24 Festive Drinks to Pair with Your Favorite Winter Activities

published Dec 4, 2023
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hot toddies garnished with star anise and lemon circles
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Once the winter holidays hit, there are parties to attend, halls to deck, stockings to stuff — you get it. Even for me, a self-identified holly jolly holiday-lover, a packed December can wear me down. When that happens (or, better yet, when I want to preempt holiday burnout), I give myself an early present: a night off from it all.

Taking a much-needed break from holiday happenings doesn’t mean going full Grinch. You can do plenty of festive yet low-stress activities from the comfort of your own home — and they’re all made a touch more celebratory when paired with a holiday-themed beverage.

Below, I compiled a list of festive options for a cozy night in and expert recommendations for complementary cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks. Hunker down, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy your silent (or not-so-silent, in the case of the karaoke) evening at home.

Look through old photos.

1. Cocktail: Whiskey sour
2. Non-alcoholic: Eggnog

Reminiscing on holidays past allows you to revisit some of your favorite memories with loved ones, like when everyone in your whole family donned their best ugly sweaters. Such a nostalgic activity requires a “strong, classic cocktail,” like one your grandparents might drink, says Joanna Lin, a New York-based cocktail and hospitality influencer. For that, an OG whiskey sour fits. On the booze-free front, eggnog gives you that same traditional feel.

Build a gingerbread house.

3. Cocktail: Gingerbread martini
4. Non-alcoholic: Gingerbread latte

Show off your home decor skills in the most delicious way possible — or, don’t worry about how it looks and just enjoy playing with your food! Set aside some of your supplies (or buy extra) to make a gingerbread martini or gingerbread latte. “You’ll probably have extra gingerbread [spices] on hand,” Lin says. “Why not make some gingerbread syrup?”

Credit: Nastasic / Getty Images

Watch a holiday movie.

5. Cocktail: Irish coffee
6. Non-alcoholic: Hot chai latte

Get super comfy on your couch with a fuzzy blanket, a warm beverage, and your favorite festive film. If you’re the type who makes a marathon of holiday movie viewings every year (we’re talking Home Alone and all of its sequels), you might need a little pick-me-up to keep you from dozing off. Lin recommends a strong Irish coffee. For a non-alcoholic option, a hot chai latte offers a caffeine kick.

Fry up crispy latkes.

7. Cocktail: Spiked mulled cider
8. Non-alcoholic: Hot apple cider

Cooking up this Hanukkah favorite will satisfy any carby cravings and make your whole house smell delicious. Of course, a classic like latkes deserves a drink to complement it. Lin’s go-to is anything with mulling spices, like a spiked mulled cider. “It’s an excellent flavor and texture combo,” she says. “The warm, sweet, and spiced flavors balance well with savory and crispy latkes.” For a similar reason, she also suggests hot apple cider. “Because applesauce is a common accompaniment to latkes, drinking hot apple cider to wash down the latkes is bound to be super comforting and also balances the savoriness of latkes.” 

String a popcorn garland.

9. Cocktail: Old-Fashioned
10. Non-alcoholic: Egg cream

If you want to chill but still have holiday fun, make a popcorn garland. You can fall into a zen-like state as you focus on the repetitive motion of pushing and pulling a needle and thread through each piece of popcorn. Plus, you get some holiday decorating done. Don’t forget about snacking! “I’ve always enjoyed popcorn with a well-made Old-Fashioned,” says Lin. “The cocktail’s sweetness balances perfectly with the savory butteriness of popcorn.” If booze-free is more your speed, Lin suggests an egg cream. “Both egg creams and popcorn have nostalgic, retro connotations.” Spin some Nat King Cole to lean into the old-school feeling.

Belt out holiday karaoke.

