Holiday Party Central: 4 Budget-Friendly Themes

The fully stocked bar, the gourmet spread, the tabletop and dining room decor. Don't have the budget it takes to host a glamorous holiday party? Fake it with one of these four fabulous (and wallet-friendly!) party themes.


Holiday Party Idea No. 1:
Fete of Fire and Ice

Before you head inside for winter hibernation, why not kick off the holiday season with a marshmallow toasting and chestnut roasting party? Dine outdoors or, if you live in an area where the chill is more of a freeze, invite guests to feast in your dining room before stepping outside to warm dessert over an open fire. Spark up the fireplace, dim the lights and fill the room with candles. Dress the table in the natural colors of winter. Find your palette in shades of white, cream, chocolate brown and icy silver. Easy essentials like white china and plain glass stemware work perfectly. Go one step further and add elegance to your tabletop with festive silver chargers (glass or acrylic fakes are great!). Pick up a few bunches of white and cream roses and—staying true to the season's stark color palette—strip them of their leaves. Make numerous low, tight arrangements and intersperse them with the candles. Feeling crafty? Amp up your candles by brushing them with glue and rolling them in white and silver sprinkles. Trim individual, handwritten place cards with the same glitter. In keeping with the toasting and roasting motif, sprinkle the table with sprigs of chestnuts. As favors, stuff individual cellophane bags with chestnuts and ingredients for s'mores. Keep your menu warm and hearty: think soups, stews and roasted autumnal vegetables. And for the evening's signature drink, how about a White Russian, the ideal sip for this winter soirée? To turn your backyard into a winter wonderland, spark up several outdoor fire pits (certain to get plenty of mileage over the next few summers) and litter the snow-covered lawn with candle-filled lanterns and paper luminarias. To keep quests warm and cozy, offer comfy blankets, furry scarves and snuggly wraps, stashed in pretty baskets near the door. After an evening filled with food, drink and fire your guests will be ready to stow away for the winter... until your next holiday party, that is.

Holiday Party Idea No. 2:
Roaring '20s Masquerade Ball

An evening with Jay Gatsby awaits you at this 1920s-inspired masquerade ball. It may sound decadent, but you can afford it. Black, white and purple are the stars of this event. Ask your guests to come in ragtime garb and handheld masks. As the hostess, greet your guests at the door with festive favors like strands of pearls, boas and top hats that can be found at any local dollar or craft store. Decorate the space with arrangements of white or purple flowers mixed with feathers in your same color scheme. Free-standing taller vases filled with stark white spray-painted branches can be used to add height to the room. Finish off each vase with a large black bow tie. Add elegant fun by stringing silver glitter disco balls and handmade white snowflakes from the ceiling. Finally, scatter small glass votives throughout the space to add ambiance. If you're going to splurge somewhere, this sort of party is screaming for a dance floor: a black and white checkered look would be the icing on the cake. The menu should stay classic and simple. To stay within budget, hit the frozen-food section of the market. Cheese buffs, blintzes and mini quiches will provide the vibe of the '20s with the convenience of today. Serve on mirrored tiles, found at any hardware store, to maintain an Art Deco vibe. In honor of Prohibition, ditch the typical pitchers and decanters and fill your tub with gin martinis. If you lack an actual tub, invest in freestanding metal wash basins and mix them up there. Bourbon, scotch and whiskey were the era's poison, so get inventive and create your own recipe for a signature drink perhaps entitled the Prohibition Martini. To get the party rocking, start with jazz, kick it up with the Charleston and top it off with contemporary beats '- and get ready to party like it's 1929... before the crash!


Holiday Party Idea No. 3:
Goodwill Gathering of Friends

Sometimes, as we give in to the hustle and bustle of the season, gaze at our brightly wrapped presents and compose endless wish lists, we can forget that the holidays are also a time for giving. In the spirit of giving, swap a large holiday blowout for a more modest gathering of altruistic souls. Invite some friends and family over for a late-afternoon charity-inspired event. Want to feed a family in need? Ask each guest to bring an ingredient that will ultimately help you create your pre-planned menu. To keep things merry, prepare the food while jamming to music, sipping wine and tasting the treats. Go with a simple menu of your easy-to-make faves: roast turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, holiday iced cookies and homemade apple cider. To ensure that all are involved, break into groups: some to wrap, some to bake and some to cook. Don't forget to involve the kids. This is a great chance to teach them the true spirit of the holiday. Collect the baskets and boxes you've been receiving throughout the season and use them as lunch boxes. Keep the look natural by wrapping care packages with cut brown paper bags and raffia string. Attach a nice handwritten holiday note for that always-appreciated personal touch. When all is complete, donate your gift boxes to your nearest soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Your small gift box will lift someone's holiday spirits and enrich your own experience. Ultimately an evening of good friends, good food, and good deeds...


Holiday Party Idea No. 4:
Winter Solstice Soiree

Do as the ancients did and celebrate the shortest day of the year (December 22) with a lavish winter solstice bash. This fete is all about sensory overload. Decorate with warm colors, heavy fabrics and plenty of candlelight. Garnet red, cognac brown, and gold will round out your palette. Wrap your feasting table with fresh pine, holly and dried wreaths. Mix it up with fall and winter fruits like apples, pears and grapes. Illuminate these centerpieces and table decorations with natural candlelight: standing glass lanterns and large freestanding candles in the same reds, browns and amber tones. Play medieval music, and if you have the means, spark up your fireplace, an intimate touch that's always appreciated on cold winter nights. Paper lanterns strung from the ceiling in the party's colors will be a perfect and affordable touch. Serve warm drinks like hot cider, beer or even old-fashioned mead in goblets, beer steins or mugs. Brandy shots, a quick warmer-upper for the soul, will do the trick as well. To further warm your guests from the inside out, serve hearty comfort foods like cassoulet, a perfect rich but inexpensive dish. Additionally, any of a multitude of soups served in chic individual shot glasses, meats and vegetables served on skewers, hard meats, rich cheeses and bowls of nuts and dried fruits will round out the evening's menu. Eat, drink, and be merry until the fire goes out, the candles burn down, and there is but a sip of brandy left in each snifter.

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