Joyful Themes

Creative ideas for year-end celebrations

Frugal Festivities
Themed holiday events don't have to cost a fortune. Consider the following budget-trimming tips from event professionals.

• January is the new December. Hold the celebration after Jan. 1. The post-holiday time period is typically a slow one, thus you'll have more venue choices and likely more negotiable prices. Pacifica, Calif.-based event planner Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, notes another plus for pushing the event into 2015: The new fiscal year might allow for a larger budget for festivities.

• Share the celebration. To cut costs on décor and entertainment, consider throwing a joint holiday event with another company. Felsher recommends bundling the bash with a strategic partner, such as a vendor or customer, so employees can build relationships with people they typically don't get to see in a social setting.

• Make it a brunch. A brunch party is a great way to spend less for a holiday celebration, as menu items -- eggs, pancakes, salads -- typically are less costly than dinner fare, notes Marty Clarke, director of event management at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa. Also, guests won't expect a full bar; a choice of Bloody Mary or mimosa should suffice. 

-- Lisa A. Grimaldi

A nod to nostalgia, a celebration filled with exotic international flair and an evening at a cozy ski lodge are among the hot trends for holiday and year-end themes, according to event specialists interviewed by M&C. Following is a roundup of their best and brightest ideas for the 2014 holiday party season. Our panel of experts includes:

• Kate Brack, director of floral and event design at Los Angeles-based Eventworks;

• Marty Clarke, director of event management at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa;

• Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, an event planner based in Pacifica, Calif.;

• Andy Glanz, creative director at Tempe, Ariz.-based Encore Creative;

• Dominic Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Raj Tents, based in San Leandro, Calif.;

• Tim Seeberg, senior event planner at Boston-based BG Events & Catering.


Industrial Chic
If you're looking for a theme free of froufrou, industrial chic is the perfect solution. The elements of a raw event space that are traditionally hidden -- pipes, bare floors and rafters -- are on full display to create an über-hip party setting. Eventworks based its take on the concept on the stark, futuristic movie Blade Runner, incorporating rigging, industrial ceiling tubes and bare shelving in the décor.

Other touches include "ice flower" hangings (to incorporate a holiday element) and furniture in rough-hewn wood and steel to complement the factory cafeteria atmosphere. Tables can be decorated with florals in mugs and jars, along with candles in brown glass bottles. While any type of holiday food and drink can work this theme, the tableware itself -- plain cafeteria-style plates and utensils -- tie in well to the industrial look.

After dinner, surprise attendees with a futuristic winter dance club set up in an adjoining space. Eventworks achieved the look with blue lighting, giant faux icicles and ice flowers throughout, with huge white globe lights dangling from the ceiling. To keep with the after-party color scheme, serve a signature drink like Hpnotiq, the neon blue-hued elixir made from vodka, tropical fruit juice and cognac, along with traditional beverages.


Bollywood Bash
Exotic international themes are hot at present. Among the most popular for the holiday season is a Bollywood-style soirée. The vivid color palate associated with Bollywood (aka Hindi cinema)  -- deep reds, hot pinks, spicy oranges, rich violets and gold -- lend themselves well to the festive nature of the season.

To set the mood, exotic indoor tents and pavilions can be arranged around the event space, with walls and ceilings draped in brightly hued fabrics. The dining area should incorporate a mixture of styles: low lounge furniture with colorful cushion seats, as well as more traditional seating at round and rectangular tables. Festoon them with Indian flowers like saffron-colored marigolds and antique-looking brass lamps.

A traditional Indian buffet, accompanied by cards detailing ingredients of dishes guests might be unfamiliar with (e.g., saag paneer, vegetable korma), goes well with the theme, while entertainment can include Bollywood-style dancers who perform choreographed routines in colorful garb.


Christmas in New York
Manhattan is at its magical best during the holidays, yet the glittering charm of Christmas in New York can easily be created anywhere, with a few key touches. Los Angeles-based Eventworks suggests using props that duplicate seasonal landmarks, such as the iconic tree and angels in Rockefeller Center, the wreathed lion statues in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library, the elegant facade of Grand Central Station or the festive windows of Macy's Herald Square, to give the event space holiday charm straight out of the classic 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street.

The main dining area, festooned with twinkle-lit trees, icicles, park benches and LED-projected falling snow, can be transformed into a wintry Central Park with tablescapes in silvery hues.

The menu should be pure New York-style noshes: hot pretzels, hot chocolate, mini Reuben and pastrami sandwiches, potato knishes, hot dogs from a pushcart and bagels with spreads. For dessert: black-and-white cookies. Old Hollywood
Classic black-and-white films celebrating the season -- think It's a Wonderful Life, Christmas in Connecticut and The Bishop's Wife -- are the inspiration behind vintage Hollywood-themed events. Boston-based BG Events and Catering uses dramatic lighting (black and white in some spaces, deep blue and white in others) and the aforementioned movies projected onto dark walls to create a vintage 1940s-style ambiance.

Reception areas get the star treatment with upholstered white seating and low tables, while the main dining area can be dressed with classic red florals on elegant tablescapes draped in black, white and blue. Menu items should play up iconic fare like shrimp cocktail, prime rib, and wedge lettuce salad with bleu cheese. For drinks, offer martinis, Manhattans and champagne.


Winter White
One of the simplest ways to theme a holiday event is to keep all elements in the same color family. This year, chic white is the top hue, say event pros.

To get the look, use candlelight and snow-colored linens and plates. Centerpieces can be packed with white roses and hydrangeas for a festive snowball effect. Add yet another element of cool, wintry elegance with faux snowbanks (try Styrofoam) and icebergs (made from clear acrylic) strategically placed around the reception areas.

Carry the white theme into the party fare. One fun idea is a rice or risotto bar, where guests can dress up the humble starch with delicious and colorful toppings such as smoked duck, prosciutto, cheese or vegetarian curry. Cap off the event with a selection of luscious white sweets: macaroons, coconut meringue, white cake pops and mini cupcakes.

In addition to white wine, sparking water and clear soft drinks, consider serving a pale-hued signature holiday drink, like a ginger champagne punch made with sparkling wine and ginger liqueur, like Domaine de Canton.


Ski Lodge
Invite guests to don their favorite sweaters and chill out in the casual, cozy atmosphere of a ski-lodge-themed holiday party. Do it with rustic wood tables and seating. Room décor can be simple and outdoorsy: lots of pine boughs, berries and Christmas trees decorated with simple paper chains and ribbons. For an added touch, sleds and skis can be scattered around the perimeter of rooms or hung from the walls.

For table linens, chocolate browns and copper enhance the mountain chalet theme.

Serve winter comfort foods: Chili and grilled cheese stations, where revelers can create their own versions of the hearty favorites, are a nice touch.

Accompany dessert with a hot chocolate station, where guests can customize their cups with flavored syrups, marshmallows and liqueurs like Tia Maria or Baileys Irish Cream.