Christmas Punches (No Egg Nog!)

Image via Click Americana

Preface: This is actually somewhat painful for me to write because I love entertaining, especially around the holidays, and punches are a great way to get a lot of people tipsy on very little money. None of that in 2020, sadly.

Gather ‘round the wassail bowl where no egg nog awaits you. If you’ve gone to as many Christmas parties as The Other Half and I have over the years you will find yourself wearying of the traditional egg nog. I love egg nog but not in 3 or 4 different venues every Saturday night for 3 or 4 Saturdays in a row.

I never make egg nog for this reason. We also have our big holiday open house on a Sunday early in the season to get it out of the way and avoid the crush. Alongside enough food to feed Manhattan for a day or two and a full bar and wine fridge, here are the punches I make. I’ve tried to reduce the ingredients to comply with a 10-person pandemic-related indoor gathering limit. For these pared-down recipes you might want to make them in a pitcher, glass works best, rather than a half-full, or less, punch bowl.

And plus also, as Sarah Palin used to say, where ice is called for you shouldn’t just throw in ice cubes. Freeze something in them so that when they melt there’s less water and an ingredient will add to the mix.


Cousin Matthew’s Less-Sweet, More Alcoholic Version of Martha Stewart’s Christmas Punch

2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice, from the fridge

I cup cranberry juice, from the fridge

1 cup club soda, from the fridge

1 1/2 cups vodka. Use something smooth and even more flavorless than normal. I use Smirnoff, because it wins all kinds of awards, is relatively cheap, and will not blind you.

1 cup Cointreau. This is very, very sticky sweet, if you’ve never had it. A friend of mine made this recipe and subbed in Amaretto. I don’t recommend.

2 large lemons, juiced. If you’re extra, like I am, scoop out the remains of the lemon, slice the skins, and make lemon peels.

Cranberries frozen in ice cubes.

Martha throws in simple syrup but I avoid this because that’s too sweet for me. 


The day before or the morning of drop 2 large or 4 small cranberries in each cup of an ice tray, fill with water, and freeze. Ice tray volumes vary. The water should be about 50% at least.

I make tons of alcoholic punches so, and maybe this is superstition on my part, I introduce the alcohol in phases. I usually make about 10 or 20 times this but to approximate: In a small punch bowl or a pitcher add the pomegranate juice. Pour in half the vodka. Stir a little bit. Add the cranberry juice. Pour in the rest of the vodka. Stir. Add the club soda. Pour in the Cointreau. Stir. Add the juice from the lemons. Stir again. Put this in the fridge to chill.

Shortly before the guests arrive (if you can judge this) pull out the punch bowl and have it waiting. Put your cranberry ice cubes in an ice bucket and the lemon peels in a bowl. Guests  can scavenge for themselves but I like to serve, like the gruel dispenser from a Dickensian workhouse, so I at least get to say hello to everyone. Again, picture a fairly large mob, not the intimate settings that we’ll be experiencing this year.


Christmas In Hawaii With Beloved Cousin Matthew

For the big holiday open house we put up two trees, and a third, smaller one in the den. I’ll explain later. Every other year I make Blue Hawaiians in a large punch bowl. If you read my Halloween drinks post you’ve been introduced to the Blue Hawaiian, sort of.

This couldn’t be simpler.


2 parts (at least) coconut rum

2 parts pienapple juice

1 part blue curaçao

Pineapple chunks in ice

Normally I would put this in the huge glass punch bowl and freeze a block of ice, but since you’re making less, put a couple of chunks of pineapple in ice cube tray(s), add water, and freeze. 

In a 2-step process, add half the liquids, stir, add the rest, and stir again. Put this in the fridge to chill. Another, even better way to do this is use 1 1/2 parts light rum and 1/2 part cream of coconut. This makes the drink creamier and even brighter. Do not use dark rum; this will make the drink look muddy and unappealing. If you have a small punch bowl use that, but maybe a glass pitcher would be better. In any event you want to see the concoction in all its iridescent glory.


Now about the trees. We have one formal tree that we adorn simply, with blue and silver bulbs. Then the other tree is this chaotic free-for-all where the motley and somewhat bizarre ornaments hang, and people often bring ornaments and wine so the ornaments, the more outlandish the better, are added to that tree. The trees are artificial but surprisingly life-like and are at least 8’ tall. On the den tree we put unbreakable plastic ornaments, because the den is where kids go sometimes and I’ll put on a Disney or a holiday movie or something for them, if they’re too young to fully appreciate the ring-a-ding-ding cocktail-and-small-talk culture I aggressively promote. There’s always an adult, usually a mother, who herself would like to remove themselves from this chaos so they are deputized to be the overseer.

At one party a guest asked me, gesturing to the formal tree, “So what’s up with the Salute to Israel?”

“What do you mean?”

“The last time I saw something like that was at an Anti-Defamation League fundraiser. You know, the blue and silver color scheme…”


Cousin Matthew’s Fish House Punch Adapted For The Modern Age

This was a great favorite in the mid-Atlantic region around the time of the Revolution. It is often referred to as Philadelphia Fish House Punch but as far as I know there is no official recipe; they kind of reflect the developments of the era. Some recipes call for ingredients from the British Empire, and then there’s stuff that incorporates products from the French colonies, so that must come from when the French jumped in and helped us out.

What makes this modern is that they didn’t have refrigeration back then, so the ice block would have been a chunk harvested from a frozen lake, not what I use. Again, I’m scaling this down for 10 and it makes 2 generous drinks per. This packs a wallop so be careful. 


