Ideas for the Party Human

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I’m going to interrupt this thread of Anniversary Parties to insert a description of my daughter’s 14th birthday party.  She is a fan of the book and movie series “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.  After a few peeks at Pinterest, this is the party we came up with.

THEME:  The Hunger Games books/movies

INVITATIONS:  We found a printable image we liked, printed it on cardstock and cut it out in a circle, with the message inside.  We assigned each guest a different District and invited them to dress in the style of that District.

Our invitations

Our invitations

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  District badges (images from the internet printed and cut out); toy bow and arrow sets and targets (we used stacked paper cups); colored tissue paper, streamers, ribbons, bows, scissors and tape; small Post-It notes; enough chairs for each guest minus one; party favors of your choice.

FOOD:  We decided to have a Capitol Feast, and we brainstormed on what to serve.  We set the table with a lace tablecloth and nice china and labelled all the food.  Here’s what we had:  Capitol Pizza, Katniss’ Wild Strawberries, Peeta’s Breadsticks, Fishy Crackers (from District 4), sparkling cider (the Capitol’s Best Bubbly) and Nightlock (Poison Removed).  I made the cake (my daughter’s choice) and tried to duplicate the symbol on the invitations with my (very) limited skills in cake decorating.  


We also had ice cream with the cake.





DECORATIONS:  We put up a few yellow and black balloons and streamers, but did not feel the need for more than that.  As mentioned, the feast table was set very nicely.

BLOW-BY-BLOW:  As the guests arrived, they were given a badge to wear stating their District.  While waiting for others to arrive, they practiced their archery skills.






Then they sat down for the great Capitol Feast.








There was, of course, a toast to the Mockingjay (in this instance, the birthday girl).






After the Feast,  we brought out boxes of ribbons, packages of colored tissue paper, scissors and tape.  We paired up the girls, and they went to work creating  fashion costumes for the Grand Parade, something relating to their district.  They took turns being the Designer and the Tribute.039






When the first batch was done, we had them model their costumes, while their Designer narrated.




Then they switched, and the Tribute became Designer for their partner.







After those costumes had been modeled, we went outside to play “How Did I Die?”  This is simply “Who Am I?” with a mode of death on the post-it note on their back, instead of a person.  We used deaths from the Hunger Games books.






Then we played “District Switch.”  This is the same as Fruit Basket, but everyone is assigned their District number, instead of a fruit.  The chairs were placed in a circle, and the person in the middle was It.  She called out two district numbers, and those two girls had to switch seats before It could steal one.  Whoever was left out was the new It.  When It called “District Switch,” everyone had to scramble for a new seat.  The girls had a lot of fun with this one.








After this, the birthday girl opened her presents–many of which were Hunger Games-related.







Then there was cake and ice cream, and the girls went outside to play some more District Switch while they waited for their parents.  When they left, we gave them bookmarks and cookies from the “Mellark Family Bakery.”  I dressed as Effie Trinket and served and coordinated.066







Everyone had a great time!


THEME:  Halloween, harvest time

INVITATIONS:  One idea is to make lollipop ghosts to carry the message.  Use spherical suckers like Tootsie Pops or Dum Dums.  Write the invitation on one side of a piece of white tissue, paper or fabric (or use a white handkerchief).  Place it message-side down over the lollipop and tie a string around the “neck” of the ghost.  When the guest uncovers the sucker to eat it, he will see the message.

            Another idea is to use “ghostwriting.”  Write the message on a plain piece of heavy white paper or an index card with an invisible ink, such as diluted lemon juice, ordinary cow’s milk, sugar water (about 1 teaspoon to a glass of water), orange juice, grapefruit juice, onion juice, honey water (about 1 teaspoon to a glass of water), or vinegar.  Use a toothpick or fine paintbrush to write the message in the secret ink.  Below the invisible message, write in regular ink something like:

                        “Ghostly writing you cannot see,

                        But on this page a message be.

                        To work the magic, have no fear;

                        Warm the page; see words appear.

                        A hot iron or stove will work just fine;

                        Use care, and you’ll soon read each line.”

            The inks are affected by heat quicker than paper, and thus the compounds in the inks break down to form carbon before the paper does.  The writing will usually appear brown.

            In the message, ask the guests to dress in Halloween costumes which do not restrict vision and movement.  Tell them to meet at a certain place, which is where the hayride will begin.  They may also be asked to bring food items, if you so desire.  This party works well for teens or young adults.

