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The bells jingled as I gingerly stepped around the clusters of people packed into my family’s home. It was Saturday afternoon and we had a full house for our annual Christmas party.

In one hand, I balanced a full cup of punch. In the other hand I had a bowl of hot soup. Did I mention the bells were on the toes of red and green elf shoes? And that those shoes were on my feet?

As if walking through the crowd with full hands and jingle toes didn’t produce enough anxiety, I had to keep turning my neck to avoid whacking people in the face with the thing that was wedged on my head.

I say “thing” because calling it a hat is unfair to headwear everywhere.

A tangled masterpiece of twisted balloons, it measured more than a yard across and looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

My second cousin, Donna Wald, made the headwear out of six red, green, white and gold-colored balloons. She cheerfully crafted balloon hats for all the kids - and some adults - who requested them during the party.

This was our third year hosting the holiday affair. We try to include new activities each year, but the ongoing favorite is the white elephant gift exchange. A close second is the plastic wrap ball game. And of course, there’s the food.

I am by no means an event-planning expert, but I do have some Christmas party favorites to share, which I’ve picked up from other people and the internet. If you’re planning a holiday party of your own and need some recipes for family-friendly fun, consider these:

The white elephant

This is a classic Christmas party game with many variations.

According to legend, a white elephant gift is an extravagant but useless and often unwanted item. The term comes from the tale of a wealthy ruler who gave rare albino elephants to people he didn’t like. The recipients went broke trying to care for the animals, which they could not get rid of.

Nowadays in the white elephant gift exchange game, everyone brings a wrapped present - often a gag gift or some unwanted knick-knack from home, but sometimes a thoughtful, low-cost item purchased from a store. The participants take turns (usually the order is determined by drawing numbers from a hat) opening the gifts. In most variations, if you don’t like the gift you unwrap, you can trade it with any item the other players already opened.

Among competitive friends who are good sports, this game brings much laughter.

Plastic wrap party ball

The plastic wrap party ball game is great for both kids and adults.

To prepare, gather some party favors, candies and other treats, a couple rolls of plastic wrap and two dice. Start with something that is round or can be rolled into a ball, such as a scarf and wrap it several times around in the plastic wrap. Place some candy on top, followed by another layer or two of plastic wrap. Keep wrapping the items in between layers of plastic wrap until you have a basketball-sided lump of goodies.

To play, ask everyone to gather around a table and give the ball to the person who will go first and the dice to the person to his or her left. While the first person starts to unwrap the goodies without ripping the plastic wrap (it’s harder than it sounds), the second person tosses the dice until doubles of any number are rolled. At this point, the ball and dice are each passed one person to the left. Each player gets to keep what he or she unwraps before the next person rolls doubles.

This continues around the table until the ball is completely unwrapped.

Candy cane hunt

You’ve seen Easter egg hunts, but have you ever heard of a candy cane hunt?

Hide various flavored candy canes around the house (or in the yard, if the weather allows) and let the children search for the treats. You can even offer a prize to the child who finds the most candy canes.

Twisted balloons

And remember the thing on my head?

Here’s one more shout-out to the balloon hats. Kids especially enjoy them and they are inexpensive and simple to make. You don’t have to be a professional clown – like my cousin Donna – to create some simple designs.

Most party stores sell kits that include a small pump, a bag of balloons and instructions on how to twist them into simple shapes such as dogs, swords and plain hats. An hour or two of practice before your party, and you’ll be able to awe your friends and their children with your new-found skill. Just don’t get too carried away with the number of balloons you use on each hat.

Although I loved mine and it drew lots of laughs (especially from the kids), I eventually took it off so I was able to greet guests without bopping them aside the head. A couple people pointed out that I could relate to Santa’s reindeer with their big antlers.

I wonder if Rudolph and the others ever have trouble getting around the North Pole without knocking things over with their stately racks?

But I bet the reindeer don’t wear red and green elf shoes topped with bells.

Contact the writer:

ebaumeister@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9185, ext. 3492