How to Plan an Awesome Holiday Party: Choosing a Party Theme


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While throwing parties is often seen as the responsibility of our female counterparts, men – particularly bachelors – have a long history of throwing memorable shindigs. The 1949 edition of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts states: “Granting that you are a bachelor and not a hermit…you are going to entertain pretty regularly in the apartment and not spend all of your time prowling after a pair of nylon legs.” The book goes on to teach the reader how to cook an impressive meal, mix and serve drinks like a pro, and entertain guests with conversation, games, and even fortune telling.

Unfortunately, this kind of education in being the consummate host, along with the art of hospitality in general, is sorely lacking for the modern man.

So today we begin a four part series on how to host a great party. Since this is one of the most popular and best times of year to do so, we’ll be focusing on throwing a holiday party, but most of the tips will also apply to throwing a soiree any old time.

Today we’ll discuss the first step in the party hosting process: picking a party type or theme.

Traditional Party Types

The type of party you decide to throw will depend on how large or small you’d like the gathering to be, how formal or informal you want it, your budget, and the personality and interests of you and your friends.

Cocktail Party

A cocktail party is a semi-formal affair that takes place earlier in the evening, say between 5 and 7, or 6 and 8, and this party can serve as a get-together before another event later in the evening. Cocktails (obviously) and beer are served, and you might like to set yourself up as the charming home bartender to dispense these drinks. You’ll want to offer light snacks or hors d’oeuvres along with the beverages.

Open House/Buffet Supper

While a cocktail party typically has a two hour time span, an open house lasts longer, and guests can come and go whenever they’d like. The drinks are self-serve – beer and soda on ice, and a bowl of punch or egg nog.

The food and set-up are described well by 1953’s Esquire Etiquette:

“The food is generally laid out and the company invited to help themselves at a prescribed hour, as distinguished from the cocktail-party supper where the food is constantly available. The menu usually includes a choice of dishes, with a minimum one hot, one cold, one salad, one bread, one beverage, fruit and/or cheese and/or dessert. Nothing served should require a knife, impossible to manipulate on knee-balanced plate. Guests eat off knees or floor or trays or small tables set up for the purpose, as you like. They help themselves, with or without carving assistance from their host. They sit with whomever they choose; the host does not designate supper partners. The host watches for refill prospects and leads expeditions to second helpings or does auxiliary serving himself.”

An open house party is great for Christmas Eve. Family and friends can come and go, and stop by between their other planned activities.

The Sit-Down Dinner

A good option for those who want a classy, but more structured and intimate gathering. For a nice sit-down dinner, invite a group of friends to break bread with you, and serve them a multi-course meal – at least soup or salad, entrée, and dessert. Offer wine or beer before and during the meal, and coffee afterwards along with dessert.

Potluck Dinner

For younger gents and those on a budget, consider the potluck dinner. Assign everyone to bring one aspect of the meal, and enjoy tasting everyone’s creations. Casual and cozy.

Special Party Themes for the Holidays

Outdoor Activity

The party starts with some kind of active outdoor activity: ice skating, sledding, hiking, snow-shoeing, etc. After the activity, everybody comes back to your place to warm up with hot chocolate and cider and to roast chestnuts, weenies, and marshmallows in the fireplace.

White Elephant Gift Exchange

Everybody brings a wrapped gift to the party (usually something cheap and/or funny). People then draw numbers (as many numbers as there are people). The person who gets number one, gets to choose the first gift and unwrap it. The next person can then choose to either “steal” the gift the first person opened or pick one of the wrapped gifts. This goes on with each consecutive person being able to choose from the things that have already been opened or from the unwrapped pile. If someone “steals” your gift, you can then choose to steal someone else’s (but you cannot steal back the gift that was just taken from you) or draw from the pile. And so on and so forth.

Christmas Lights Tour

Many companies charge big bucks to drive people around in a limo to look at the best lights in town. But you can save money by becoming your own tour guide instead. Borrow your friend’s old Suburban or rent a giant van and map out a route through town that will take you past the homes with the nicest light displays. Then have your friends over for a bite to eat, load them in the car, turn on some Christmas tunes, and become their personal tour guide to holiday wonderment.

To add another element of fun, try playing some Christmas Light Bingo. Make up some bingo cards with squares with things like:

  • Christmas tree seen through house window
  • Christmas tree in city park
  • Animatronic reindeer
  • Nativity scene
  • House in all blue lights
  • Santa

And so on. Provide your passengers with some bingo dabbers. The first person who gets bingo wins a prize.

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