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  Truck or wagon filled with bales of hay; old barn; materials to make a short “spook alley,” such as cardboard, fabric, crepe paper, black lights and florescent paint, dummies, sound effects, etc.; prizes for costumes (Scariest, Most Original, etc.), such as oranges with jack-o-lantern faces painted on them, packets of roasted pumpkin seeds, or more ghost suckers; square-dance caller and/or music and stereo.

FOOD:  The way you serve the food can add as much to the party as the kind of food you serve.  Suggested beverages are homemade root beer or apple cider.  Mix the root beer in a big black cauldron and add dry ice.  Try serving the cider in a well-cleaned, chilled pumpkin with a face painted on it.*  (If you like sparkling cider, you could put  dry ice in your apple cider, too!)  For food, serve fresh doughnuts, popcorn balls and apples, and maybe a Halloween Pumpkin Cake (two bundt cakes put together to form a pumpkin).

DECORATIONS:  Decorate the spook alley area of the farmhouse or barn to be as scary as possible.  Use your imagination to create ghostly scenes, jack-o-lanterns, coffins, cobwebs, spiders, skeletons, witches, monsters.  You can make floating ghosts by covering large balloons with white plastic garbage bags, tied at the “neck,” decorated with eyes and mouth and hung from the ceiling with thread to match the background.  Or, you can dip cheesecloth in a stiffening compound, such as sugar-water or thinned glue, and drape it to dry in the shape of a ghost.  In the dark parts of the spook alley, make the most of different textures, sounds and smells.  A piece of cardboard shaken back and forth sounds like thunder, and raw rice dropped on a pie plate imitates rain.  A few flashes of a strobe light and you have a full-fledged “dark and stormy night.”  Haunted houses are most successful if they provide lots of surprises, sudden jolts when things appear out of nowhere or very loud noises sound without warning.  Before planning it all out, stop and think about what really frightens you!

            Decorate the barn dance area more in a harvest-time style.  You can arrange scarecrows, cornstalks, pumpkins, squash and Indian corn at the entrance and in the corners of the room.  Some black and orange streamers might be desired, or you could hang a giant spiderweb (complete with giant spider) in a corner.  Place bales of hay around the room for seating, and you might use lanterns for some of the lighting.  Keep the middle of the room  clear for dancing.

 BLOW-BY-BLOW:         When the guests arrive at the appointed place, take them by hayride to the place of the spook alley.  On the way there, you (the host) lead them in singing or tell scary stories.  Helpers may sound creepy noises from the woods. 

            At the farmhouse (or separate section of the barn), all is dark.  A silent, cloaked figure leads the guests through the “haunted barn.”  He may break the silence to offer information or stories to make it all the more eerie.

            The guests exit the darkened spook alley into a well-lit barn.  You or some parents then judge the costumes and award prizes for Scariest, Most Creative, etc.

            With the costume-judging done, the square-dance caller begins teaching simple dances, and everyone joins in.  He takes a break for refreshments and ends with more square-dancing.


Variations and Comments:  If you feel the costumes might be too much of a hindrance in the dancing, you can omit the costume-judging and ask the guests to come dressed Western, country-style or in Halloween colors.

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[*]Dian Thomas, Today’s Tips for Easy Living, Holladay UT:  The Dian Thomas Company, 1982, p. 73.

THEME:  Our pioneer heritage

INVITATIONS:  Cut construction paper into shapes of covered wagons and write the messages on them.  Or, if you are hand-delivering the invitations, make miniature covered wagons from matchboxes, wire, tissue and cardboard.  Write the message on slips of paper which you fold up and place inside the wagon.  Ask guests to dress in pioneer garb, if possible.   This party could work for teens, young adults, adults, or families.

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  At least two homemade “covered wagons” or handcarts (made from children’s red wagons or packing crates); guitar or harmonica player; copies of the lyrics to some old songs, such as “Oh, Susanna,” “Old Folks at Home,” “The Old Chisolm Trail,” “Home on the Range,” “All is Well,” etc.;  meadow with campfire area; logs for the fire; folding chairs; props and script for the melodrama.

