Want to make Christmas extra magical for your kids? Try hosting a Polar Express party! Here’s everything you need (including free printables) to host a festive party without the stress!
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Sometimes, I get ideas…and they snowball into something much bigger than I originally planned. That’s pretty much how this Polar Express party came to be.
It began with my boys remembering a Polar Express playdate we did with some friends a few years ago and asking if we could do it again this year. It ended with inviting 20+ kids over to our house on a Friday afternoon for a Polar Express party!
And while I wondered after I sent out the invitations if I was completely insane for inviting so many kids (I have been known on occasion to get in a little over my head), the party turned out to be a blast!
You may think that adding another event to an already busy month is crazy, but for us, it turned out to be a great addition to the season, and we’re looking forward to making it an annual tradition!
What do you do at a Polar Express party?
Here’s the basic structure of the party:
I invited a handful of the moms in my neighborhood to bring their kids over on a Friday afternoon from 3-5 PM. To keep with the Polar Express theme, we encouraged all the kids to wear their pajamas, like the kids in the book/movie.
We played games, ate lots of treats, and watched the Polar Express movie (or at least part of it). The kids had a ball!
On the back of the invitation, I included the following offer:
“Parents: You are welcome to drop off your kids at the party and enjoy a couple of hours by yourself to go Christmas shopping (or whatever else you need to do). It’s my Christmas gift to you!
Alternatively, you can stay and enjoy the party. I will have a gift wrapping station set up so you can bring family or friend presents to wrap (not for the kids, of course) and chat while the kids watch the movie.”
It was that simple! Ultimately, my gift to my friends was that of time (because we all need more of that, right?). Time to get some shopping done. Time to have some peace and quiet at home. Or time to visit with friends and get a head start on wrapping presents…whichever they wanted to choose.
About half the moms stayed to visit and wrap presents (and help me run a few games) and the other half took the opportunity to go shopping or get things done at home. It worked out perfectly!
Now you understand the basic idea, but keep reading to get ALL the details you need to know.
How to host a Polar Express party for kids
What’s a party without invitations? Sure, you could just send a quick text (totally acceptable), but I decided to make these ticket-inspired invitations to hand deliver with my kids.
I designed them in Canva, a free online graphic design program. If you haven’t used it. It’s awesome! There are some paid features, but I have mostly just used their free templates and graphics. They have tons!
You can download your own template to print and use below. Merry Christmas! Just add your party details in the appropriate boxes and you’re good to go! You can hand write the details after you print them, or you can open the PDF in a program like MS word or Photoshop and add text boxes in the right spots to type your info.
FYI – The font I used for the details was Lucida Sans Typewriter. It’s a standard Microsoft font, but if you don’t have it you can download it for free, or pick any other typewriter-style font you like.
The best thing about throwing a holiday-themed party is that your house is probably already decorated! Hooray for keeping things simple. I didn’t really add anything special for the Polar Express party except for throwing a couple of red tablecloths on the tables.
And even if your house isn’t totally decked out for the holidays, don’t stress decorations. Let’s be real…the kids don’t care that much. We have a tree and a bit of garland on the fireplace. That’s mostly it…and I’m okay with that. Simple is good.
For kids’ parties, I always keep food simple. They couldn’t care less about having a gorgeous spread. I served three things:
Hot chocolate: This was a MUST for two reasons. First, hot chocolate is what the waiters serve on the train in the movie. Second, my kids are obsessed with hot chocolate. I found some cute red cups with snowflakes at the dollar store and served them with marshmallows and mini candy canes.
Pro tip: Make the hot chocolate in your Instant Pot (or slow cooker). That way you can make a big batch ahead of time and keep it warm for hours. Keep in mind, “warm” on the IP is still really hot. Keep cold milk on hand to cool down the blazing hot chocolate since you’re going to be serving it to small children.
Popcorn holiday snack mix: What’s a movie without popcorn? You can keep it simple and do classic popcorn, but I decided to dress ours up a bit. I mixed the popcorn with pretzels and Chex cereal and then drizzled it with red and green candy melts. You can also throw in holiday M&Ms if you’re feeling extra chocolatey. I’ll be sharing the five-minute recipe soon, so stay tuned!
Sugar cookies: I made a batch of sugar cookies ahead of time (bonus: my kids loved helping me) and gave each child one cookie on a small dessert plate along with a scoop of frosting on a plastic knife. They frosted their own cookie and then added sprinkles of their choice. It was a fun activity to do during our “intermission” from watching the movie.
