Winter Carnival Planning Guide
Host Your Best Carnival Yet with Fresh Tips & Ideas for Themes, Games, Concessions & More
Cooler temperatures, fall leaves, and if you’re lucky, SNOW in your near future -- it’s winter carnival planning season! Check out our fun, fresh ideas and tips so your school, church, league, or community can host the most successful winter carnival fundraiser yet.
Theme Ideas for your Winter Carnival
Keep it simple with a general winter theme or take it to another level this year with one of these fun seasonal ideas.
Books Come to Life in a World of Ice
Icy Trips Through Comic Strips
Nursery Rhymes in Chilly Times
Snowy Re-Creations of Warm Worldly Destinations
Snowy Scenes from the Silver Screen
The North Pole
Winter Around the World
Winter Carnival Games Ideas
Entertainment is key to a successful carnival. Check out these fun ideas for adding seasonal twists to traditional games played at school, church, and community carnivals, plus some winter-specific activities everyone will be talking about for years to come!
Build-a-Snowman Station - Provide large marshmallows and/or white powdered donuts, chocolate chips, pretzel sticks, candy corn, and other supplies for building a mini snowman.
Candy Cane Hunt - Hide some candy canes around the carnival venue (tie a ribbon around each one so you can confirm it was a hidden candy) – finders can exchange their candy canes for a prize or treat (or they can keep it and eat it)!
Christmas Light Balloon Pop - A holiday spin on a classic carnival game – put small prizes inside balloons, use green solo cups, and ribbon or twine to make giant balloon Christmas lights. Hang the lights on a giant cork board or other safe background and give players the chance to pop the balloons with darts.
Christmas Tree Punch Out - Distribute prizes into solo cups and use rubber bands to cover the cups with green tissue paper, then glue the bottoms of the cups to a giant foam board or piece of wood. Like the Price is Right game, players punch through the tissue paper to score their prize.
Gingerbread House Decorating Station - For little kids, provide graham crackers, cans of vanilla frosting and a small milk carton to decorate as a GingerBread House - provide a variety of candy toppings for decorations.
Gingerbread House Decorating Contest - Promote the contest ahead of time inviting Carnival Goers to enter their own craft creations into a GingerBread House Contest. Set up tables for viewing and judging and award prizes.
Ice Fishing - Fill a huge bin with styrofoam packing peanuts and bury prizes within the bin – allow carnival goers to hand fish for a prize.
Indoor “Snowball” Toss - Make lightweight no-sew snowballs out of socks or yarn, or use ping pong balls for players to knock down a pyramid of cups.
Jingle Bells Obstacle Course - Use hula hoops, chairs, boards, and other supplies to build a simple obstacle course. Hang bells throughout the course – the goal is to get through the obstacle course without ringing any bells and prizes are awarded to those that are successful.
Jingle Bell Toss - Set up 6-10 solo cups in bowling pin formation and give each player a minute to throw as many jingle bells into the cups as possible. Award prizes to those that successfully get at least 10 bells into the cups.
Jug Igloo Guessing Game - Using empty milk jugs, build a giant igloo and have carnival attendees guess how many jugs were used in the creation. (Pro Tip: Set up props and decorate around the igloo for a perfect photo opportunity!)
Ornament Picking - Players select an ornament from a Christmas tree that has a number on the bottom of it that corresponds with a specific prize (similar to the duck pond carnival game seen at most spring carnivals).
Ornament Making Station - Provide supplies and set up a workstation for carnival goers to make their own holiday ornaments.
- Photos with Santa - Create a north-pole backdrop with large boxes wrapped as presents, large candy canes and other Christmas decorations and then enlist a volunteer to dress as Santa for photos with the kids. Simplify the experience by inviting parents to use their own phones to snap the photos.
- Photo Stations & Cut Outs - Set up themed backdrops that invite selfies at various locations and enlist the High School Theatre Arts Club to create face cut-out photo props consistent with your theme. SnapChat also lets you set up a geofence photo filter for your event.
Pin the Nose on the Reindeer or Snowman - Everyone knows and loves this traditional carnival and party game – add some Christmas cheer with a reindeer or snowman instead of the typical donkey.
Reindeer Ring Toss - For this classic carnival game with a holiday twist, make cardboard reindeers with antlers (you could also use sticks for the antlers) and use pipe cleaners to make the rings.
“Snowball” Fight - No snow, no problem! Host this event in the gym or other wide open space, and set up fake “hills” with large boxes painted white, plastic or blow-up snowmen, and cardboard painted “trees” for players to use as cover during the snowball battle. Make no-sew snowballs or use styrofoam balls for a no-hurt, mess-free experience. Don’t forget to enlist volunteer referees to ensure a fair fight!
Pro Tip: Weather permitting, you could host some of your activities outdoors – if you live in an area where it snows, real snowballs require less prep before the snowball fight (and players can make their own!), a real snowman building contest is possible, and you could even host a build-your-own sled contest.
Winter Carnival Concession Food Ideas
Full bellies mean happy carnival goers - here are some suggestions for winter carnival treats to offer at your carnival concession stands. (Pro Tip: Ask for donations or discounts from volunteers and/or local businesses to cover needed supplies and use SignUp to coordinate concession stand volunteers.)
- Candy - Set up a candy station for fill-a-bag fun.
- Caramel apples - Sell warm and creamy caramel-covered apples with a variety of sprinkles and toppings. Can even make this a DIY activity.
- Chestnuts - Roasting on an open fire (from a safe distance), of course.
- Chili - Sell delicious warm bowls of vegetarian and meat-filled chili.
