How To Choose a Party Theme: Party Planning 101

Party Planning 101 - How To Choose A Party Theme via Chrystina Noel

This year I will be doing a series about how to plan a party when you have no idea where to start. I’m super excited to share with all of you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way on my party planning adventure.

How to choose a party theme might seem like a strange place to start, but I think it’s the most important. Once you choose a party theme, the rest of the decision-making process becomes much simpler.

All parties have a theme, whether it’s “just because” or celebrating a specific holiday. If you choose to have a “just because” party, you may need to be more specific in choosing the feel, colors, or menu for your party. If you are celebrating a specific holiday, a simple Pinterest search will find you all of the things you need. Here are some ideas to choose a party theme that’s right for you:

Step 1: Choose a Basic Concept

Check the calendar

A calendar can give you great ideas for party themes. Each month has its own unique set of holidays, each with its own cause for celebration. For example:

  • New Year’s Eve
  • Chinese New Year
  • Groundhog’s Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Mardi Gras
  • Patrick’s Day
  • Earth Day
  • Easter
  • Fourth of July
  • Rosh Hashanah
  • Yom Kippur
  • Diwali
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas

And if the major holidays aren’t your cup of tea, you can find plenty of smaller “fun” holidays to celebrate like: Pi Day (March 14), Geek Pride Day (May 25), International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19), or National Cupcake Day (December 15).

Think about things you love

This is probably my favorite way to choose a party theme. Things that I love include: chai, bubble tea, romantic comedies, greeting cards, Disney, singing, photography, and buffalo sauce. I assure you that each one of these things can easily be turned into a party theme (or at least menu item). For example:

  • Chai: I once hosted I “find the best chai” party.
  • Bubble Tea: I once hosted a bubble-themed baby shower and served bubble tea.
  • Romantic Comedies: I definitely have hosted at least one movie night in my day.
  • Greeting Cards: I’ve hosted parties at my house where people made Valentine’s Day cards or Christmas Cards for people they love.
  • Disney: I hosted a Disney movie marathon party for my 28th birthday where we watched Mulan and Aladdin back-to-back.
  • Singing: I’ve hosted many a caroling party during the holidays – and am still looking for enough people to host a vocal jazz reunion party form college
  • Photography: I’ve hosted events where I offered free headshots for people.
  • Buffalo sauce: I once had a beer tasting where I made buffalo chicken grilled cheese for everybody to make sure they avoided being completely plastered.

If there’s something you love, you should feel absolutely confident about turning it into a party, because there are definitely other people who love it too. Other things that have been on my radar for a while include: Hey Arnold, N64, cereal, nail polish, and PowerPoint. (Don’t ask.)

Consider being more abstract

There’s nothing to say that the theme of the party needs to be a physical, tangible thing. The theme of your party could be love. Or the color silver. Or your favorite song. Or photosynthesis. You really can pick anything as your basic idea.

Step 2: Brainstorm

You might think that brainstorming comes first, but really brainstorming comes second. Once you choose an idea, I recommend making a list of every possible thing that comes to mind about that topic. Google or Pinterest should be able to help you out here if you’re running into a problem.
Here are four examples I put together below:

  • The color purple: grapes, grape jelly, Barney, that book by Alice Walker, purple, eggplant, that big character from McDonalds – Grimace, Purple Rain, paint or draw with only purple, eat only purple food, wear only purple clothes
  • Recycling: environmentally friendly, planting, reusing materials, making outfits out of recycled materials, volunteering, farmers markets, gardening, clothing swap, book trade
  • Sock hop: 1950s music, jukeboxes, Buddy Holly, motown, poodle skirts, making poodle skirts, prom king and queen, Grease, the pink ladies, records, diners, red and white checkered things, malt shakes, trivia games, dance off, hula hoop competition, limbo to la bamba, make root beer floats, burgers and fries
  • Harry Potter: dress up like characters, turn your house into Hogwartz, Harry Potter trivia, watch a Harry Potter movie, act like your favorite Harry Potter character, play Quidditch, turn Harry Potter into a drinking game, have a book discussion

Once you have a bigger list of ideas related to the basic concept, you can choose just one specific theme where you want to spend your time, energy, and money.

