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Party Basics

This guide explains the basics of party planning.

Selecting a Theme

Party Basics

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.

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 ( 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.

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