FOOD:  At this party, you can choose to serve a full chuckwagon dinner or just some simple refreshments.  For the dinner, try to make it as authentic as possible.  For the main dish, try Wild Game Chili or Venison Stew.  If game meat doesn’t sit well with your group, use conventional beef.  Cook the dish at home but keep it warm over the campfire.  You could also try foil-pack dinners, cooked right in the coals.  To accompany the meal, serve Pioneer Crackers or baking powder biscuits.  Top off with Bachelor’s Pudding, mincemeat pie or homemade taffy.  Drink herb tea, or water from canteens.

            If you’re just rustling up some light refreshments, you won’t need so much authenticity.  In addition to the desserts mentioned above, you could have everyone roast marshmallows for s’mores or just by themselves.  If you prefer a saltier snack, beef jerky and fried pork rinds are possibilities.

DECORATIONS:  Only those that Nature provides are needed, but some outdoor lighting to supplement the campfire might be nice.

 BLOW-BY-BLOW:         As guests arrive, you, the host, take them around and introduce them to the others, using quaint and rustic speech.  Then divide them into teams, one for each “prairie schooner” or handcart.  Lining up at a starting line, the guests run a relay where the team members must push or pull their team’s vehicle to a finish line and back, until all the team members have completed the “trek.”  The first team to do this wins the honor of being called “The Trailblazers.” 

            If you are serving dinner, then the guests now gather around the campfire and partake.  If not, pass out the lyrics to the old songs, and the guitarist or harmonica-player accompanies a sing-along.  Next, it is time for some Charades, using only pioneer words and names.  The last activity of the night is a pioneer melodrama.  You draft certain guests to play the starring roles, and the rest will act the important part of audience, complete with participation–heckling, cheering, booing, hissing and the like.  The participant who will be the narrator takes a moment to look over the script, while you prepare the other players with costumes and props.  When all is ready, the narrator begins and the actors and actresses follow his cues, improvising and ad libbing as inspiration strikes. 

            When the drama concludes, the guests settle down before the fire again to eat dessert (or other refreshments) before heading home.


Variations and Comments: You may wish to use some alternative activities, such as dancing the “Virginia Reel,” or playing old-fashioned games like Musical Chairs or Wink.  Another idea is to have the handcart teams take their vehicles on an obstacle course through the woods, where Indians (well-placed helpers) ambush them.  Time each team with a stopwatch, and give a prize of beef jerky to the team with the best time.  Or, eliminate the competitive element and take everyone on a trek fraught with dangers and difficulties, ending by “circling the wagons” around the campfire.  You could also interject a bit of real history to educate your guests a little!  There are loads of possibilities.

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THEME:  Gypsies, folk dancing and folkloregypsy fortune teller

INVITATIONS:  Cut a good-sized triangle out of bright-colored construction paper and make many narrow snips along two sides to make it look like fringe on a gypsy shawl or scarf.  On the paper, in your best calligraphy, write:  “Look into the crystal ball, and you will see yourself having a wonderful time at the Gypsy Party.”  Then write all the necessary information, including the fact that they should come dressed in their best gypsy attire.  Also, you may ask guests to bring a mess kit or metal pie plate.  Fold and place in an envelope with a small marble for the “crystal ball.”

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  Meadow and campfire pit (backyard and barbecue grill could be substituted); buffet table or gypsy wagon; hanging cast-iron kettle or Dutch oven; fuel for campfire; “fortunetelling” tent, if desired; folk dance music and caller or instructions; portable, battery-operated stereo; materials for any games desired.

FOOD:  The menu we suggest is Hungarian Goulash, hot dogs (bratwurst or sausages might be better than regular wieners) with all the trimmings, crackers or soft breadsticks, a variety of cheeses, apples and a fruity punch.  (You might ask guests to bring some of the smaller items.)  For dessert, you could make S’Mores or Banana Boats.  This is a menu teenagers should enjoy, but if you’re throwing the party for adults, you may want to do some research and have some more authentic Romanian or Hungarian food, as long as it can be cooked in the fire.

DECORATIONS:  Since this is an outdoor party, you need very little decoration.  If you can round up a portable refreshment stand, you might decorate that to look like a gypsy wagon and serve the food from it. 

            Some lanterns hanging from tree branches will add atmosphere as darkness approaches.  Burning “tiki torches” and buckets of citronella candles serve for extra light as well as for keeping the insects away.  Be sure to keep the main campfire burning constantly. 