Step 3: Reality check

Unfortunately it can’t all be fun and games, we need to start factoring in reality. You don’t need a full idea of what you’re going to do for the party yet, but you want to make sure that you think about approximately how much time, energy, and money you’re going to be spending. And remember not to get discouraged, you can always find a way to make an idea less complicated early in the game or add a little extra fun to a simple idea to pizzazz it up. For example:

 

Idea Start Small Add Some Pizzazz
Host an Epcot drink-around-the-world party with stations for each country. Host a tasting of a few of your favorite beers. Choose a few beers from different countries.
Host a prom-themed birthday party at an outside venue. Invite friends over to hang out in dresses and dance to music. Only play songs from the 80s.
Host a Murder Mystery Party. Play a game of Clue. Make it a drinking game.
Host a three-course meal. Host a potluck and have everybody make one of the dishes. Drink champagne.
Host a wine tasting. Pair one wine with two different cheeses. Play jazz music in the background for ambiance.

As mentioned before, there are three things you need to consider: time, energy, and money. Here is a closer look at things you should be considering when thinking about your party theme:

Time

How much time do you have to plan the party? If it’s only a few days, you probably want to stick to something simple. If you have a few weeks and the help of a few friends, you can choose something a little more complicated. We will talk more about this later on in the New Hostess series.

Energy

While this is a similar discussion to ‘time,’ it’s slightly different because energy takes your mental brain capacity into play. If you’re someone who is already over-committed – or just even somebody with very little patience in general (like myself), you’re probably going to want to choose a relatively simple concept.

Money

This is the biggest one. Your biggest costs are going to be venue, food, and drinks. So, if in your brainstorming you are able to keep those costs down, you will be well on your way to planning a budget-friendly party. Yet again, we will talk more about this later on in the New Hostess series.

Ideas

If you’re looking for a place to start, you can check out some of the previous parties I have hosted over the years.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel
Hosting a 22-Ounce Beer Party via Chrystina Noel

That’s the basic 101 of how to choose a party theme. I’d love to hear what party themes you’re considering right now. Let me know in the comments below – or I can help you brainstorm. I’m always down for that.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

As many of you know, I turned 28 in December, and as expected there was a 28th birthday party to accompany that. The theme of that party was Disney. The agenda for the party? Watch back-to-back Disney movies while coloring, drinking, and picnicking on the floor.

It was possibly the most “Chrystina” birthday party I’ve ever had. And it was the weirdest thing to not have to host the party. Why? Because we were watching movies.

That said, I still haven’t quite figured out how to talk about the party yet.

There’s that question everybody asks, “so, how did the party go?” That’s the hard one to answer.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

I don’t know. It was fun. It was pretty. The movies were excellent as per usual. But there were a heck of a lot of things I would have changed. So I’m going to give it to you straight and tell you the good and the bad.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

So if you’re one of those people that just wants to hear what went well and thinks it’s ridiculous that I’m complaining about a fabulous birthday party, just read the first half of the post and stop there. K thanks.

10 things I would do again at my 28th Disney-themed birthday party

  1. I had people vote on the movies ahead of time. There was a doodle poll. I put 10 movies on there that I would be happy to watch and I let everyone pick their favorites. At the end of the day Mulan and Aladdin were the winners, with Hercules as a very close runner up.
  2. I told people to bring a picnic lunch. It was kind of fun and it was a cost saver on money. I gave gift cards out to the people who brought the best picnics.
  3. I chose colors for the party. As Ben and I were walking around The Christmas Tree Shoppe I realized that I was going to have to decide on colors for the decor if I was going to get anything done. I decided to keep it classy with black and white. Black and white both (a) reminds me of movies, and (b) is a good way to make a kids-themed party more adult-like.
  4. I bought cake stands to use on the food table. This gave me the opportunity to vary the heights of the things on the table creating a very nice visual.
  5. I bought one coloring book and let people rip pages out of it to color. One was all we needed since everybody only had time to color one (maybe two) pictures from the book.
  6. I chose a venue that already had a projector, sound system, and DVD player. This made it really easy to bring the movies in.
  7. I borrowed the Aladdin DVD from a lovely lady in a Buy Nothing / Sell Nothing group on Facebook. I posted that I needed to borrow the DVD for a party and she volunteered her copy. This saved me a lot of money since I think Aladdin is currently in the vault.
  8. I bought balloons to decorate with. They definitely added some great height. I also splurged on a $9 Disney balloon. Way better than a bouquet of flowers since it’s still floating 2 weeks later. (And I will probably tape it to the wall when the air is finally out of it.)
  9. I made a paper chain for decoration. Paper chains are my favorite way to decorate. They’re easy and meditative to make, they look really classy, and you can always keep them for the next party.
  10. I liked that it was a kid-friendly party. No kids actually ended up coming, but as I’m getting older and I have more friends who have kids it’s nice to find a balance that works for both. (Please note: We drank the juice boxes I bought for said children anyway.)

