Pink is not my color. But for my fifth birthday party, I decreed every girl attending wear a pink dress. My bossy little self commissioned my mother to bake and decorate a pink cake topped with five pink candles. Pink paper napkins and Mama’s go-to pink concoction of Hawaiian punch, pineapple juice, and ginger ale completed my party vision.
That is when a future party planner popped out of a polka dot box with a handful of confetti, a fringed party horn between her chapped lips, and a penchant for themes, recipes, and extreme lists.
My silly party seems self-indulgent. But celebrating a person’s trip around the sun or latest accomplishment or big social event or needed attention should be uniquely about them. One definition of celebrate is to honor a person with festivity.
When planning a celebration for someone, I first discover a few things about the person to guide me in esteeming them with an event that is especially designed for them.
Theme: What do they love? What wonderful memories or unrealized wishes of similar occasions do they have? How do they like to celebrate?
Favorites: What are their favorite colors? Food and drink in all categories? Social activities?
Once I have collected enough intel, I figure out how music, decorations, napkins, party favors, and sometimes games can enhance the gathering while supporting the theme and respecting the person or persons being celebrated.
For example, this summer I threw a pool party for a friend who turned forty in January. Stupid Covid hijacked the winter, so we planned her first ever birthday pool party. She wanted a Hawaiian theme. Easy-peasy. Earth sustainability is one of her passions. (We share a disdain for plastic straws. Save the sea turtles!) I purchased very affordable plates made from fallen palm leaves along with reusable bamboo straws that were engraved with “Save the earth one straw at a time.” Party favors were scented shower steamers from her Amazon wish list. While these little details were perfect for any Hawaiian party, more importantly, they mattered to my friend because they spoke to her sensibilities.
I helped plan a wedding shower for a friend’s son and fiancée. I did not know the couple, so I read about them on their wedding website. In one of their stories, a tiny mention of them folding dollar bills into origami fish sparked an idea. Instead of purchasing a gift, the other hostesses and I contributed to their honeymoon fund with five, ten, and twenty dollar bills folded into origami fish. The couple saw the dozens of currency fish dangling from fishing line over the bar. They smiled and immediately commented on the recollection of a moment early in their relationship. The cash was helpful, but the reaction to a sweet memory was priceless.
Knowing how to celebrate someone is a little like knowing their love language. Some people savor written or spoken words instead of a glorious pile of wrapped gifts. Others relish an over-the-top extravaganza with a large group rather than quality time with just a few. My super social older son enjoyed his surprise 16th birthday party, but my younger son would have bolted out the door if I dared to repeat the plan when he turned 16. Seasons of life also dictate personal celebrations. I attended a fabulous 50th birthday party with a karaoke machine for a friend, but the year before she requested an English tea party with a few girls.
My birthday is in July. I love to use this occasion to celebrate my friends in my home and pool. I’m still bossy: No men. No children. No gifts. Bring a friend. I share my favorite things through the food and drink offerings. Sometimes I nod to childhood traditions, and sometimes I present new obsessions. I always play 70’s music and give bubble bath party favors. My goal is to create a container of hospitality where conversation and appreciation abide.
Celebrating someone is an expression of love and gratitude. All it takes is a little research and creativity to honor them with festivity. Pink dresses optional.