There is nothing quite like getting out to tailgate before a football game. As autumn rolls in, the weather starts to break from the hottest days of summer. The leaves change colors depending on where you live, and seasonal coffee, beer, and cocktails pop up all over the place. If you still go out to get your holiday shopping done, festive music will fill your ears, and the holiday spirit will start to spread.
Of course, the closer the holidays get, the colder it gets outside. Tailgating includes fire pits, jackets and coats, gloves, sock hats, and layered clothing. Depending on your family, going through all the extra steps required with cold weather tailgating might not seem as enticing as earlier in the season.
There is plenty to do at home, and as the world of homegating continues to grow, a whole marketplace for party ideas and decorations has developed even more since the pandemic required some ingenuity to have a game day experience without the health risks associated with large crowds.
Here are some key homegating tips and must-haves to get the most out of your holiday football experience.
Any game day at home will be better with the standard go-to food items on the menu. Buffalo chicken dip, cheese dip, chips, pizza, and chicken wings are popular options that don’t require sit-down meal prep or complexity. A veggie tray of some kind could also be a crowd-pleaser for those who aren’t into the heartier options.
For the holidays, throw in some festive drink ideas for the adults. Popular cocktails include spiked egg nog and peppermint vodka mixed into hot chocolate. Popular beers include Electric Reindeer from Sun King brewery in Indianapolis, Bier Cerveza by Bier Brewery in Indianapolis, or Alpha Klaus Xmas from Three Floyds brewery in Munster, IN.
For those not in the mood for alcohol, egg nog, hot chocolate, or even hot coffee will make the icy cold outside melt away inside.
As for the food menu, some candy canes (great drink mixers) and cookies will add some holiday flavor. Perhaps some Oreos and milk for dipping, just like Santa enjoys overnight on Christmas Eve.
No matter the season, the short-term cost of the NFL RedZone channel is worth it. This keeps the football going even if your favorite team is not playing. With fantasy football, sports betting, and other pools continuing to explode, your guests will appreciate the chance to watch scoring plays around the league.
Pro tip: If you have an extra TV or tablet, you can mute RedZone even during the feature game to serve as a welcome distraction during commercials. Everyone has a different viewing preference. You will have those who don’t want to miss a snap, those who simply want to see big plays, and those who want to know the score. This setup should satiate just about all of those appetites.
Never forget that seating will be at a premium, and doing some pre-game space planning will make a huge difference in how much guests enjoy the experience. Keep food, drinks, ice, and plates or utensils in their areas. Nothing is worse than walking into a small kitchen and standing in a long line to get ice while someone else is having a full conversation standing in front of the cheese dip.
When possible, set up food with warmers or crockpots in a space that includes the largest table in a kitchen or dining area with extension cords and power strips tucked away from trafficked areas or covered with rugs or mats to avoid tripping. Put beer in a cooler, perhaps just outside on a porch, in a garage, or another designated area — ideally away from the food. If possible, have ice in buckets near the food area and in the kitchen or dining room where water and soft drinks are located or where cocktails will be mixed and served.
This brings up another clutch idea. If the space allows, have an area separate from the game for those who don’t particularly care about it. A table with chairs for guests who want to sit and talk or graze while the game is on will be a win-win. It should control the casual traffic and keep things flowing for those who don’t want to miss anything.
When possible, have a space outside or in a garage set up as well. Everyone has a different ideal thermostat temperature in mind, and no matter what that temperature is, crowds create warmer-than-normal conditions. It won't go unnoticed if guests have a place to step out for cool air during commercials, halftime, or other breaks. This is another traffic control technique as the table-talk group and garage/porch-goers will be out of the way for those looking for a refill or grabbing a plate.
Finally, holiday decor that is team or sport-themed is everywhere nowadays. Put up stockings featuring your favorite team’s logo, decorate a tree with team-themed ornaments, hang or display team memorabilia in trafficked areas, and even things like holiday-inspired knit koozies will make an impression. None of these items should break the bank, and all of them should be easy to store and reuse in future seasons.
There are so many other fun ideas for football during the holidays. Feel free to share your favorite ideas, food and drink recipes, and any holiday theme items you recommend in the comments below.