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

5 things I should have done differently for my 28th Disney-themed birthday party

  1. I would spend more time on the guest list. For some reason I decided to make a guest list really quickly and send out all the invites. ROOKIE mistake. There are so many more people I would have loved to see. There are so many more people I was having one-on-one outings with in between the time I sent the invite and the party that I had to awkwardly be like, “hey, so you totally should have been on this list.” I’m not letting this happen again. If I’m planning a go-big-or-go-home party in the future I will definitely definitely spend more time on the guest list.
  2. I wish I hadn’t spent money on a venue. The venue was beautiful. But at the end of the day the party turned out to be 25 people total. We almost could have done that in my living room. And I could have saved a heck of a lot of money.
  3. I bought far too much alcohol. This is a common theme in my life. Ben tried to stop me. It just seems so embarrassing to run out. That said, I think I brought 4 cases and left with 3.5 cases. If not more. I also left with 3 cases of La Croix, half a dozen juice boxes, 1.5 cases of water, and at least 6 bottles of wine. Oops?
  4. I would have told people to bring slippers or a change of shoes. There’s no way I could have known this ahead of time. It was really really cold and crummy weather that day. And you pretty much walk straight from outside into a hallway into the venue. So we asked people to take their shoes off when they came in so that people weren’t picnicking in water on the ground. This made us all pretty cold (and left us with wet feet).
  5. I got the suggestion that I should have had more time for people to mingle. Essentially the party was 4 hours. That was 30 minutes at the beginning, a 90 minute movie, a 30 minute break, and a 90 minute movie. That wasn’t really time for anybody to see anybody. We also could have played some kind of game. (They suggested mafia, I was thinking Disney song lyric games. Same difference.) I don’t know if the answer to this should have been only watch one movie or have a longer party, but I felt I should pass it along.

My 28th Disney-Themed Birthday Party via Chrystina Noel

Usually I would write “I would have taken more photos” in the things I should have done differently category (because I genuinely didn’t take any photos), but I’ve pretty much accepted this is a way of life at this point. It’s just not humanly possible to remember to take photos during your own party. This is why people hire photographers.

All of the photographs in my post were taken by my friend Mary. Thanks, Mary.

11 Best Tips to be a Great Party Hostess

This past year on the blog I had a monthly “Tips to be a Great Party Host” series. Each month I interviewed somebody in my life or internet that I admire for being an excellent part host or hostess. Each month they answered questions about their party hosting style, why they love party planning, their go-to recipes & dishes, whether or not they decorate, the best party they ever hosted, their biggest party challenge, and my favorite question: what’s your best tip for someone who wants to be a great party host(ess)?

As we go into the New Year, if party hosting is something that you’ve thought about trying, but didn’t know where to start, here are the best tips from some of the best.


Tip from Chrystina at Chrystina Noel

Chrystina blogs at Chrystina Noel (right here!) about hosting parties, handmade greeting cards and how to stay in touch. The best party I’ve ever hosted was my 25th birthday party boozy brunch. You can check out my complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. My best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Give everybody all the details ahead of time. Tell them the who, where, why, when, what, but also make sure to include logistical things that will make it easier for them. Should they eat before they get there? Should they bring anything? Can they bring a plus one? Is there a theme? Is there a dress code? Where should they park? Are there any tricks to finding your street? The more details you can give someone ahead of time the more comfortable they will feel when they walk in the door.

Chrystina

Tip from Chrystina’s Mom

This is my mom. I’ve been telling her that she should start a blog for a long time, but she’s just not biting. The best party she’s ever hosted was a fathers’ day luncheon where there were a honey tasting. You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Relax and enjoy the moment – that’s the reason you are entertaining in the first place.

