When I prayed and pondered over a theme for the party (I work best with a theme) I kept coming back to the idea of "Help the children come to know the Savior." We had about 250 primary kids at the time (3 nurseries!) so I took this inspiration very seriously. I then asked myself (and the Lord), "How can I make this about the Savior, and yet keep it fun for the kids?" The worst in my mind would be 250 bored little children packed into a warm gym. It had the potential of a runaway train. After many more days and weeks of praying (starting in September) I finally came to the theme of "In A Stable." I wanted to make the party about the kids and yet about our Savior. After the initial idea of a theme, I was blessed with 8 committee members (4 wonderful couples) and we set to work. We had one big planning/brainstorming meeting and the rest was done via email.
Objective: Celebrate the birth of Christ, Fellowship, Missionary Work, Help children strengthen their testimony of the Savior.
Flyer: I had a blue background with a silhouette of the stable, and all of the event details in white font. I forgot to save a copy of the hard copy to share, but here is the "banner" image we used on our Facebook Event page.
Set-Up: We had a huge ward with a half-court gym. Thankfully, I had an engineer on my committee! I told him how many of each sort of table we had, then he measured the gym and came up with a blueprint of how to set everything up. Here are some photos of that...
For decorations we bought rolls of plain newsprint paper from the local paper for $7 a roll. Then we re-used some red burlap from previous years as table runners (hand cut, "raw" edges). A lady in our ward had made little centerpieces for a RS dinner a few years back and still had these simple wood Jesus-in-a-manger pieces. We also found red glass votives in the storage closet, so we pulled those out and filled them with crayons from the library. In storage were also clear vases wrapped with red yarn and red "branches". My committee thought these would be a great accent and give a simple elegance to the room. The kids loved coloring on the paper while waiting for the food, by the way. We also took Hershey's kisses and spread them around on the tables just before everyone arrived.
One of my committee members bought some extra red burlap and made four wreaths to hang on the two far ends of the gym. She also brought in one of her extra Christmas Trees and decorated it with traditional decorations and white lights.
Our ward is so big, which is why our budget for this event was so large. We spent very little money on the decor (3 rolls of news print x $7 = $21, Burlap for wreaths = donated by our committee member (who planned to use them in her home after the ward party), and about $35 to print up about 300 invites (4x6 photo), which the Deacons delivered while they were out collected Fast Offerings.
This left us a really good chunk of money for the food.
We bought spiral hams, bagged salad, ranch dressing, potatoes, foil, dinner rolls, butter, sour cream, and shredded cheese - all from Costco.
We were told that even though we had over 600 members in our ward, typically only about 350 come to the party (this is still THREE TIMES more than in my previous ward!). So, we planned for 375, just in case. A word to the wise. Plan on only half a potato, half as much sour cream, and about half the salad as what the serving sizes say. Little kids cannot eat that much. We had way too much of these left over - which we took to families in need.
For dessert, we decided to do a Brownie Bar, which we asked ward members to donate.
About 3 Sundays before the party, we circulated copies of 2 different sign-up sheets. 1 - asking for volunteers to help cook the potatoes at home and drop them off at the church by 5p. (We bought the potatoes and dropped off 2 lbs of potatoes and a roll of foil to each volunteer.) 2 - we also asked for volunteers to donate 1 pan of brownies UN-CUT, any type they wanted to bake. We asked for 20 people to sign up for this, but we had more than 30 women who did!
It's going to sound like we had a lot of sign-up sheets. Well, we did. We ALSO had a sign up sheet for our Nativity Room. We set up the primary room with long tables covered in borrowed fancy table cloths. We asked for members who were willing, to bring in their nativity sets to display in this room. We provided little slips of paper, so they could put their name card in front of their nativity set. During the "Nativity Walk" (which I'll explain soon), we had one of our committee members "guard" this room to make sure no one touched any of the nativities on display.
