Seven Winter Themes for Your Next Event

These suggestions for theming your gatherings touch on all the cold-weather favorites — hot chocolate, skiing, comfort foods and more.

winter-forest-candy1812-AdobeStock_175382669b
Photograph by candy1812 for Adobe Stock

Arctic blasts have blown in from up north, offering event planners the opportunity to draw on winter favorites to engage attendees. For in-person and virtual events, here are some theme ideas that take advantage of the best the season has to offer.

Bill Hansen Catering Hot Chocolate Bar 2
Hot chocolate from Bill Hansen Catering

Hot Chocolate Heaven

Nothing warms you up during winter like a good cup of hot cocoa. Bill Hansen Catering and Event Production has perfected the hot-chocolate bar, offering mixes such as white chocolate and dark chocolate, that in addition to whipped cream can be topped with chocolate shavings, toffee bits, caramel and more. The hot-chocolate bar can be arranged for any group size or budget, from a three-tiered hot chocolate served in a shot glass accompanying a plated dessert to a buffet-style set up where attendees can customize the cocoa to their liking. The catering company can also turn it into a real hot chocolate bar by offering Kahlua, Godiva chocolate and other liqueurs to spike the drinks. "Whatever our clients want, we figure out how to create it," says Bill Hansen, CEO of his eponymous catering company.

The hot chocolate bar is a hit even in South Florida, where Bill Hansen Catering is based. "We also have some local fruits that we've done before," says Dewey Losasso, corporate executive chef of the company. "We have a mango hot chocolate that has a mango whipped cream on top, which gives it a tropical component."

Winter Wellness
Photograph by Maresol for Adobe Stock

Winter Wellness

Seasonal affective disorder rears its ugly head for many people this season, particularly those living in colder climates. According to Amy Nathanson, regional creative director of PRA Business Events, gatherings that feature a wellness focus during the winter can help alleviate some of the depression, moodiness and lack of energy typical of SAD. The color palette of this theme strays from the typical greens, whites and browns of winter and instead incorporates bright yellows, oranges and pinks. Essential oil diffusers can fill the room with lemon, orange and grapefruit scents for some soothing aromatherapy. Foods with healthy doses of vitamin C also help, as do citrus cocktails and mocktails. 

"It just gives everybody a little bit of a serotonin boost in the middle of dry winter," says Nathanson.

And don't forget about skincare. Provide attendees with moisturizing hand treatments and exfoliating lip scrubs to cure cracked hands and lips.

roasted ribeye
Roasted ribeye from Cuiline's chefs

Season's Eatings

A great way into attendees' hearts is through their stomachs. Take your winter theme virtual with Cuiline, which offers live online cooking classes for groups with chefs from around the world. Event planners can choose between two class lengths: 60-90 minutes or 30-45 minutes. Both options include meal kits, a virtual kitchen assistant and a groupwide chat. While food themes range from Happy Hour in Tuscany to Spanish tapas to Brunch in Ireland, for this season planners can choose from a number of hearty dishes, such as sage-butter gnocchi, roasted ribeye and lentil soup, paired with appropriate cocktail recipes.

"Now that virtual events have matured, they have evolved into legitimate, enjoyable experiences in their own right, not just a replacement for in-person events," says CEO Tamar Lowell. The virtual cooking classes have become so popular with groups that more than 70 percent of Cuiline's business now comes from corporate events. "We've just opened a new commercial kitchen that increases our capacity sixfold, so we can meet the demand we anticipate for this season," Lowell adds.

Photograph by tomertu for Adobe Stock
Photograph by tomertu for Adobe Stock

Ski Lodge

Who says you need to go to Aspen to cozy up next to a fire in a log cabin? Ampa Events brings the comforts of the ski lodge to your gathering. With throw pillows, fuzzy blankets and sheepskin rugs, any venue can be turned into a mountainside resort. Ampa incorporates a lot of pine and garland into the decorations, as well as handmade snowshoes and vintage skis for that authentic feel. 

They bring in brown leather sofas and bulky armchairs for seating, and for the centerpieces, think pine cones and birch branches. Ampa even has a refurbished ski lift chair that can be used as seating, decoration or a photo opportunity. Planners also can opt for an acrylic skating rink so attendees can go ice skating. During the winter, this is the company's most popular theme. "We do one form of the ski lodge or a variation at least six to 10 times a year," says president Ted Rubis

No ski trip would be complete without indulging in the après-ski culture. And no après-ski would be complete without a good bar. Handmade from pine siding and stained wood framing, Ampa's bar looks like any you'd find in a real ski resort. Finish the look with rustic signs for green, blue and Black Diamond trails. "Après-ski is a lot of bars, a lot of furniture, and the signage and vintage skis are really what creates the environment," Rubis says. "And it's all about the wood, that natural, woodsy feel."

Four Seasons Resorts Orlando
Outside in winter at the Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort

Warm Winter

Not everyone's winter consists of blizzards and below-freezing temperatures. In Florida, the 443-room Four Seasons Resorts Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort embraces the mild weather by turning the property into a tropical winter wonderland. Seasonal events at the resort consist of palm trees wrapped in white lights, hot-chocolate stations, seasonal pies and outdoor firepits with string lighting overhead. "Our closets may be filled with more bathing suits than jackets, but we still love a cool, 60-degree winter night," says Laure Hitzig Clavette, the hotel's director of catering.

While it may not feel like winter in Florida, it sure can taste like it. Executive pastry chef Rabii Saber can teach a chocolate-making class or lead a wine, rum and chocolate tasting. "In order to create that wintery feeling with the 'summer' atmosphere of the resort, we rely on darker and deeper food flavors," says Sascha Voss, catering sales manager for the resort. "Port wines and rums paired with house-made dark chocolates and bonbons evoke memories of colder climates."

Delicious Experiences gingerbread houses
Gingerbread houses from the pastry chefs at Delicious Experiences

It Takes a Gingerbread Village

Incorporate some creativity into your next event by decorating gingerbread houses. Through Delicious Experiences, this classic winter activity becomes so much more than putting icing and candy on stale cookies. "Everybody meets together guided by a pastry chef or an expert decorator, who then walks them through how to make the icing and how to put the house together and gives suggestions for decorating," says Inbal Baum, founder of the provider of food and drink classes. 

Up the ante by turning this family-friendly virtual event into a maybe not-so-friendly competition. The pastry chef can host a "Nailed-It!" style decorating challenge where participants are encouraged to design an over-the-top gingerbread house. Before the fun begins, attendees receive the kits at their homes, which contain all the necessities including homemade gingerbread. "The fun part is that everybody really gets to do their own thing," Baum adds. "For us, it's about that interaction and really just having a good time together, which I think everybody needs right now."

Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis; Photo Credit: Vitaly Krivosheev for Adobe Stock

Arctic Night

Since traveling can get complicated with varying Covid-19 restrictions, bring the Northern Lights to your event with an "Arctic Night" theme. Planners can use either one geodesic dome as the main stage or multiple domes for attendees to gather in and then play with the lighting, matching the colors of the domes to those of the Aurora Borealis with pinks, purples, blues and greens. Other event details can include holographic decals and fog.

"Low-lying fog is something that doesn't get used as often as it should because there are lots of restrictions, but it can totally help set the tone of that environment you're trying to create," said Ashley O'Keefe, regional creative director of PRA Business Events. Serving smoking cocktails will also enhance the Arctic Circle vibe. Wrap it all up — literally — with a scarf bar for guests to choose the perfect accessory to keep them warm.