Chrystina’s Mom

Tip from Jessica at Sweet Love & Ginger

This is Jessica, she blogs at Sweet Love and Ginger. She’s an engineer living in the great northeast with her husband, Chuck, and their dog, Brody. She’s all about real, good food and good times with awesome people. She says that every party is the best party so long as there are happy people, food, and music. You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Just start. Don’t think too much. Just invite people over and keep it simple, or invite your closest friend and try something crazy. The only way to overcome the fear and figure out what works is to start doing it.


Tip from Beth at Recipes for Success

This is Beth. I sang in church choir with Beth for a long time, and man, she throws wonderful parties. She blogs at Recipes for Success about maintaining a healthy lifestyle for herself and her family. The best party she’s ever hosted was her wedding (and believe me, it was damn good). You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Do everything in your power to give yourself a chance to enjoy the party too. Yes, hosting a party is a lot of work but if you do some prepping in advance and plan your day right, you don’t have to spend the entire day in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun in the living room.


Tip from Brigette at Brigette I. Design

Meet Brigette! She is a graphic designer specializing in logo/identity and non-profit graphic design. (She also just won a board game creation competition which is just cool.) The best party she’s ever hosted is her annual New Year’s Eve soiree, complete with folks dressing to the nines, New Years resolution sheets, and a classic silver/gold/black and stars motif. You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Don’t be afraid to go big with your ideas, but also try to keep it simple when possible – party planning should be fun!


Tip from Heidi at Parties for Pennies

Heidi blogs are Parties for Pennies. She adores entertaining, champagne, and watermelon bubblegum. I love the way that she breaks down even the most elaborate parties into pieces that feel do-able for someone who hasn’t done it before. The best party she ever hosted was a Mad Men themed 40th birthday party for her husband. You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Have fun with the decorations and food, but remember to keep the focus on your guests! The best hostess, in my book, is one where guests leave saying, “I felt so special and loved.”


Tip from Sarah at Pretty Providence

Meet Sarah! She is one-half of the duo that runs the blog, Pretty Providence. It’s a frugal lifestyle blog where she and her best friend Jessica share cheap and easy recipes, crafts, home decor DIYs, thrifty tips, and afforadable fashion. The best party she ever hosted was her nephew’s Star Wars birthday party. You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Collect white serving dishes, they go with everything! You can find great ones at thrift stores, keep your eyes peeled.


Tip from Andy at Plum Deluxe

This is Andy. He is the founder & creator of Plum Deluxe, which is a place on the internet (and in real life) that combines delicious tea and moments that matter. It comes with a subscription service, a motivational podcast, and a weekly newsletter. He does it all. The best party he’s ever hosted was a dinner party brunch complete with a bloody mary bar and homemade biscuits. You can read his complete set of host tips and tricks here. His best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

People don’t care about how clean your house is. They care about being heard, connecting with like-minded people. So make time to listen. Have some thoughtful conversation starters. Connect people. Worry more about deep connection than dust bunnies.


Tip from Nida at Mommy 411

This is Nida. She blogs at Mommy 411 about motherhood, family life, and party tips. The past few times I’ve visited Georgia was to attend the fantastic first birthday parties of her adorable children. So much fun. She says that these two birthday parties were the two best parties she has ever hosted. (And I have the proof for it right here and here.) You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

PLAN PLAN PLAN. From ribbons to centerpieces everything requires details. And in my opinion, details is what makes a party fabulous. Go the extra mile and do the effort; results will show on there own. Hosting a great party requires a lot of hard work, so make sure you work days/weeks ahead of time.


Tip from Lauren at Lauren Caselli Events

Meet Lauren! I met her at The Yellow Conference in Los Angeles this year. She is the owner of Lauren Caselli Events. She believes that live events have unparalleled power, and I have to say that I totally agree with her (and that’s why she’s a wonderful hostess). The best party she’s ever hosted was a networking event for female entrepreneurs called The Boss Lady Bash. You can read her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Understand that your guests’ comfort is important, and try to walk through your part from the perspective of the guest. When they walk in, is there a convenient place to hang their coat? If not, have someone taking coats and placing them in a bedroom (a great job for a partner!). Are the plates in a spot that makes sense? Is there enough glassware or plastic cups so people don’t have to hunt for glasses? Think about what people are going to need before they have to ask, so you can relax during the event (or if you’re me, run around and clean up after people).


