Get This Party Started

Those boring holiday get-togethers have nothing on three themed bashes that will have guests asking, "Next year — same time, same place?"

Blah, humbug. If thinking about the next holiday gathering on your list leaves you uninspired, it's time to shake up the party scene with a fresh theme that promises to liven up the season. We asked three local event planners to come up with ideas and details to pull off a memorable affair. Plus, three local chefs help spruce up your menu with selections that match each theme.


Bright Lights, Big City

Throw a party with big-city attitude this holiday by using a local, sophisticated theme that will encourage guests to break out their dressy duds. You'll set your holiday party apart from the usual onslaught of offers this time of year with invitations that
incorporate the Cleveland skyline and a bar stocked with local favorites such as Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s Christmas Ale.

Before you invite your entire address book, Michelle Felder, CEO of Felder & Co., a trendsetting luxury event and interior style firm, suggests planning a small affair for about 30 people and drawing friends from different groups.

"During the holiday times, people like to mix and mingle," Felder says of her secret to keeping a party lively. "They like to meet new people and catch up with old friends."

Just be consistent and plan to extend the invite to those same folks the following year. "If you make a tradition of your party and you don't invite someone back, they'll think something's wrong," she says.

The invite: Splurge on some stamps and send snail-mail invites. (This task is less overwhelming for a more intimate party, Felder points out.) "Think block lettering, •Bright Lights, Big City,' " she says, suggesting a photo of Cleveland's downtown skyline as a backdrop.

The dress: Encourage guests to come sporting after-five attire. Ladies, the party is a good excuse to dig that little black dress out from the back of the closet. Gentlemen, go ahead and polish up those formal kicks you haven't worn since the last wedding. Think sparkle, not stuffy.

Set the mood: For a classy twist on the disco ball or a budget-friendly alternative to chandeliers, choose tissue paper. To make pom-poms, fold tissue paper accordion style and then secure it in the middle with a piece of floral wire, twisting to secure. Then tie a length of clear fishing line or string along the center to hang it. Pull away the layers of tissue, one at a time, working from the center. Fluff into a ball and spray with glitter to jazz up the poof.

Ignite the party: Introduce a guessing game with questions about Cleveland celebrities — sports figures, infamous politicians or Hollywood stars with roots in Northeast Ohio. Avoid showerlike games. "Those are annoying," Felder says. "You want the game to be fun and intriguing." And, totally optional. "Entice people to join in at any time with a nice prize, like a bottle of wine or a festive gift for the holidays," she suggests.

Sips and snacks: Nothing beats a fully stocked bar with all the makings for a Manhattan or dirty martini. But a simple setup with wine, beer and a vodka drink that will satisfy the tastes of even a diverse crowd works too. Felder likes to choose a signature cocktail, and it's practical to make one using vodka. "That way you don't have to cater to special scotch or dark liquor," she says. "Most people will drink a nice vodka."


White Christmas

Invite guests to a tongue-in-cheek play off the classic holiday party, where you paint the night white and leave the red and green sweater (and standard black party dress) at home. "Going all white is a bit less traditional than your typical Christmas party," says Amy Hissa, president of At Last Event Planning.

The white theme brings a freshness to your holiday fete — expect the unexpected. Sweeten the deal by serving just desserts (white ones, of course). Hissa likes to begin the planning process by using Pinterest, the popular social media bulletin-board tool. She assembles a collage of photographs: a row of neat white-quilted stockings, an assemblage of elegant globe-shaped white chandeliers, invitations enveloped in doilies, white cupcakes, white chocolate, white meringues and a white tablescape of sparkly stars hanging from birch branches.

"Pinterest is one of those new tools that is sweeping the event-planning industry," Hissa says, adding that she frequently uses the online pinboard site to create themes for clients. "It's a way to collect information and ideas, keep everything organized and save links to things you like and want to buy."

The invite: "Invitations set the tone of your event," Hissa says. "So be sure to evoke the delicate details of a white Christmas with a snowflake motif." Doilies will do the trick, and you can easily line or wrap envelopes with this decorating staple. Use white or silver cardstock, and "don't be afraid to add embellishments," Hissa says. Break out the shiny stick-on crystals and shimmery ribbon.

