The words, 'let's throw a party' are enough to make all of us smile. After all, everyone loves a party, don't they? Certainly as a child the thought of going to someone's party was exciting, if perhaps filled with a few anticipatory nerves.
Back in the day children's parties were fairly straightforward affairs. You turned up, played pass the parcel, musical chairs, ate salmon paste sandwiches, downed lashings of jelly and ice cream and then left with a goody bag containing a balloon, coloring book, plastic toy and some penny chews.
These days children's parties have upped a level or two from that. They're now big business, with parents agonising for weeks about the right type of party to throw to maintain their beloved child's status. There's often an underlying concern about their child fitting in, learning what's expected, connecting with the 'right' children.
Granted, many parents both work, have had to deal with their divorce or have evolved into nuclear families. These factors can make organizing a party at home a little complicated and besides, who has the time or inclination to deal with the mess!
Gone are the days of fish fingers and mini-burgers at the local cafe too. As sophistication levels rise you're far more likely to find themed parties at the local football club, ice rink, petting zoo or farm, with face-painting, magicians, tractor rides and baby animals in the mix.
Young teenagers expect themed discos, make your own pizza or go-karting competitions with any travel requirements provided by stretch limos or fancy buses. They're into mocktail mixing classes, makeup and stylish clothes.
Adult parties have become more elaborate too. Yes, you may find the occasional barn dance or hoe-down with a meat and potato pie to follow, but the invite is often accompanied with costume requirements, so the fringed jacket, cowboy hat, gingham shirt and boots are all requested to make an appearance.
Throwing an adult party can sometimes necessitate the services of a party planner if things start to escalate. In lavish cases ice sculptures, table dancers, acrobats, 'naked butlers', photo booths, choreographed dance routines for guests and acts flown in from overseas are provided to ensure a good night is had by all.
Far more usual though are specially themed evenings, like cooking parties, cocktail-making, fancy dress parties with Star Wars, James Bond or a specific decade being featured. Save the date cards may be sent out in advance. Printers, florists, make-up artists, caterers and costumiers are all on speed-dial, as are the venue managers who are expected to dress the event and provide gifts for guests at every table.
But what about other less extravagant ways to ensure an excellent party experience? I know of people who, having bought their new home, provided paint and asked friends to come round and write messages or graffiti on their bare walls. Afterwards everyone ate a hotpot supper as they laughed about their handiwork, the walls providing a long-term acknowledgement of those friendships.
Or a safari supper, where everyone who lives nearby cooks a course and the dinner party moves from one house to the next throughout the meal, ensuring less individual expense and a fun, varied evening.
I've been booked for 'WeTalk' parties where the host or hostess provides drinks and nibbles and I introduce topics for discussion, allowing guests the opportunity to talk about relevant, poignant matters, share ideas and come away feeling they've had a pleasant , engaging time with the benefit of some added mini-therapy.
For me, at my last two decade birthdays I invited family and friends to a sit-down meal, the last one with 'George Michael' providing the entertainment. It was great fun with lots of positive feedback, so much so that I was tempted to repeat it the following year, rather than wait another ten years. That was until I realized how quickly one year passes. Repeating something too soon or too often can lessen the excitement, potentially making something special become quite jaded.
Are the best parties so good because they occur infrequently? Are we in danger of entering a 'how will I / they improve on last year' mindset, where it all becomes pressurized and competitive? Also, are parties becoming more about the venue than the occasion, more about the paraphernalia than the people and relationships?
Remember those old-style parties where everyone gravitated towards the kitchen, drinking beer and warm wine, balancing the odd sausage roll or cheese and pineapple on a stick! Everyone had a lot of fun.
Have we lost the essence of what parties are for, the reasons why we enjoy them? The important motivating factor is meant to be a desire to get together and celebrate, whilst taking the pressure off the host (s), so that they too can enjoy them. Whilst your life may not always be a party, your party certainly should be!