The Plus Factor: How to Throw a High-Vibe, Booze-Free Holiday Party

Photo: Stocksy/Sean Locke

This week on The Plus Factor, we’re focused on the super-buzzy, high-vibe party scene—and how to create a mystical, memorable, and totally non-alcoholic festive experience for your own crew.

At the end of an anxiety-fueled year like 2016, you’d be forgiven for wanting to wash away your emotions in a fizz of champagne bubbles and spiked La Croix. 'Tis the season, right?

But don’t pop that cork just yet. This holiday, a new kind of party is taking shape in wellness circles—one where there’s still plenty of mind alteration going down, but the only thing getting lit is a palo santo stick.

Why? As a growing number of healthy types begin to reconsider their relationships with alcohol—because how are you going to crush your Sunday morning bootcamp with a hangover?—a sober social scene has also emerged, giving teetotalers an opportunity to connect and support each other. (It’s a phenomenon so exciting, we’re predicting it to be one of the biggest wellness trends of 2017.)

There’s still plenty of mind alteration going down, but the only thing getting lit is a palo santo stick.

A few weeks ago, for example, The Numinous founder Ruby Warrington and meditation guide Biet Simkin hosted a special holiday edition of their Club Soda gathering in New York City, focusing on how to navigate the season without a drink in hand. The next night, Los Angeles-based spiritual community Integral Fitness set the table for its Conscious Family Dinner party in NYC, complete with oracle card readings, herbalism consultations, and sound therapy treatments. (They'll also be hosting a pre-NYE bash on December 27 in LA.)

And on December 15, Brooklyn-based healer Luke Simon will be throwing a pop-up party called The Softer Image. Instead of cocktails and cigarettes, partygoers will get high on herbal elixirs, healthy snacks, heart-opening music, meditation, and dancing... lots of dancing. (The party’s slogan: “Let’s get turnt while staying woke.”)

No such party happening in your city that night? You’re not doomed to a social season full of mulled wine and bad decisions—just host a high-vibe party yourself.

I tapped some of the experts in sober socializing to give tips on what to serve, how to decorate, which activities to offer, and pretty much everything else you need to know to create a party that your friends will be talking about long after the ball drops.

Keep reading to find out how to throw a high-vibe holiday party in style.

Photo: Stocksy/Lumina
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

1. Convince yourself it’s a good idea

For a lot of us, it’s hard to fathom the thought of an office party, extended family dinner, or New Year’s Eve without a little liquid courage. Yet Biet Simkin swears that stepping out of your comfort zone is well worth the deeper connections you’re bound to make.

“What is a party?” she asks. “Is it an opportunity to make lifelong friends? A chance at finding love? An experiment of connection, vulnerability, conversation, and dance? I've never had a successful time with any of those things when alcohol was involved.”

If you’re intrigued by the idea but are worried about whether your pals will still be able to let loose without alcohol, Simon can assure you that it will happen if you create the right environment. (More on that in a minute!)

“My experience is that what people are seeking in alcohol—relaxation, blurring their minds a little bit, coming into the moment—you can get in more subtle ways,” he says. “We’re at a time where there is so much shift happening and so much expansion of spiritual awareness that we have other options now of ways to have fun and be together.”

Photo: Stocksy/Kelly Knox
Photo: Stocksy/Kelly Knox

2. Prep your guests for what’s to come

Make sure your friends know ahead of time that your party will be an alcohol-free zone, says Simon—otherwise, you’re likely to end up with a kitchen full of boozy gifts from unsuspecting guests.

“Put the intention out there in a really clear way,” he suggests. “Say something like, ‘Here’s why we’re doing this—because we’re going to be drinking at a lot of other parties, and I want to hang out with you guys when we’re not getting wasted.’”

It’s also important to curate your guest list intentionally, says Jessica Easter, a community manager for Lululemon. (She was one of the brains behind the Lululemon Residency program—essentially, 7 months of high-vibe parties taking place in gorgeous rented homes around the country.)