750 ml bottle of dark rum. I use spiced.

1 1/2 pints (12 oz.) Cognac

4 oz. peach brandy

[Peach brandy, by the way, is surprisingly somewhat easily obtained, at least where I live, and I do not live in Loire Valley.]

4 oz. lime juice

6 oz. lemon juice

Limes and lemons

Make an ice block. In one of those plastic leftover containers, we have hundreds but I have no idea who makes them…Tupperware? Rubbermaid? Container Store?…add as much water as you think you’ll need and add lemon and lime slices. Freeze, uncovered.

In a punch bowl (you’ll need one because of the ice block) put in the ice block and add the other ingredients. You’ll see it’s mostly alcohol but it’s pretty tasty. Stir over and around the ice block, and add more lemon slices to make it look a little more festive. Sigh. I use to make this by the gallon.


Who Doesn’t Love Glühwein? Well, Cousin Matthew For One

This is mulled red wine and appears by many different names. I kind of made this on a dare one year because I have a couple of German friends and their extended family was in New York around Christmas (to see the holiday windows, the tree at Rock Center, a little/lot of Christmas shopping) so I invited them over. Why not, I can speak German. I’ve had plenty of Glühwein in my life but I did it for them, and they seemed appreciative.


2 bottles of red wine. Better yet, because it doesn’t really matter, get one of those 1.5-liter bottles that are often on sale at the wine store. Don’t get something very dry. When I did this my store was having a clearance sale on Beaujolais Nouveau, so I used that.

2 large oranges, sliced into 1/8s.

A handful of cloves

A good dose of cinnamon, maybe 2 tbsp.

Ginger from the spice rack, maybe 1 tbsp.

1 to 2 cups Brandy, not a flavored kind

In a large saucepan, uncovered, throw in everything but the brandy. Let it simmer for a while until it warms up but doesn’t reduce too much. Don’t bring to a boil. Stir occasionally, so everything mixes. 

When it’s warm splash in the Brandy and stir maybe once or twice. Ladle into glass teacups, if you have any, or Christmas-theme coffee mugs, and while you choke it down sip ask your new friends, in German because they are the last Germans on earth who don’t speak English, how they are enjoying New York. When I did this I had enough time to pick up a very good Christmas Stollen, which is like a bread/fruitcake thing. It’s actually pretty tasty but very dry. So for this you’ll want to have lots of sparkling water on hand.


Cousin Matthew’s Punch That Will Give Your Liver A Break

At those huge holiday open houses we always got some kids, and they were more than welcome. We also got adults who didn’t drink alcohol for one reason or another, but they usually drank water, juices, or soft drinks. The kids got their own punch bowl in a different location so they could kind of model adulthood. My second punch bowl is plastic and has plastic punch cups. It wasn’t meant for kids, per se, it was just very cheap so I picked it up 15 or 20 years ago knowing it would come in handy someday.

NOTE: Check with the parents before serving. There might be a lot of sugary soda in this. This recipe is extremely vague. This isn’t a bad drink but kids have very particular tastes. This is what I make.


4 parts Sprite 

3 parts orange juice

3 parts cranberry juice

Slices of orange

Cranberries, frozen (optional)

Mix this all together in amounts you prefer. This is essentially a non-alcoholic Cape Codder, with Sprite instead of vodka. Put this in the fridge until the urchins show up. When ready:

Throw in the orange slices. If the kids want them, garnish each cup with a frozen cranberry or two but tell them not to eat them (if necessary), they’re usually very bitter, they’re just there to keep the drink cold and to make it look a little more Christmas-y.



  1. For the non-alcoholic punch, another option for a base is San Pelligrino.  You still get the bubbles, but not all of the sugar.  It’s not as sweet, but kids generally won’t notice because of all the fruit juices–and it’s not like they’re taste testing with a Sprite punch on the next table.

  2. I think I linked to it before, but if you like coconut, Coquito is a good one that is a tradition in Puerto Rico for Christmas.
    Throw in a blender canned coconut milk plus cream of coconut (Coco Lopez is a common brand) plus sweetened condensed milk. One can each will make a very thick and sweet batch, about enough for four tumblers. It’s also good when you cut it with some regular milk or the thinner coconut milk you get in cartons next to soy milk. Or leave out the condensed milk if that’s just too sweet.
    Add a quarter teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, or to taste, and blend. Serve chilled with rum to taste — a shot per glass is good, or more, or none. After chilling it will need a final stir before pouring because all of the coconut fat rising to the top.

  3. A friend’s father years ago told us an epic story of burying a stash of fish house punch at the beach and then not being able to find it for months or maybe years later.
    If you have Finlandia vodka near you, use it.  You can thank me later.

  4. Those all sound delicious, Cousin M, thank you! Usually I make a punch bowl ice block using an old fluted jello mold, but this year I put strawberries in a water-filled mini muffin tin to freeze. I’m forgoing the punch bowl due to the lack of celebration crowds, and will put one of the pretty ice cubes in a glass before pouring this from a pitcher: (just ratios, make to your size requirements) 1/4 bourbon, 1/2 dry champagne, 1/8 flavored brandy of choice (I’m using either peach or a spicy pear), and 1/8 simple syrup. Add some frozen strawberries from the bag, dust it with some cracked black pepper, muddle some basil leaves, and stir.

  5. Best punch I ever had was a grad school friend from North Carolina who made what they called “Baptist Church punch” and added a ton of vodka. I remember sherbet and white grape juice, among other things. 

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