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Party Basics

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter

  • Think about incorporating a fun theme into your party shopping list
  • Find out about the importance of appropriate decor for your party, whether you have chosen a theme or are keeping things simple
  • Understand that food and drink are party essentials, as are the tools you'll need for serving
  • Discover that "entertainment" doesn't have to mean a tired game of charades, but can actually be fun for you and your guests
  • Learn about fun, inexpensive party favors that will delight your guests

Let's face it—parties are a lot of work! However, just because there is work to do, you don't have to feel overwhelmed. The purpose of this book is to simplify your workload and make complicated tasks easier for you.

With that in mind, this chapter will provide you with valuable information about the basics of hosting, including the value of selecting a theme, planning appropriate decorations for your party, ideas about food and drink, options for different kinds of entertainment, and simple party favors for your guests.

Although we'll cover each subject more thoroughly in Part II, "The Perfect Party," showing you how to plan each element step-by-step, take a moment to become familiar with the different types of planning that goes into hosting a fabulous party.

  • Learn that holiday parties aren't just for Halloween

  • See that occasion parties don't have to conform to tradition

  • Jazz up your meal parties with simple, silly ideas for fun themes

  • Host a party whose sole purpose is to celebrate a theme

Selecting a Theme

Creating a theme for your party is the simplest way to lend instant atmosphere. Whether your intended effect is kitschy, glitzy, sassy, or classy, selecting a theme will give you the opportunity to build a party, instead of just throwing one.

If you're interested in adding a theme to your party, begin by considering what kind of party you want to have. In Part III, "Variations on a Theme," we'll look at different types of parties, many of which can be enhanced with a theme. In this chapter, I'll explain how you can brainstorm these themes, combining tried-and-true and eclectic ideas to produce a party theme that stands out.

Nontraditional Holiday Traditions

If you're planning a celebration for a holiday, use the built-in elements of that holiday to add color to your event. For example, for an Independence Day party, make the event special by incorporating ready-made ideas into your theme: flags; red, white, and blue paper plates and napkins; a rousing game of "pin the beard on Uncle Sam"; and sparklers as party favors.

Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine's Day are easy examples of holidays with built-in theme elements, but you can also explore ideas for lesser-known holidays:

  • Want to have a party in April? Earth Day is April 22. Opt for an environmental theme, and play up this international holiday that celebrates environmentalism. Prepare a vegetarian meal, and decorate with environmentally friendly décor (green plants, globes, and recycled-paper products)—you might even make a tree- or garden-planting ceremony part of the party.

  • Did you know that September is National Sewing Month? Consider throwing a craft brunch to celebrate this wacky observance. You can decorate with sewing notions, prepare simple fare, and invite your friends over to work on a beginner-level sewing project. You might even use this "holiday" to inspire a monthly craft party!

Because holidays recur every year, you have ample opportunity to stock up long before your next party—and save a ton of money. Shop after-holiday sales at gift, party, and housewares stores, and pick up themed paper plates, napkins and linens, decorations, favors, and other odd items that might come in handy during next year's events.

With a little thought, planning, and creativity, you can turn even the wackiest holidays into fun, quirky celebrations. Look online for a list of little-known observances (http://www.brownielocks.com/holidayauthenticity.html is a good start!), and let your imagination soar.

Mixing Up Occasion Party Themes

As a trip to any party store will show, birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestone occasions are perfect for theme parties. However, why not get really creative and go beyond traditional milestone themes? "Happy Birthday" balloons are fun for kids, but adults have more sophisticated sensibilities, appreciating eclectic ideas and funky themes. For example

  • Instead of throwing a regular birthday party for a friend turning 40, consider throwing a "40s Party" with a swing theme. Prepare food and cocktails appropriate to the era, hire a swing band or stock up on swing CDs, and ask your guests to come in costume. With the recent revival of all things swing, this type of party would be fun and relatively easy to host.

  • Incorporate traditional "bon voyage" theme elements into a retirement party or celebration for a friend or co-worker who received a promotion or landed a great new job. Get silly with the planning, including palm trees, beach-themed décor, tropical drinks and food, Hawaiian and beach music, and other elements that convey a similar message: "Say hello to paradise."

As you're considering an upcoming occasion party, let your creativity shape the planning. Mix up elements of traditional milestones, and give your guest of honor a party she won't soon forget.

Serving Up Savory Meal Parties

Perhaps the most frequently thrown types of parties, meal parties focus on the food and drink: breakfast, brunch, lunch, high tea, cocktails, dinner, or dessert. However, although the food is central to the party, you can still incorporate a fun theme to your meal party, giving your guests an event to remember. Consider these ideas:

  • Instead of having a casual cocktail party, why not have a disco party? Send out glitzy invites, rig up a disco ball, and throw some '70s tunes in the CD player. Play up the menu with food and drink popular in the 1970s: fondue, meat-and-cheese-based canapés, and powerfully strong cocktails. Costumes are optional, but appreciated!

  • Have a high tea or brunch to celebrate spring, inviting guests to a garden party with elegant décor, fresh-cut flowers, an assortment of tea sandwiches (with the crusts cut off!), and a very dignified lemonade punch (spiked with vodka or champagne, if you like). Ask guests to wear their best fancy hats—suggest thrift-store shopping for silly results—or incorporate hat decorating as a party activity, using over-the-top items purchased at a craft store, such as birds, huge flowers, leaves, and dollhouse furniture.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with hosting a simple dinner party, but adding a theme always ups the fun. If you want to keep things simple, adding games to your party and calling it Game Night is an easy way to incorporate a theme without adding much extra planning.

Hosting a Theme-Based Party

Of course, some parties are innately based on themes: costume parties, decade parties, parties based around specific entertainment ideas, or "girly" parties, such as beauty nights, craft groups, or product parties (Tupperware, anyone?).

Some of the best parties are thrown because the host wants to explore an interesting thematic idea. For example

  • An entertainment-based party, such as a karaoke, film, or Super Bowl party, in which the theme event is central to the party's concept

  • A crafting group, in which guests work on a specific yarn, sewing, or other craft project

  • A game night, dice party, or scavenger hunt, at which guests participate in an activity or game

The difference between theme parties and parties that incorporate themes is the planning involved. Usually, there is an activity or form of entertainment central to the party's purpose. This activity will have rules or requirements, or built-in ideas about the appropriate types of food, drink, décor, and activities (for example, a Super Bowl party).

As you're planning a theme party, you'll need to determine any specific tools you or your guests will need to supply, directions you need to print up, or special equipment you'll need to buy, rent, or borrow.

Theme parties don't have to break the bank. Shop odd locations for theme-based party supplies, such as your city's Chinatown or another culturally rich area, where you can find clever, inexpensive decorations and favors your guests might find exotic and fun. You'll spend far less than you would at a party-supply store, and the unique details will impress your guests.

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