11. Cocktail: Penicillin
12. Non-alcoholic: Honey lemonade

One perk of singing at home: You can’t get stage fright when you’re performing for your mirror! Fire up the old karaoke machine (or play some lyric videos on YouTube) and carol to your heart’s content. If you plan to sing for a while — especially if you’re attempting Mariah Carey’s high notes — consider something that’ll soothe your throat. Lin says a Penicillin (made with Scotch, ginger, honey, and lemon) or a classic lemonade sweetened with honey will do the trick.

Credit: Riska / Getty Images

Have an impromptu photo shoot.

13. Cocktail: Espresso martini
14. Non-alcoholic: Black tea latte

No need for a camera crew, and it’s up to you if you want a fancy outfit. Find a cute spot in your home to use as a backdrop, set up your phone’s self-timer, and snap away! You’ll turn your quiet night at home into a cherished memory. If you’re going for a chic vibe in your photos, pour yourself one of the trendiest drinks of 2023: an espresso martini. If you’re going all-in on cozy, grab your most festive coffee mug and make a black tea latte — you want to look awake in your pics. 

Read a classic Christmas story.

15. Cocktail: Spiked peppermint hot chocolate
16. Non-alcoholic: Peppermint hot chocolate

Spark childlike wonder when you read a classic like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker. Pair it with the sweet flavors of hot chocolate to feel like a kid again, but now that you’re of drinking age, you can spike it with whiskey. For a stroll down memory lane, make it a peppermint hot chocolate garnished with Lin’s recommendations: crushed candy cane, whipped cream, or a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Brew a wintry simmer pot.

17. Cocktail: Hot toddy
18. Non-alcoholic: N/A hot toddy

One of the easiest and most effective ways to make your home feel extra festive is with a simmer pot. You can choose any combination of herbs, fruits, spices, essential oils, and more. Nail that special “holiday” smell with star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and cranberries. Lin’s tip: Use some leftover spices in a hot toddy (classic or an N/A version).

Cozy up by the (real or fake) fire.

19. Cocktail: Hot buttered rum
20. Non-alcoholic: S’mores hot chocolate

There’s something about sitting by a warm fire in the winter that’s incredibly soothing. If your home doesn’t have a working fireplace, you can replicate the experience by playing a Yule Log YouTube video on your TV — there are so many options to fit whatever vibe feels right for you. Whether your fire is real or faux, a warm drink will complete the activity. For a boozy option, Lin recommends a “cocktail you can sip and savor slowly,” like hot buttered rum. Or, she says, “S’mores hot chocolate, topped with mini marshmallows and crushed graham crackers, is the perfect fireside drink to get cozy with.”

Credit: visualspace / Getty Images

DIY your holiday cards.

21. Cocktail: Negroni
22. Non-alcoholic: Pomegranate spritz

If the pressure of finding the “perfect” holiday card is too much, hand-make your cards. Go all-out with construction paper, glitter, and other craft supplies — or, keep it simple with a stack of blank cards that you write short and sweet notes on. Your friends and family will be touched by your thoughtfulness. Enjoy a night of creativity fueled by a delicious drink. “A stirred cocktail like a Negroni will be sure to ‘stir’ creative juices,” Lin suggests. Alternatively, you could sip on a pomegranate spritz — sparkling water or soda with pomegranate juice and topped with pomegranate seeds. “[The] edible garnish looks like mistletoe berries,” Lin says.

Set goals for the new year.

23. Cocktail: French 75
24. Non-alcoholic: Cold brew and tonic

Don’t panic, but 2024 is right around the corner. Get a jump on the new year by brainstorming your goals, whether that’s by journaling, making a vision board, or simply daydreaming about your future. Setting these intentions can ground you and excite you for what’s to come. For a more celebratory vibe, go for a bubbly French 75, which Lin calls “a perfect way to ‘cheers’ to your resolutions.” If you really want to focus, Lin recommends a cold brew and tonic. “The caffeine will give you an energy boost in the planning process while tonic water adds refreshment.” I’ll drink to that!

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy as part of Holiday Night Off, presented by DoorDash. See it there: 12 Perfect Holiday Activity and Drink Pairings