- Corn dogs - Make simple reindeer ‘dogs with pretzels, mustard, and ketchup.
- Cotton candy - Rent a machine and use blue food coloring to serve up “frosty” cotton candy.
- Funnel cakes - Serve up snowflake-shaped funnel cakes.
- Pretzels - Offer warm, soft pretzels with sides for dipping (nacho cheese, honey mustard, etc.)
- Pizza slices - Any time of year, who doesn’t love this easy grab-and-go treat?
- Popcorn - “Winterize” this classic concession food with white chocolate and blue sprinkles.
- Sugar cookie decorating - Provide icing, sprinkles, etc. for a build-your-own treat experience.
- Warm drinks - Serve apple cider, peppermint tea, hot chocolate, eggnog coffee, etc.
Winter Carnival Planning Committees, Important Questions, & Timeline
Planning for a winter carnival should begin months in advance to avoid a stressful scramble. Start by choosing the date and time of your event (plus a backup date in case of bad weather). Once you have your event date as a starting point, create a timeline for the entire process. Remember that things like booking a location, soliciting sponsorships, inquiring about needed rentals, etc. should be arranged a minimum of 3-4 months ahead of time to guarantee availability.
In most organizations, hosting a carnival is a group effort led by a committee and community leaders – check out our list of essential carnival committees, a suggested timeline for coordinating a successful event, important planning questions, printable carnival signs, and more.
Winter Carnival Marketing & Promotion
Start promoting your winter carnival early and frequently, and be creative with your communications – a big turnout at your event is key!
Consider organizing a contest for artists in your organization or community to design a logo for your event to be used on all of the marketing materials. Award the winner with a carnival package that includes free tickets for food and games, a t-shirt with their winning logo on it, and a winner’s trophy. The contest is a great way to start promoting your event before you’re even done planning your winter carnival.
More Marketing Ideas:
- Flyers - Hand these out at every opportunity and to everyone you know, and ask them to spread the word. Share the important details of your winter carnival including the date, time, location, the types of activities you’ll have, and a list of sponsors.
- Local influencers - Recruit local celebrities to spread the word – a popular news anchor or politician, a well-known band or artist, a beloved teacher or parishioner, etc. Urge them to promote your event on their social channels, websites, newsletters, and other communications to their followers.
- Local media - Ask your local radio stations and newspapers to run a free announcement about your carnival.
- Newsletters - Ask your connections at local schools, churches, news outlets, etc. for an event announcement in their weekly or monthly newsletters.
- Posters and signs - Recruit volunteers to make colorful, eye-catching signs that share the details of your winter carnival; then organize a volunteer distribution day to hang them at the schools, churches, community library, local businesses, and other high-traffic areas around town.
- Presale tickets - Build interest while raising pre-event funds by selling tickets at a discount price in the weeks leading up to the carnival.
- Social media - One of the most powerful marketing tools available to you is social media. Increase turnout (and profits!) with these savvy tips for using your social channels to get the word out about your event.
- Website - Set up a page on your organization’s website dedicated to sharing all the details of your winter carnival – include this link on all marketing communications.
- Word of mouth - Tell everyone you know about your planned winter carnival – friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church-goers, your kid’s soccer team, literally anyone you know – and ask them to do the same!
Winter Carnival Volunteers
Volunteers are what will make or break your winter carnival – you can’t possibly pull off a successful event without them! Start recruiting help early and ask helpers to invite family and friends to also lend a hand. Entice people to participate as a volunteer by offering free food/game tickets and event t-shirts in exchange for their time.
Online SignUp sheets make coordinating the various volunteers and donations needed easier, from ticket booth and concession stand volunteers to donors of carnival supplies, concessions, prizes, and more. Avoid the mile-long paper trail of clipboard sign ups and the never ending back-and-forth emails and phone calls that typically go with organizing an event this size. Use SignUp to boost donor and volunteer participation with no-registration-required online signup sheets and automated confirmations and reminders.
(Pro Tip: Be sure to include your donor/sponsor and volunteer SignUps links on your event page, on your social media pages, and in every carnival-related communication that you send to let people know you’re looking for helpers.)
Types of volunteers you’ll need to recruit include:
- Setup volunteers
- Cleanup volunteers
- Ticket booth volunteers
- Game booth volunteers
- Concession stand volunteers
- Volunteer “runners” (to restock prizes, concessions, etc. when needed)
- Music and entertainment volunteers
- First aid volunteers
- Backup volunteers (in case someone can’t make it at the last minute)
Additional Ways to Fundraise During Your Winter Carnival
- Bake sale - Use SignUp to enlist volunteer bakers to donate seasonal baked goods like Christmas cookies, gingerbread treats, pies, peanut brittle, yule log cakes, no-bake wreath treats, and other holiday goodies to sell as a fundraiser.
- Chili cook-off - Have participants submit their chili and enlist volunteers to serve small portions to interested carnival goers who have paid to be taste testers. Testers then get to vote for their favorite three chili entries and prizes are awarded to winners at the end of the event.
- Crafts sale - Ask volunteers to make holiday-themed crafts to donate to your cause – sell them to raise funds.
- Scavenger hunt - Charge a small entry fee and make sure the grand prize is super enticing to get more participants – a restaurant gift card, free entry to the indoor water park for the whole family, (ask a local business to donate)
- T-shirt sales - Make and sell event t-shirts using your organization's logo or the winner of your logo design contest. (Pro Tip: Offer these t-shirts for sale prior to the event, encouraging attendees to wear theirs to the carnival in exchange for some free food/game tickets.)
- Yard sale - Request item donations from members of your community to sell for a profit at your carnival.