder camera. Guests can download the app and take adorable wide-angle closeups of birds chowing down.

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Snowball In Frosty Mittens On The Hands Of A Child
Elena Kurkutova/Getty Images

Encourage Winter Activities

Playing outside in winter is a lot of fun, and the exercise warms you up.

Try hosing a scavenger hunt or making snow angels, or go all-out with your own Winter Olympics. Think contests for building snowmen, snowball throwing, winter badminton and sledding. Set up a giant Jenga game, or just take a leisurely nature walk.

With all these activities, you might consider starting your party earlier in the day while there’s still plenty of sunlight.

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Home patio after a heavy downfall of snow Blizzard of 2010 in the East Coast
Kiyyah/Getty Images

Warm Up the Furniture

Cover metal chairs with blankets and pillows so people aren’t sitting on cold surfaces. Cover tables with cloth tablecloths to keep people’s arms and hands warmer.

Add some perceived warmth by wrapping brightly colored cloth around cold objects, like potted plants, metal tent poles and pergolas. If you own a sauna or hot tub, don’t forget to fire it up and let your guests know it’s available so they can bring their swimsuits and towels! Of course, if you have a pool, you could also suggest a polar plunge challenge.

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Multi Generation Family Enjoying Christmas by Wrapping Presents together and wearing fun, festive accessories
kumikomini/Getty Images

Make It a Costume Party

If you really want to get guests into party mode, pick a theme and turn your event into a costume party. Tropical beaches or winter wonderlands are tried-and-true staples. Or get creative with a winter-loving animals or frosty heroes and villains theme.

Don’t forget to put together a matching playlist. Make sure your outdoor speakers work and, if you’re going tropical, blow up the inflatable palm trees and stick those pink plastic flamingos into the snowbank.

Oh! And don’t forget, if kids are invited, there’s Disney’s “Frozen!”

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Volunteer Women Holding Donation Box With Warm Woolen Wintery Clothes, Hats, Socks, Gloves...
Triocean/Getty Images

Be Clear About the Outside Part

Whatever you do, don’t surprise your guests about the “outside” part of the party. Let them know about the tent (or tent-less) situation and remind them to bring warm clothing, including a change of socks in case they start having too much fun in the snow.

However, just because you told them, don’t rely on your guests to plan accordingly. People will forget essentials, so collect a basket of extra hats and gloves and keep plenty of blankets on hand. Consider winter party favors, too, like hand warmers and scarves, or custom blankets and hats.

Karuna Eberl
A freelance writer and indie film producer, Karuna Eberl covers the outdoors and nature side of DIY, exploring wildlife, green living, travel and gardening for Family Handyman. She also writes FH’s Eleven Percent column, about dynamic women in the construction workforce. Some of her other credits include the March cover of Readers Digest, National Parks, National Geographic Channel and Atlas Obscura. Karuna and her husband are also on the final stretch of renovating an abandoned house in a near-ghost town in rural Colorado. When they’re not working, you can find them hiking and traveling the backroads, camping in their self-converted van.