Old Is New Again Party Themes and Ideas

OK, not the Abingdon Book, but close enough.
OK, not the Abingdon Book, but close enough.

Parties with a central theme have been making a comeback, assuming they ever went away. I don’t remember birthday parties as a child having a big bash mentality of a particular Disney character, or  something like Sponge Bob Squarepants paper plates, streamers and prizes. I, myself, had very few parties. My upper crusty pals did take the kids to bowling, or a  Three Stooges matinee, the rest had simple party hats, cake, and presents for the birthday kid NOT for the partygoers, as it seems is required today. Even when hosting a birthday for a friend’s child, no theme, until one kid was old enough to emulate me, ha, and ask for a Halloween birthday, in April. (It was fantastic, naturally due to our spooky decor).  Now, it is de rigueur to create an extravaganza theme for the kiddies–I heard one mother went loco creating a spa themed party for her daughter, with high end favors like designer nail polish, moisturizers and hair products. I even think she had a professional stylist attend. The trend has spread to adult shindigs too. Recently a friend’s adult daughter helped throw two birthday parties–one with a high school “Under the Sea” theme, the other a high class restaurant on an outdoor pier. Both were fantastic fun and huge successes. However, there must be much pressure involved at first, to find the perfect idea to match the personality of the honoree, and if not a birthday, but some general occasion, an even greater stress put upon the hosts to top the last person’s soiree. I have just the hip guide for them. The Abingdon Party Book by Ethel Owen.

Ethel Owen also wrote Halloween Tales, so  right there, you know you’ve hit an expert. Anyone who knows Halloween inside and out, must be of high caliber.  Ethel’s other titles include: A Year of Recreation, A Book of Original Parties, Parties that are Different, The Happy Party Book, and The Pumpkin People (how dissimilar can Original Parties be from Parties That Are Different?) In case you’re wondering what or who Abingdon is–that’s the press that printed the book. First published in 1925, it had several print runs, with my copy dated 1937. My dust jacket has out of register but still vibrant little images of old Art Deco bridge tallies, something used at every bridge party–and believe me, bridge parties

A typical 1920s party?
A typical 1920s party?

were of the utmost importance back then. Most of the population knew how to play. We came across a lovely bed and breakfast hostess who has played bridge with the same women for over 50 years, the ones still alive, naturally. She agreed to how important the game was once, and wonders if it will survive through the upcoming generations. Who knows, it may come back in favor to the point where bridge parties will have special themes again.

The first party listed in the book is a bit unspecific for my taste. A Personality Party–one makes invites in the shape of a girl doll– side view–bonnet and all. Hand color but no need to make distinctive faces, they can be left blank. This is how the invitation goes:

I crave your society at my party Personality,

To addd to the gaiety, In this world of sobriety.

Please come as a celebrity,

To contribute some jocundity,

And we can show stupidity

To guess your mock reality.

Just below you’ll find the date

To joy the time we’ll dedicate

Your brains we’ll try to lubricate,

The Prizes then we’ll allocate.

Booklet on ideas for paper costumes.
Booklet on ideas for paper costumes.

Ethel Owen has all sorts of games to be utilized–and she lists partners for supper–I suppose assuming people came dressed as the characters within. Naturally, Josephine is with Napoleon, and Cleopatra wouldn’t think of attending without Antony. But Desdemona and Othello? That seems a bit uncouth. Dining with your murderer?

At first I thought the next listing was a political thing–The Progressive Party. I found it means you start at one person’s home, and then progress in meal course at the next person’s. That’s much more reasonable than what I first had pictured.

This one sounds so creative! An Artistic Party. Ms. Owen claims ‘almost limitless scope’ for invitations to be sent for this type party. She lists grades of paper, how one can draw little scenes, use “Japanese wood stationary, which comes already decorated”. She also suggests the attendees where paper costumes they’ve created just for the event. Everyone votes for best costume, the winner is awarded with a little crepe paper doll. This idea must have been extremely popular throughout the teens and twenties, because Dennison Paper had beautiful crepe made up in a variety of designs and motifs, and not just for their famous Halloween Bogie Books. Childhood nursery themed crepe, St. Patrick’s and other smaller holidays images, as well as the bigger ones, like Christmas were among their lines. These folded packages are mighty valuable now, given the transient nature of crepe paper. At this party the guests are required to create great works of art, within twenty minutes, with such implements as sand and toothpicks; watercolors and plain china; charcoal and plain pine board; a pair of scissors, some pieces of silk and a tube of paste and a piece of cardboard. She writes: It’s sometimes surprising to see what wonders can be evolved in twenty minutes.” I bet is surprising to see what crap people come up with too. I cannot imagine asking guests of mine to create something from nothing as a night’s entertainment.

If all else fails, there’s always the Suggestion Party. Why not make the guests work? They are all required to write up little games and suggestions as to what to do at the party, and when every one has arrived, the suggestions are read aloud and decided upon. It is urged the hostess make sure she has a couple of games prepared as well.

Suggestion Party takes  just too much damn chance for me to want to enter into-what if no one has any decent suggestions? It reminds me of the trailer for the funny movie, Bridesmaids that didn’t make the final cut of the movie. The women are kicking around ideas for a themed wedding shower, and one comes up with ‘fight club’. I think I make my point.

More super duper party ideas from the Abingdon Party Book in Part Two.