“Invite friends from different groups,” Easter says. “Getting people together who'll never be in the same room again is so much fun…there’s something special about not being able to re-create this exact experience ever again.”

And if anyone gives you a hard time about inviting them to a booze-free fete, don’t let it stress you out, says Simkin. “People who are not interested in a sober good time will not come to your party, and all the better.”

Photo: Stocksy/Milles Studio
Photo: Stocksy/Milles Studio

3. Serve buzz-inducing refreshments

“One of the keys to hosting a party like this is making it fun and playful... and that means replacing the cocktails with beautiful, healthy, new things that taste delicious,” says Simon.

“What I really like is the subtle way it opens you’s honestly a little bit trippy.”

His go-to sip for instant transcendence: hot cocoa made with raw cacao and reishi mushroom powder. “It’s very relaxing and great for your immune system, but what I really like about it is the subtle way it opens you up... it’s honestly a little bit trippy,” he says. “Just combine the reishi with warm coconut milk, honey, and some raw cacao.”

As for food, Easter says the more interactive the experience, the better—like build-your-own acai bowls—with stress-busting adaptogenic toppings, perhaps?—or sweet potato toast "crostini."

Photo: Stocksy/Lydia Cazorla
Photo: Stocksy/Lydia Cazorla

4. Set the mood

Herbed-up elixirs and snacks aren’t the only way to put your guests into a feel-good state, says Simon. Music, lighting, and decorations can all have a similar effect.

“The whole idea for us is softening,” he explains. “New York is so masculine and the party scene is so intense, we wondered what it would be like to do just the opposite—you could dance, or you could just lay down on something fuzzy.” At the first Softer Image party this fall, he cleared the space with sage and filled it with faux-sheepskin throws, floral garlands, and braided, hand-dyed fabrics. “The décor had a sort of mystical and otherworldly, but also comfortable vibe,” he recalls.

As for the music, Simon likes a mix of soul, funk, and disco for its “nostalgic, warm, and dreamy quality.” He also pays attention to the lyrics. “If I find something that has a really sweet, heart opening message, it takes me somewhere different than a song that’s throwing shade,” he says.

One other important element for setting a magical mood? “Lighting is everything,” Easter stresses. “Use the moon when possible, or string lights [when you’re indoors]. And always light candles.”

Photo: Stocksy/Lumina
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

5. Create some rituals

When Simon first conceived of The Softer Image, he took his cues from the party scenes of other cultures—ones that don’t revolve around alcohol. “Hawaii has so many customs; luaus were a big inspiration,” he says.

Of course, Simon put his own spin on the party's rituals. An hour into the first event, he gathered all of the guests for a group relaxation led by hypnotherapist Shauna Cummins. “Guided meditations are a great way to clear out the day, switch gears, and get some sort of release, which is what people are trying to get from alcohol,” he points out. (Want to try this at home? The Hay House and Gaiam Meditation Studio apps have lots of great meditation recordings, he says.)

Guided meditations are a great way to clear out the day, switch gears, and get some sort of release, which is what people are trying to get from alcohol.

After they were fully chilled, guests wrote down three wishes, put them into a hat, and pulled someone else’s wishes to take away with them. “That was a really cool way to connect the group from the beginning,” Simon says.

As the party progresses, Easter says activities involving learning are always big crowd-pleasers. “Teach something; educate your guests on new perspectives or teach a skill,” she says.

Or, hey, forget the bells and whistles, and just turn up the music and get your dance on. “You don’t have to fill the space with anything,” he says. “People who came to The Softer Image told me it was one of the best parties they’d been to in a while, and they were surprised that alcohol wasn’t needed to have that type of a party. People were definitely getting down.”

Here are some super cool holiday party decoration ideas trending on Instagram right now. Or, channel Kimberly Snyder and give your party an Ayurvedic twist. Shy in group settings? Check out these easy party conversation tips for chatting with strangers. 

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