Raise your hand if you love to party. Well, that’s crazy. We do, too! So we called on Hallmark Creative Marketing Studio designer and social media maven Shannon B., who has been throwing annual Garlic Parties for the past 20 years. She’s sharing some of her best tips for pulling off a theme party that spans the decades.
This year will be my 22nd annual Garlic Party. What started as a get-together with friends who love the odiferous bulb has grown into a party of epic proportions. Like, legendary.
No, really, people fly in for this thing.
It all started with a holiday party my husband and I attended years ago. There was a beautiful bowl of what appeared to be tomato dip in the center of the party table and a platter of crusty bread. I could smell the garlic just being in the same room. Every other dish had been demolished yet this one appeared to be untouched. Puzzling. We tried it. Loved it. Ate an enormous amount of it. We couldn’t figure out why no one was eating this amazing concoction. Until my husband went to refill his drink and a friend backed slowly away from his dragon breath. Mystery solved.
We decided it was a shame something so fantastic go neglected. My solution was to have a party where everyone brought a garlic dish so it didn’t matter if we were breathing all over each other. No one would be able to tell. And so the Garlic Party was born. It was so successful we actually had two the first year!
I’m a sucker for a theme party and this is no different. In addition to guests bringing delicious garlic-laden dishes – a prize in itself – there are actual prizes! Everyone votes. Awards are won. The garlic theme even occasionally appears in the prizes. Though after 21 years it’s tough to keep finding things specific to garlic without repeats, so I’ve expanded the rewards to include other culinary gifts and artwork. In our 20th year, the winners were awarded a multicourse dinner party with wine pairings at our home.
When it comes to theme parties, I’m all about supporting that theme whenever I can work it in. Every year, I take lots of photos and add them to an album that plays on the TV during the party. In addition to photos, I have images of quotes about garlic interspersed. I have voting and number cards to identify the dishes, both with a subtle garlic bulb background. Before the days of social media, I created themed invitations by wrapping a garlic bulb in tin foil with the info on a long white strip of vellum to mimic a Hershey’s chocolate kiss.
We’ve done luminaries to light the walkway to the house (even though you can smell the garlic blocks away) by weighing lunch sacks down with sand, tucking in a tea light, and stamping the front with a garlic bulb. The house is always decorated with lots of candles and garlic bulbs for the evening.
Music is another great way to support a theme (or even BE the theme). My favorite music for the Garlic Party is the soundtrack to the movie Big Night mixed with some opera. Anything that will evoke that festive, Italian feeling. And because decorating the house isn’t enough, I don my garlic earrings as well. In addition to fun prizes, the top winner of the night gets their photo taken with the Garlic Crown to be incorporated into the next year’s slide show.
This theme, prizes, and probably bragging rights, inspires some healthy competition and creative dishes. Gone are the days of a head of roasted garlic and a loaf of bread. We have been presented with everything from quail to popcorn, dessert to drinks including garlic chili popcorn, garlic martinis, garlic ice cream (a second place winner and way more amazing than it sounds!), pumpkin ravioli with garlic sage butter, dark chocolate truffles with a garlic center and bacon “handle.”
I recommend doing as much ahead of time as possible so you can enjoy your own party. I make the garlic chocolate chip cookies the night before. I’m certain that if I did not make the cookies and the Garlicky Gilroy Chicken Wings every year, there would be a riot. I print the voting cards and numbers and cut them out early in the week. Prizes are wrapped, tables are set, and wine glasses get pulled out the night before. You should also give your playlist and slideshow a trial run so it goes smoothly come party time.
In addition to food, there are plenty of ways to play off a theme. Consider any of these:
Music – a decade or genre can provide lots of inspiration for themes
Movies – have a favorite movie or genre that you could build a party around? Have it running in the background or make it a watch party.
Interests – gaming, sports, hobbies – how about a cocktails and coloring party?
TV shows – celebrate the season premiere or finale of your favorite show – this is always a good one to bust out the costumes.
The Garlic Party has turned into something I never anticipated or could have hoped it would ever be.
What theme party would you start? Find more of our party inspiration here!