            The gypsy “fortunetelling” tent, if desired, should be the old army type and could be created with old blankets, ropes and poles.  Inside, have a place for the “fortuneteller” to sit by a small table covered with a fringed shawl.  There should be a hanging lantern or a battery-operated candle.  The gypsy may use a “crystal ball” (a bowling ball covered with a handkerchief would be funny) for her “revelations,” or she may simply do “palm-reading.”  There should also be a chair in which the “victim” may sit.

 BLOW-BY-BLOW:         As the guests arrive, they may visit the “fortuneteller” and receive silly information about their “future.”  (The gypsy fortuneteller should be someone who knows each guest well, has a great sense of humor and a flair for the theatrical.  No one should be led to believe that they may take these “fortunes” seriously, so the more hilarious, the better.)  If the fortunetelling is not desired, the guests may help with building the fire and setting up the food for cooking.  Then, when all have come, a helper takes over at the campfire, and the gypsies are asked to sit in the meadow.  They listen as an instructor teaches them a simple folk dance, then they dance to the music played on the portable stereo.  They may learn several simple dances and enjoy practicing them until the food is ready.

            To signal dinner, the helper bangs loudly on a pot, and everyone comes to fill up their mess kits or pie tins.  You, the hostess, can provide paper cups and plastic silverware.  After the meal, if it is still light enough, the guests may adjourn to the meadow for some old-fashioned outdoor games.  When darkness falls, the fire is stoked up, and one guest who plays guitar well begins to strum some familiar folk songs, and everyone joins in.  After the songs fade, another guest, who is a good storyteller and has come prepared, begins to tell some spooky stories.  When everyone is sufficiently nervous, the guitarist plays one last soothing song, and the fire is put out.

 Variations and Comments:  This party was originally given for teenagers at a church camp.  We soon learned that the area was too large for the number of youth that we had, and it was difficult to keep everyone together and participating.  For this reason, a backyard or a park area with clearly defined limits might be best for an adolescent party.  Adults, however, would probably enjoy space and would be less likely to sneak off to go exploring.

            Additional activities can be added according to the features of your party area.  You might have the gypsies meet in one place and go “begging” at designated back doors in the neighborhood for handouts, until everyone reaches the place of the party.  (Make sure the neighbors are willing to cooperate, first.)  Perhaps you might like to take a short, night-time hike with candles in lanterns or flashlights.  Or, maybe there is a stream, and you could float tiny, candlelit boats down it.  (Be sure to have a place downstream where you can collect them and remove them from the river.)  You could have the gypsy fortuneteller dream up some wild “gypsy legend” and tell the guests about it, then have helpers do little unseen things to make it look like the legend is coming true.  A little brainstorming could bring up even more ideas!

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     This is another variation of the Capture-the-Flag Party posted earlier.

THEME:  A space-age setting, such as in the “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” movies

INVITATIONS:  Try to use the “highest-tech” format you can for inviting your guests, which would probably be something through email.  If this is not practical, the invitations could be computer printouts rolled or folded up, placed inside very small containers and delivered.  You could choose familiar characters from popular science fiction movies, television shows or books (such as members of the Alliance and the Empire, as in the “Star Wars” movies), or you can make up your own space-age characters in two opposing sides.  This party would be best for teen or young adults.

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  Similar to the Mystery variation, posted earlier:  Large area of varied terrain; symbolic items such as flags or secret weapons, etc.; any other props desired, such as “ray” guns or other toy weapons, “communicators,” space helmets, binoculars, listening devices, etc.; long table(s) and chairs.

FOOD:  Since no one knows what space-age food will be like, try to serve the most exotic, modern dishes that you can.  The meal should be elaborate enough to qualify as a small banquet.

DECORATIONS:  For the most part, these will be restricted to the banquet area, though you could set up high-tech command centers for each team, if desired.  Decorate the table in an elegant and very modern way.  Let your imagination take hold!

BLOW-BY-BLOW:         Follow the same format as in the other variations, posted earlier.

     Another variation on the Capture-The-Flag Party–

THEME:  The wild, wild west; Cowboys and Indians or Good Guys and Outlaws

INVITATIONS:  If you choose the Cowboys and Indians motif, you could write invitations on paper and tie them around arrows to send to the cowboys.  For all other invitations, tie message around a rock.  Hand-deliver or leave on doorsteps.  Use appropriate language in the invitation, and ask guests to dress according to their given identities.  You may also ask them to bring food for the supper.  (Again, use horses only if most of the guests are quite familiar with them.)  This is a good theme for teens and young adults.