Note: I used store-bought frosting to keep things simple. I highly recommend it! I do not, however, recommend buying the “peppermint” flavored frosting. It seemed like a good idea when I saw it at the store, but in reality, it just tasted like toothpaste (especially because the texture is pretty close, too). The kids didn’t seem to mind (sugar is sugar after all), but seriously…just stick with vanilla.
The main activity was watching the movie (there was no way I was going to be able to entertain 20 kids without a little screentime help…especially if all the moms decided to drop their kids off).
Note: I abridged the movie slightly so we could get through more of it (like skipping the weird hobo and the creepy puppets), but we still didn’t finish the whole thing in the time allotted. A few kids stayed late to watch the whole thing, but most left without finishing it, and they didn’t seem bothered by it.
Still, I wanted to have a FEW other activities to do. Here’s what we did:
Coloring Pages are always my go-to activity for starting a party. I like to have something for kids to do when they first arrive, and coloring is easy to set up and is self-entertaining. There are tons available to print for free online, like these from Crayola or these from Mom Junction. I printed 4 each of 5 different pictures, so we had some variety without running into the “I wanted that one!” problem. I also tried to choose pictures of various difficulty levels because I had guests from two to eight years old.
After about 15 minutes of coloring, most of the guests had arrived, so we transitioned to game time!
Our group was large (16 kids…and we got more as the party went on!), so I decided to divide them into two groups and we rotated games. I ran one game while one of my kind friends (whose kids were there) ran the other game for me.
Christmas Bingo: I shared this free printable Christmas Bingo game on the blog last week. The set has 20 unique cards (each a half-page) as well as printable calling cards. If you have more than 20 kids (good luck!), you can print more than one of the same card.
Pin the Nose on the Snowman: If you saw my Instagram stories last week, you might have caught a glimpse of this fella in process. I free-handed the snowman based on a couple pictures of snowmen I looked up online. I cut the main body out of two sheets of white poster board, then made all the accessories out of construction paper and card stock that I already had on hand. I was really happy with how he turned out!
If you want to make it REALLY simple, you could just cut a really big white circle to be a snowman face and put a black rectangle hat on top.
Rather than using a traditional blindfold, I used a large beanie that I could pull down over the heads of the kids playing. They couldn’t stop laughing at all the silly places our snowman had extra carrot noses!
After these two games (about 7-10 minutes per rotation), the kids settled in for the movie and the grown-ups got to chat!
Wooden Trains: I knew the toddler-age kids probably wouldn’t sit still for the whole movie, so I set up our wooden train track in an out-of-the-way spot as an alternate activity. I’m so glad I did! The little ones (and even some of the bigger ones) loved reenacting their own version of the Polar Express and it was used a lot throughout the party. And it didn’t cost me a penny since we already owned it!
After about a half-hour of movie time, we had a little “intermission” when I served the kids their hot chocolate, popcorn mix, and decorated cookies. That way, we did all the food at the table and no one spilled hot chocolate on my couches, because…kids. Once everyone was sufficiently sugarified (yep, I just invented that word), we watched the second half of the movie.
If you want to play more games, here are some more fun Christmas party games for kids:
- Cold snowball (think hot potato, but use a white sock ball or wool dryer ball instead of a potato)
- Christmas music freeze dance party
- Musical chairs with Christmas music
- Candy cane hunt (like an Easter egg hunt, but each child gets to find a candy cane)
- “Santa says” (like Simon says)
Wrapping Station (for the moms)
While the kids watched the movie, all the moms who chose to stay gathered around the kitchen table and I brought out a few rolls of wrapping paper and a box of supplies. Then, those who brought presents to wrap, were able to get something productive done while chatting!
What to include in your wrapping station:
- wrapping paper
Polar Express Party Favors
I sent each child home with their very own “believe” bell like the one the boy gets from Santa’s sleigh.
I bought the jingle bells at the dollar store in packs of nine (so cheap!) and then threaded them with red ribbon and little tags that say “believe.” Super simple and cheap (I spent four dollars total to make 27 of them!) and the kids were so excited to jingle all the way home.
If you like these, you can download the little “believe” tags below. Just print on cardstock, cut out, hole-punch, and go!
That’s a wrap!
There you have it! A relatively simple party to throw for your kids and their friends. We had a blast, and my kids have requested that we make it a yearly tradition…which I’m okay with because I enjoyed it so much, too!
Although, I might have to switch up the theme from time to time…I’m imagining a very fun Grinch party in our future or Charlie Brown…hmmm. So many possibilities!
However you decide to celebrate this year, I hope you have a VERY merry Christmas!
Are you hosting any parties this holiday season? What are your favorite ways to celebrate with friends and neighbors?