Gentle Reader, are you thinking of hosting a party for one of the many winter holidays that are now upon us? What a wonderful idea! This time of year is so festive, we wind up “pissing brandy and crapping plum pudding,” as my old grandad used to say after too many eggnogs on Christmas Eve. Scatological anecdotes aside, we all love parties, and we love the holidays – but entertaining can be overwhelming. Luckily, I spent many years as Co-Chairman of the Fabulous Party Association, and I’d like to share some tips and tricks we learned throwing the annual Formal Holiday Historical Costume Ball.
Step 1: Be Sure to Start Planning Months in Adavance
Wait – do you mean to tell me you didn’t start already? All that nonsense about Christmas in July – that’s fine, if you like to leave things until the last minute. Starting in June allows you to hand-select a guest list, arrange the venue and theme, save for the copious amounts of food and drink you’ll need, and give you time to build custom decor, like a folding screen of festive greenery. Give yourself time.
Step 2: Select a Theme and Stick to It
Ostensibly, sure, your theme is “The Holidays” – but isn’t that awfully vague? What if someone comes dressed as Canada Day? That would be disastrous. People enjoy dressing up, and while you’ll never be able to entirely eliminate the jeans-and-t-shirt contingent, by enforcing a policy of costumes, or fancy attire, you’ll really set your event apart. Plus, people are more likely to remember “that Edward Gorey themed party” than “one of the fifty parties I went to over Break” – even if they’ve been copiously drinking.
Step 3: Carefully Choose Your Entertainments
It’s important to know your guests, and what sort of things they enjoy. At the FPA, for years, we’d try different parlor games, usually picked to match the theme. We made sure to keep track of how they were received.
If you don’t have any standard party games of your own, feel free to ask in the comments.
One of our most successful games was our festive winter murder mystery. Select guests were given roles and scripts –
– and throughout the night would re-enact certain scenes, giving away clues to the rest, who were left to piece the mystery together. Despite some misunderstandings, there had not been a real murder.
Step 4: Make Sure Those Entertainments Include Fabulous Prizes
If you’re making people dress up, shouldn’t you give them a little incentive? Costume contests are great for that. People love to outdo each other. You may find a stage handy at this point.
Step 5: You Really Ought To Have Room For Dancing, Too
And room for not dancing, as well. For every two guests who are rabid for the next surprise thrill you’re about to unveil, you’ll have one who wants to sit, and indulge in pleasant chat or vicious gossip. It’s wise to have a spot where those more low-key individuals can rest.
If a conga-line spontaneously breaks out after the period-dance-lesson is over, you’ll know that both types of guests will be just fine.
Step 5: Capitalize on People’s Vanity
We can all agree that people love seeing pictures of themselves, right? Set up a thematically-appropriate photo op they won’t find elsewhere and take everyone’s portrait. Tell your victims prey guests that while all pictures will be available online, that they can receive an 8×10 print for a suitable donation. If necessary, use guilt. They’ll buy.
Step 6: Some People Suck
Sweetie – can I call you Sweetie, Gentle Reader? – Sweetie, I have a secret. Despite all your hard work, despite your careful planning, despite all the money you’ve sunk into a single night to show your friends and family a good time – despite all this, Sweetie, some people are going to be like this:
And you know what the secret is, Sweetie? That’s okay. You can’t worry about it – you’ve done your best to make everyone happy for one festive night, and while you can be a good host by offering to freshen their drink or help them to another canapé – you still have a huge number of guests who are having a good time. You can’t worry about people like this.
It’s not that you don’t care, it’s just that, as host, you’re far too busy organizing every damned thing to ensure that every other damned person does enjoy their damned night.
No matter what you’re celebrating, Gentle Reader, I hope you have a festive party or two to attend.