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  Similar to the versions previously described:  Large area of varied terrain; symbolic items such as a peace-pipe or headdress for Native Americans, a cowboy hat or flag or mailbag for the “good guys,” and a bank bag of play money for the outlaws; shelters at each team’s headquarters, if desired, such as tents, tepees, huts or covered wagons; horses and saddles, if desired; any other props desired, such as rope, toy guns, neckerchiefs, toy bows and arrows, etc.; long table(s) and chairs.

FOOD:  Should be typical western fare–hearty stew, biscuits, baked or fried potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, etc.   Sarsaparilla would be great for a beverage.  Serve watermelon or apple pie for dessert.  If possible, you should cook the meal over a campfire (or in a Dutch oven in the hot coals).  Try to round up tin mess-kits for the guests to eat on.  (Aluminum pie plates will work, too.)

DECORATIONS:  Cover the dinner table with a red checkered cloth, with perhaps a western-style arrangement of dried flowers for a centerpiece.  Set up a good campfire, and a chuckwagon to serve the food from would be very effective.  If you use horses, decorate the Indian’s horses with feathers, blankets and beads.  Be sure to have a place to stake them with plenty of food and water.

BLOW-BY-BLOW:         Follow the same format as in the posted variations:  The guests form teams and introduce their characters; the teams choose leaders; you, as host, present each leader with his team’s symbolic item and explain the motives of the conflict between teams.  You then delineate the division of the area and give each team an equal number of horses (if desired). 

            The teams set off, with ten to fifteen minutes to set up their stomping grounds and work out their plans.  The play continues on wit and creativity until one team takes possession of the symbolic item of the other or the specified amount of time is up.  The guests are then called to the dinner table by a cowbell or triangle, make peace (a pretense of smoking the peace pipe might be enacted between Cowboys and Indians) and boast of their brave deeds as they eat the “chow” provided.

     Here is another theme variation for use with the basic Capture-the-Flag Party mentioned in an earlier post.

Guests dressed in medieval costume

Guests dressed in medieval costume

THEME:  Middle Ages, Knights and Ladies–inspired by tales of King Arthur and books like Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott

INVITATIONS:  These will be very similar to the Fantasy version.  Write the message in Olde English lettering (stencils and fonts are available) on parchment scrolls.  Again, assign each guest a character on one of the two teams (Black Knights, Ladies and Hags vs. White Knights, Princes, Princesses and Maidens).  Ask them to come in costume and bring an assigned dish for the feast.  (If  the majority of your guests are good riders and you are going to use horses, let them know in the invitation so they can dress in clothes that will not hamper their riding.)  Tie with a ribbon or seal with sealing wax stamped with a ring, and deliver. 

MATERIALS FOR ACTIVITIES:  These will be much the same as for the Fantasy version:  Large, wooded area; one flag or other symbolic item for each team; maps of the land and/or any other props desired; horses and saddles, if desired; long table(s) and chairs.

FOOD:  The feast should be traditional English fare from the period, such as roast fowl, corn on the cob, savory breads and cakes, potatoes, meat pies, Yorkshire pudding, “Toad in a Hole,” pastries and steamed plum pudding.   Again, serve grape juice or apple cider for drinks.

DECORATIONS:  Similar to Fantasy Version.  At the feast table, a large canopy festooned with ribbons and flags would be effective.  You might choose symbols for each team and put them on flags or signs at each team headquarters.  If you use horses, deck them out with lots of ribbons, and have a place to stake them with feed and water.

 BLOW-BY-BLOW:         When guests arrive, separate them into their teams by their given characters.  Follow the basic preliminary procedure as in the Fantasy Version:  Guests introduce themselves; teams choose leaders; you give leaders flags or other symbolic items (swords, crowns, shields, goblets) and explain conflict between teams.  (Perhaps the Black Knight believes he is rightful heir to the throne and determines to kidnap the Princess and hold her for ransom until he is given the King’s sword.)  Then explain the division of the land and give each team an equal number of horses (if desired). 

            The teams now take off and are given ten or fifteen minutes to set up their domains and plan their strategies.  Imagination takes over until one team captures the symbolic item of the other or a stalemate is called after a specified amount of time.  The guests return to the feast table, sign a treaty and eat the meal while relating their deeds of derring-do.

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