Tip from Johanna

And finally. Last, but never least, Johanna. Johanna and I have been friends for over 10 years now. Through that time I have been to countless parties, and I’m still always impressed by exactly how much she is able to pull off, and how much she has it down to a science. The best party she’s ever hosted was her husband’s 30th birthday, which was an around the world Epcot tour right in her own house. You can read about that party and her complete set of hostess tips and tricks here. Her best party tip for those who want to be a great host is:

Cover the big things first then worry about the smaller things. Only you will know if something that you had planned didn’t come to fruition by party time. Don’t forget to have fun! It’s easy to get too wrapped up in the details.

– Johanna

 

And that’s it. 11 great tips for you to consider in your journey towards becoming the best host or hostess you can be.

I’m super excited to share next year’s hostess series with you all. A lot of times I feel like I’m writing to people who already love to host parties, but I want to make sure to include some of the tips and tricks for people who are looking to start hosting parties and don’t know where to begin. I have a list of a few questions to answer so far, but if you can think of any additional ones, please let me know in the comments below.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

As promised, here’s a look at a simple Christmas table setting I put together. The past few table settings (Halloween, and Thanksgiving) I have been doing were for a full meal, but for Christmas I decided to go with a Christmas Tea Party table setting.

Instead of focusing on what items I started with before setting the table this time, I’m going to focus on the process.

Talk a walk around the house.

Get an idea of what you’re looking for in your head. I knew that I was looking for things that were red, green, and white. When I took a walk around the house I realized exactly how easy this was going to be. All of my kitchen accessories are red, and it was really easy to find red, green, white, silver, and gold teas to serve on the tray.

Mix patterns with solids

Once I chose to use my Christmas dishes (which I’ve never actually) had the chance to use before, I knew that the cups needed to be pretty plain. A dark  green would have been best, but I decided that the white ones had a clean, sleek look.

Add some nature

Bringing the outdoors in is a great way to make your table feel balanced. There were excellent intentions of getting greenery for this table. I went to Trader Joe’s. I bought flowers and greenery. I left them at the office. Then I couldn’t find time to get back to the office before setting the table. It sounds a lot like what happens during a real party, not going to lie. So I decided to use the large pine cones that Ben got at Sequoia National Park. They’ve got a nice winter vibe to them.

Use what you already have

I didn’t buy very much for this table setting (only the flowers, which never made it home). I had the plates and the napkins downstairs. I used a few of the candy canes and Andes mints from the hot chocolate bar. I’m still using the nametags I made last year (and will continue to until I run out). When I went downstairs I found the tree stump serving platter that I’ve been looking for an excuse to use which nicely complements the pine cones. And the tea tray I had bought for afternoon tea; I just added a little bit of ribbon to it. (There’s a chance I need to work on my ribbon skills.

Make the table functional

After the last party I had where I decorated the table nicely and the second the party started we moved everything off the table I’ve been a little weary of going over the top again. I tried to keep the center of the table pretty clear so that all we needed to move was the pine cones to create some extra space. It also means that people can see each other easier.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

In my walk around the house I did pull out a few things to use that I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate. They were: a silver platter, Mardi Gras beads, candles, and a red vase.

I love this (fake) silver platter. I just wish it had more height to it. I may need to buy some of those small cake stands so that I can change the levels of my dishes to add more dimension to the table. Also, it kind of clashed with the rectangular white plate.

As for the Mardi Gras beads, I couldn’t figure out a pretty way to lay them down. If I had more or ones that matched I might have been able to put them in some vases or make a chain to drape them all the way across the table.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel
A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

I also tried to use both extra tall candles and super short candles. I couldn’t use the extra tall ones because they’re not white. (I should really buy some white candles, they seem like they would be useful.) And the short candles, yet again, didn’t seem to add enough height to the table. (And sometimes they still seem like a hazard.)

Also. My intention was totally to use this red vase. (Or at least a vase.) But then I forgot the flowers at the office and I couldn’t figure out what else to put in them. If I had branches I could cut off the bottom of a tree or sticks outside I think those would have worked nicely. Unfortunately, we got our tree about 6 hours too late and I live in the city.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel
A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

That said, I’m sure all of these items will get to be used soon. I’m excited to keep sharing these tables with you. I hope they inspire you to add a little festivity to your own Christmas parties this year. Can’t wait to start working on a New Year’s table for y’all. I hope not to forget the flowers this time.

PS. This table cloth situation. I actually can’t get the wrinkles out of it. My iron hates me and my dryer doesn’t get hot enough to produce steam. Anybody have any suggestions?