Make sure everyone shows up in their ugliest sweater with these expert tips.

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Adding a theme to your holiday party—whether it's an homage to your favorite Christmas movie, a suggested color palette, or a twist on tradition—keeps your celebration feeling fresh and fun. "A themed party helps focus the event in a direction that can help the host with food, décor, and environment—and it helps guests know how to best prepare and show up ready to celebrate!" says Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events. Though it's not always easy to get your attendees on board, it's essential to your soirée's success. "If you have a themed party and you are going all in, then guests should, as well!" says Meyer. "The experience is not the same if only a few people come fully themed and others do not—the energy is separated and confused. Everyone will have a better time if they are all on the same page with the theme." Follow Meyer's tips to choose—and enforce—a festive theme for your holiday party this year.

Consider your guest list.

"Themed parties are a way to push creativity and have more fun," explains Meyer. "A good holiday party theme should be specific enough for everyone to understand, but broad enough for them to be able to personalize it in their own way." Make a list of your best ideas, and then consider your invitees and the time of year before picking one. "When coming up with your theme, think about your group of guests, and what they would be excited to do—and how far they will go to do it," says Meyer. (If you couldn't get your uncle to wear the Santa hat you provided at the door last year, he probably won't don a Clark Griswold costume, either.) "Keep in mind the weather and location as well, as you want your guests to have fun. They cannot do that if they're uncomfortable. If you want an ugly sweater theme, but the weather is hot, that will not work out well."

ugly sweater christmas party
Credit: Antonio_Diaz / Getty Images

Get creative.

Some themes are obvious—winter whites, ugly sweaters—but you don't have to rely on the standards. "I love a well-known cultural reference that everyone loves and can really dive into and personalize in their own way," shares Meyer. "Having a Home Alone party would be so fun—guests could dress up as anyone from the movie, the décor could be inspired by the home, and so can the food—think pizza party meets '90s holiday fashion!" If that's too intense for your group, try a simpler idea: "A color party, where everyone comes dressed in their favorite hue, head to toe—and the décor and food are also colorful or color-blocked." The key is finding an idea that you and your guests can get excited about. "Think of the things that make you most happy, and bring you joy, and go from there," says Meyer. "For me it is color and Home Alone, but for you it could be candy canes or winter wonderlands."

Spread the word.

Make sure the theme is obvious from your invitation, so loved ones have plenty of notice—and no excuse to skip the festivities. "To get your guests to go along with your theme, make it exciting and be clear about your expectations," says Meyer. "You want to be sure you also give your guests enough time to prep, so they are not stressing or scrambling last-minute. Make the theme the main focus of your invites, so guests cannot say they never knew or saw it." If you have chosen a party with elaborate costume elements, help your friends with a Pinterest link or custom illustration. "If you have a complex or intricate theme," says Meyer, "feel free to share a mood board with ideas for all, and also leave room for interpretation. Enforcing themes comes down to setting the expectation with enough time for guests to get ready and establishing clear lines of communication along the way to help get them excited and remind them to prepare."

Be firm.

You can encourage your guests to go all out with a costume contest and prizes for the best dressed, but truly enforcing a wardrobe theme comes down to one action, says Meyer: "Personally, I would take a strong approach and say costume required, or themed outfit required, so everyone knows you mean business. It may seem pushy, but the party will be so much more fun if everyone shows up on-theme and ready to party!" Accommodate guests who might try to sneak past the dress code by stocking up on extra accessories and outfits. "Life happens and we have all run out of time to get things done. Have a clothing rack ready for those who show up unprepared, so they can get into the spirit and be a part of the experience," recommends Meyer. "The more excited you are, the more excited your guests will be."

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