We also had a Nativity Art Gallery. I bought a few packs of 14x17 drawing paper. I then printed up on small strips of paper these instructions, which I taped to the back of each blank drawing paper page: Please have (or help) your child draw or color their rendition of a nativity scene. This can be free drawing, water color, markers, crayon, a sketch, or as simple as tracing a picture. Under their drawing, please include their name and their age. Return completed drawings to ___________ by [date]. These drawings will be on display in our Nativity Walk Art Gallery during our Ward Christmas Party.
It was announced at the pulpit that every child ages 3-18 would receive this blank piece of paper in class to take home. About a week before the party, the Primary President and nursery workers allowed some of the children who might have been previously absent to draw or color their nativity picture.
These drawings were hung in one of the hallways leading from the gym door down to the primary room.
I was so fortunate to have some great helpers on my committee! I know this sounds like a lot of prep work, but when delegated, I honestly felt like I didn't do a whole heck of a lot.
Here is how it all went down...
Brownies and potatoes were dropped off in the kitchen and we had several helpers distributing 2 different types of brownies per dessert plate and place them in the adjacent YW room on tables. Potatoes were kept in a warmer.
Just outside of the kitchen doors, we set up a serving station. We had a Salad Server (a gloved hand is a fast way to "dish up" salad onto someone's plate!) (dressing in bowls already on tables), a Ham Server (someone else was in the kitchen slicing it), a baked potato server (people could select "half" or "whole", butter & sour cream on tables), and a Roll Server ("one or two?").
After the opening prayer, everyone was instructed through which door they should go to retrieve their food. We tried our best to streamline this process and we were complimented by many, stating that ours was the fastest food service line of any ward party they had attended! It helped to have a kitchen "gopher" who went back and forth from the kitchen to the serving stations, replenishing needed items.
After everyone was served, and mostly finished eating, we announced it was time for the Nativity Gallery Walk. They were told that talking was not allowed during the nativity walk. They were told they would walk through the Youth Gallery, and to please stop and enjoy the artwork in the halls. At the end of the hall, they would enter one door of the primary room, where they could view the nativities of some of our very own members, but no touching. Once they exited out of the other primary room door, they would continue to follow the hallway around to the the YW room, where they would pick up one plate of dessert per person, and then return to the gym to enjoy their dessert. They were reminded again, no talking. If they must speak, to please do so in a whisper. We had some soft music playing over the speaker from the chapel, which helped set the tone. One table at a time, they were dismissed through the southwest gym door and after one group was about halfway down the hall, the next table was dismissed. This worked out soooo well! The kids would point and smile as they saw their own artwork. It was fun to hear everyone take the no talking seriously too. Even though there were lots of excited whispers, it was reverent.
(To help keep the flow of traffic through the designated doors, we had printed and hung "Please Use Other Door" signs on the doors we did not want them to use.)
Once back in the gym, some of our committee members did a nativity puppet show to an audio recording of the nativity story and song. (I was busy in the kitchen, so I only popped in to take a quick picture, and therefore couldn't tell you what the story was, but you could easily do sock puppets to "The Friendly Beasts" recording if desired.)
After the puppet show, we had the bishop add a few closing remarks and we also had him announce seconds on brownies and the children could take their pictures off the wall and take them home, then we had the closing prayer. So many people stayed to help clean up, it was wonderful!
We started PROMPTLY at 6:30p and we were completely done with the activity BEFORE 8p! I was shocked at how quickly we managed to get everyone through the line. Seriously. We had advertised 6:30p-8:30p. But I think many were happy we were finished early as they wanted to get their littles home to bed.
Here are some additional pictures:
Nativity Walk Youth Art Gallery
The Nativity Room
The Brownie Room (older kids of the committee members LOVED helping in this room)
Nativity Puppet Show
Turn-Out: 350 people, give or take a few, judging by the fact nearly every seat was taken.
Let me know if you decide to do something like this for your ward Christmas party! And good luck!