How to Start a Progressive Dinner Tradition with Your Family

Sharing is caring!

Family traditions are a huge part of the holidays. Kids tend to remember activities more than physical gifts. Making memories with our families is something that will have a lasting impact on the future generations. A Progressive Dinner is one way to start a new family tradition.

Christmas table decorated with flowers
How to start a Progressive Dinner tradition with your family

(Please note that some of the links in this article may be affiliate links and I may receive a small commission if you purchase something through a link. It will not change your cost. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, check out my disclosures page.)

What is a Progressive Dinner?

A Progressive Dinner is a meal that is split between multiple houses. You have one course at each house, before travelling to the next house for the next course.  Obviously this isn’t practical for everyone, but if you have family close by, it can make for a very fun day.

A Progressive Dinner would also work equally well for a Christmas party or a Friendsgiving (Thanksgiving with friends). If you plan on doing this at Christmas, it is a great way to get to see everyone’s Christmas decor.

For us, there are only three families involved, so we only do three courses. However, you can extend it to more if you would like. Five would probably be the maximum that would be practical (And even that might be pushing it!) but it could be done if everyone doesn’t live too far away. I’m going to share how our family does a Progressive Dinner and then give you ideas and suggestions on how to start your own.

Our family’s Christmas Progressive Dinner

Our family’s Christmas Progressive Dinner takes place on Christmas Day. We start about 10:30 Christmas morning at someone’s house to have appetizers. Usually we just have two or three small pick-me-ups, not a huge spread. (Remember, we will be eating again soon!) It is totally up to the host what to serve, but we always try to keep it simple. This isn’t about the food or entertaining, it is about spending time with family and making memories.

resource library opt in box

We also open presents during this time as well. The “appetizer host family” hands out their presents to the recipients and they are opened here. (See note below on how we do presents.)

Once we have finished at the “appetizer host family’s” house, we move on to the next house where the main course is served. After eating, we again open presents there. Finally, we move on to the last house where we have dessert and open the presents there as well. All told, this usually takes us about four hours on Christmas Day.

Things to consider when setting up a Progressive Dinner

Christmas Table set for a party
Christmas Table set for a party

So if you want to set up your own Progressive Dinner, there are several things you want to consider.

First, you want to decide on how many houses you will visit. If you have many families involved, you may want to choose three or four to do the hosting and switch it up the following year. For the courses, you can choose from appetizers, soup, salad, main dish, or dessert. Remember…you don’t have to do them all!

Secondly, keep in mind travel time to each house as you set this up. This isn’t an issue for my family as we all live within walking distance of each other. But if you have larger distances to cover, you will want to set up the progressive dinner so you are going from house to house with the shortest distance between each one. (You don’t want to pass one house on the way to another, only to have to come back to that house later during the meal.)

Another consideration is the food. Food needs to be ready when you get to each house, or within a few minutes of arriving. You don’t want to arrive at the “main dish family’s” house, only to have to wait an hour for the lasagna to cook. That would make the dinner last an extremely long time.

If children are participating, plan on having a few toys on hand to keep them occupied while the adults visit. Their attention spans are short, and they are likely to tire out quickly.

You need to plan on at least one hour per house you are planning to visit, plus travel time. So for three courses, you should probably plan for about 4 hours. If you are doing the Progressive Dinner in the evening, 3 courses would be about all you would have time for.

A word on opening gifts

Gifts don’t have to be involved in this event, especially if you are doing a progressive dinner with friends. However, we do it as part of our Christmas present exchange. If you are planning your dinner with lots of people, some who aren’t hosting, you could do the gift exchange at one of the houses instead of serving part of the meal. A coffee/hot chocolate bar would be great to go along with the gift exchange.

With children, you could do the gift exchange at the first house instead of (or along with) the appetizers. This would give the kids a new toy to take with them to play with as the dinner progresses.

One other thing worth mentioning about gift exchanges… (Caution: I’m getting on my soap box here!?) When we hand out presents, we always do so ONE AT A TIME. Once one present is opened we hand out another. This ensures that everyone sees what each person is receiving instead of a “free-for-all” present opening. I know when I give a gift, I want to be able to enjoy watching the person open it. This also allows time for everyone to thank the person who gave the gift and teaches patience to the children. It also makes the gift opening last longer, which extends the fun. (Ok, I’m off my soap box now!)

What matters most

Christmas tablescape
Christmas tablescape

At the end of the day, a Progressive Dinner is not about the fanciest food, or the nicest china, or the best decorated house. It is about enjoying the company of those we love, while creating memories with our family and friends.

If you are nervous about hosting, check out this post on how to have a stress-free Thanksgiving. The tips are applicable to hosting any type of party. And check out the recipe section of my blog for some easy recipes to serve. (If you are doing the appetizers, these sausage balls are always a hit!)

Want more Christmas traditions?

Are you looking to create more memories with your family this Christmas season? Check out this post on the 12 Days of Christmas. This is another yearly tradition we do with our boys.

It’s never to late to start a new tradition. Do you have any unique traditions you do with your family?

thanksgiving table set for a progressive dinner
Hosting a progressive dinner is a great way to spend an evening with friends or family.

Sharing is caring!

2 thoughts on “How to Start a Progressive Dinner Tradition with Your Family”

  1. What a lovely tradition! I have heard of progressive dinners for youth groups but never for a family holiday event. As our family continues to grow and change, I’ll have to keep this idea in mind! Love it.


Leave a Comment