The dress: Go for cocktail attire, Hissa says. (That doesn't mean guests have to act sophisticated at the party — remember, this theme is about breaking the mold.) You can ask guests to wear white, but don't expect everyone to get excited about specific dress directions.

Set the mood: Make the entrance to your party memorable by hanging strands of clear twinkle lights on outdoor trees and shrubs. Look for large ornaments meant for outdoor use and hang them from tree branches. Flank the front door with white poinsettias, and fill the windowsills with white candles.

Ignite the party: A white party looks crisp and clean, but Hissa says some high-energy music will get the party started. So will a round of flip cup, a drinking game that involves filling two rows of cups a quarter-inch full with beer. Two teams race to drink each cup, then flip it from the bottom so it lands top-down in one tap. "A party starts out with everyone talking, then you play a round of flip cup and it goes from a good party to roaring," Hissa says. She likes to strike up a round of flip cup at her own home parties. The guests, who are generally married with children at home, are happy to relive this college game. (Don't knock it until you've tried it.) "It builds camaraderie," Hissa says. And it keeps the party going.

Sips and snacks: Fill trays with tempting white treats: meringues, macaroons, Rice Krispies treats, sugar cookies, cupcakes, white-chocolate covered pretzels and powdered donuts. "The choices are endless," Hissa says. "Present them playfully on white plates lined with silver and printed papers, and different levels of presentation using some cake stands or sparkly boxes." Don't forget to offer small boxes or bags so guests can take their dessert to go.


Procrastinator's New Years

Go ahead, put off that New Year's party. Save a date a few weeks after the calendar year turns and you'll win points from guests for providing a much-needed break from the post-holiday blahs and permission to wait a few weeks before starting those pesky resolutions.

Sherri Foxman, founder and CEO of Party 411 and Ultimate Party Girl, says an incredible party doesn't have to be expensive, and you don't have to follow the same old party rules. Hence, the procrastinator's version of New Year's. You set the rules: Ring in the year at 10 p.m. before guests have to go home to relieve a baby sitter. Remind everyone that their diets can wait until after your party (and that 10 p.m. ball drop in your living room). "There is really no way to screw up this party, and everyone comes laughing," Foxman says. "Plus, you're not competing with other holiday parties and you fill a void for fun during the winter blues."

You have permission to wait last minute to plan this event. Here are some ideas to put off for next year's party.

The invite: Purchase mini 2013 calendars and cross off the days in January until your party date, circled in red. Be sure to write that guests get permission to put off their resolutions. And warn them that they might find holiday leftovers on the buffet table. Have fun with the invite. "You can ask guests to bring their lists of resolutions," Foxman suggests.

The dress: "It's New Year's," Foxman says. "Dress up, baby." You can enhance guests' attire by purchasing (on sale) extra-large 2013 funny glasses. "They look phenomenal in group photos," she says. Those glasses can double as seating cards if your party will be more formal. Regardless, they're great props. "A big piece of this party is decorating your guests with blowers, hats and the whole nine yards," Foxman says. "People love to be decorated, and that makes for a great party and great photos."

Set the mood: After New Year's, stock up on discount décor and plenty of it, including sparklers to hang from your ceiling. "I would go overboard because everything is on sale," Foxman says. "Get the hats, the horns, the confetti. You can go crazy at half price."

Ignite the party: Create your own countdown video using a webcam, or film some party footage and ask guests to share their resolutions. (These get funnier after the bar has been open for a while.) "Walk around and interview everyone, then at midnight [or earlier, if you drop the ball at 10 p.m.] show the video," Foxman suggests. "Because it takes some time to watch the video, it becomes a piece of entertainment and it gives people something to talk about." Another idea to promote mingling: Hang a giant calendar on the wall and let people write down their 2013 plans or resolutions.

Sips and snacks: You're not really going to save Aunt Carmen's green bean casserole from Christmas dinner, or Granny's cheesy potatoes. But have fun with food labels at the buffet. Tag the plateful of pigs in a blanket as "kids' dinner leftovers" or the slow cooker of simmering sides as "Baked Beans from Uncle's House." Serve heavy hors d'oeuvres, and speaking of those pigs in a blanket, don't go too sophisticated, Foxman warns. "When we do parties with kid and adult buffets, the adults always end up eating the hot dogs and cheese squares. We all love those things."

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