PARTY THEME: HOST A NEIGHBORHOOD CAROLING PARTY FOR THE HOLIDAYS

This has to be one of the coolest holiday traditions I know about. My in-laws (ex) host a huge neighborhood caroling party on the 23rd of December each year. It started out as an actual house-to-house caroling party but quickly evolved to a party at their home with a hundred folks gathered around the two beautiful Steinway concert grand pianos in the music room. (She's a classically trained pianist and has played at Carnegie Hall, twice!)

All of the neighbors come and bring a dish, many of them have become almost as much of a tradition as the party itself. The college kids always make it home from school in time for this party... everyone arrives early and stays late. Certain songs are sung each year and people wrangle for the best parts. The Twelve Days of Christmas parts are handed out and some of the youngest kids have a chance to perform, too. Many of the neighbors are also talented musicians and singers; many are involved in local theater and very respected church choirs. In other words... the music is good. Now, I am sure you are wondering how I am involved and why I still get to go even though it is the ex-in-laws... well, I bring all of the fresh cut greenery from the farm and help do all of the decorations. And I'm fun :)

This is a party for all generations and a wonderful tradition you should start in your own neighborhood.

THE FOOD

Like I said, everyone pitches in and the host provides the beverages and a couple of the most requested dishes. Amy's Egg-Nog is also one of the highlights... in both high-test (spiked with bourbon) and regular versions. Sam's famous Erma Bombeck Dip has been a Christmas tradition as long as I can remember. But it doesn't last long!

THE DECORATIONS

Since the house is already decorated for the holidays, decorating is easy. Vases of fresh greenery, Poinsettias, and candles (where the kids cannot knock them over) are all you need. Snip the ends of greenery and keep it outside in buckets of water until party day. Put your arrangements together the morning of the party and they should stay fresh through the holidays.

THE ENTERTAINMENT

Print copies of your favorite Christmas carols and staple them together so guests can have the words in front of them. If you are not lucky enough to have a concert pianist in your group, call the local college music department or a nearby church... and if you don't have a piano, get someone who can bring a keyboard. If all else fails, there are plenty of sing-along CD's or Karaoke tracks available. Have a well-rounded mix of carols to sing... include classics like Oh Holy Night to popular hits like Santa Baby and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. One of the highlights of this party is when the men sing "Walking 'Round in Women's Underwear" to the tune of Walking in a Winter Wonderland. It is hysterical to see bankers and lawyers and even cops singing that one.

Here's to the holidays... create some memories with those you love. And your neighbors, too!

Photos: Arden Photography

EASY PARTY THEME: HOST A CHILI COOKOFF!

Are you ready for some football? Get the whole gang together and host a chili cook-off!

Bring a “throwdown” to your tailgate or your kitchen as the competition heats up when guests battle for first place with their best chili recipes. You might even make it an annual event with a "traveling" award that goes from winner to winner each year.

One of the easiest parties to host for every occasion from game day to neighborhood get-togethers... a chili cook off can become an annual event with big bragging rights on the line!

One of the easiest parties to host for every occasion from game day to neighborhood get-togethers... a chili cook off can become an annual event with big bragging rights on the line!

THE HOW-TO: Send out invitations or call your guests to issue the “cook-off” challenge. 

Your guests should bring their best chili concoction in a crock pot or slow cooker. Iinclude printed copies of the recipe to share with other guests, if desired.  

When the guests turn in the chili, number or name it for voting and make up a ballot. Ask everyone to taste and vote for their favorite. Award prizes for first, second, and third place.

  1. Decorations for can be as simple as football themed plates and napkins. Instead of flowers, get a simple flowering plant at the grocery. Set out bowls, serving spoons, lots of napkins, and have kitchen wipes on hand for drips and spills.
  2. Have other munchies to have on hand for snacking.
  3. Use bowls and trays for snacks instead of their original packaging.
  4. Pass snacks for guests glued to the game.
Make up ballots and award prizes. If it is an annual event, create a trophy that can be passed down from year to year.

Make up ballots and award prizes. If it is an annual event, create a trophy that can be passed down from year to year.

Make a condiment station with different types of crackers, Fritos, grated chesses, sour cream, chopped scallions and peppers, chopped onion, Tabasco or other hot sauces, etc.

Set up a condiment station with hot sauces, crackers, and other toppings.

Set up a condiment station with hot sauces, crackers, and other toppings.

Ham Delights are one of those recipes I've been making for 20+ years and still get requests for all the time. People never get tired of them!

Ham Delights are one of those recipes I've been making for 20+ years and still get requests for all the time. People never get tired of them!

Find a good spot to set up the bar; make sure it is away from the food to avoid congestion. Bloody Marys are a good choice for this party. Ice down some beer or wine and your bar is set.

Chili cookoff party Martie Duncan

PARTY THEME: BACKYARD OLYMPICS PARTY

One of my favorite party themes for summer fun for the 4th of July or a get-together with the neighbors or cousins is a Backyard Olympics party. Easy to host; all you need is a big back yard and some creativity! Old school lawn games like the sack race, three-legged race, egg and spoon race, wheelbarrow races, hula-hoop contest, bubble blowing contest are just the ticket for summer fun. This is also one of the most affordable party ideas because most of the games require very little in the way of supplies.

All photos: Arden Ward, Arden Photography

Backyard Olympics Party games Martie Duncan
Get the gang together for some old-fashioned fun by throwing a Backyard Olympics party this 4th of July.

Get the gang together for some old-fashioned fun by throwing a Backyard Olympics party this 4th of July.

Hula-hoops and other backyard game supplies can be found at the dollar store or toy store.  Oriental Trading Company  has many backyard party games available online.

Hula-hoops and other backyard game supplies can be found at the dollar store or toy store. Oriental Trading Company has many backyard party games available online.

Old fashioned games like the "wheelbarrow" race or the three-legged race make for lots of laughs and summer fun.

Old fashioned games like the "wheelbarrow" race or the three-legged race make for lots of laughs and summer fun.

FOOD & BEVERAGES

It is an All-American theme keep the menu classic with hot dogs and hamburgers or fried chicken. Whether you make the food yourself, get it at the store or your favorite restaurant, or asks guests to bring a dish, that's up to you.

Deviled eggs, potato salad, slaw, and pickles are traditional picnic side dishes that we can never seem to get enough of in the summertime. Apple pie topped with homemade (or store-bought) vanilla ice cream completes the All-American menu.

Dispensers of ice cold sweet tea, lemonade, and flavored water (orange is always a good choice) makes serving easy and keeps bartender duties to a minimum.

Set up a beverage station at the game course with a big tub of bottled water, sports drinks,  and other cold beverages on ice so the kids stay hydrated.

DECORATIONS

It is a Red, White, and Blue Patriotic theme for this party so use leftover 4th of July themed napkins, flags, ribbons, and other supplies to give an Olympic village feel to the table decorations. Hydrangea is a wonderful summer flower; use them in clusters and you'll only need a few stems.

Make quick lanterns using LED lights or glo-sticks and a piece of scrapbook paper. Easy, pretty, and functional, too.

ENTERTAINMENT

The games are the fun for this party. A frisbee toss, baggo, croquet, badminton, volleyball, bocce ball, and kickball are all great games if you have the equipment. There are so many fun yard games to play that require little or no equipment at all. Remember the wheelbarrow race, three legged race, egg toss, egg and spoon race, and