Winter nights are often welcomed as an opportunity to stay inside under blankets until warmer, brighter days return. For those who do decide to host a gathering in the winter months, parties are almost exclusively held indoors to shield guests from the cold. While a traditional indoor winter gathering can be both elegant and entertaining, there is no reason to fear hosting an outdoor gathering during winter.

With the right decor, menu and activities, an outdoor party in the winter is the perfect way to connect with your guests. For those living in regions prone to snow, standard outdoor furniture may not be suitable, but sturdy picnic tables, hay bales, and pine-themed decorations with pops of color from holly berries stand up well to winter weather. Having adequate lighting is crucial, since the sun sets relatively early during winter. Maintain a cozy ambiance with string lights, or have a bonfire double as a source of both heat and light.

Whether you choose to have everyone sit by a fire pit or instead encourage people to spend time in a hot tub, make your guests comfortable in the cold by offering an outdoor heat source.  Even in places like Florida, where temperatures do not drop as low as they do in the north, outdoor heating is crucial to creating a cozy atmosphere. A cast iron chiminea gives off significant heat while contributing to a wintry aesthetic, while structures like gazebos help block wind and can be decorated with pillows and blankets.

Warm food and drinks should be on the menu for any outdoor winter gathering. Swap out salad in favor of soup as a first course, and serve a hot, filling entree such as lasagna or pot roast. If you have a grill, try using it to prepare both the main and side dishes — not only will it allow you to create a hearty meal for your guests, but it will give off heat to help keep them warm. Serve warm drinks like hot chocolate, coffee and tea. If you plan on serving alcohol, consider drinks that pair well with warm spices.

While swimming or lounging in the sun may be out of the question, some warm weather activities, like lawn games, can still be enjoyed in the winter. Set up cornhole, horseshoes or a ladder toss station to entertain your guests. If you plan to host your party at a snowy destination and would prefer to more closely adhere to a winter theme, encourage guests of all ages to participate in a snowman-making competition or snowball fight.

Photos courtesy of Hootsuite.