Theme party ideas: sugar and spice 

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The 'get your Coz on'

Three words: Ugly. Christmas. Sweaters.

You know: Frosty, Santa, reindeer, candy canes, snowflakes ... the sweaters that school administrators and depressed office secretaries wear throughout December.

They were the sole dress requirement for last year's holiday party at my friend Licia's house. She outfitted us upon entry with the fruits of a successful shopping trip to The Arc. Suddenly my girlfriend wasn't hot, and I felt like a douchebag fit to be an extra in Christmas Vacation.

Enter the charm everyone else looked as stupidly cheery as we did, and the getups only got funnier with warm holiday booze. Particularly on people we didn't know before the party, the sweaters looked extra dorky.

First impressions will forever connect faces to, say, airbrushed Christmas trees decorated in sequins. Licia still laughs about meeting a longtime friend's new boyfriend, who donned a lucky Christmas vest in a sea of sweaters.

Licia says she got the party idea from a photo she saw on a fuzzy glamour shot on a friend's fridge, where the girl and a friend had worn ugly sweaters to a Wal-Mart portrait studio for a faux photo session.

By the way, extra points for a turtleneck.

Matthew Schniper

The warm-and-toasty

Soup, bread and wine. What could be a tastier combination?

When the leaves start to change color and the air turns crisp, I know it's time for soup night. About five years ago, my husband and I started hosting this now-annual event. I whip up two (or three when I'm crazy) monstrous pots of homemade soup, and our guests are required to bring either a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine to share.

One year we ended up with an overload of bread, but it's proven more common to end the evening with an excess of wine a more pleasurable problem to have.

I've always enjoyed introducing people, and soup night has become an inexpensive and easy way to bring together lots of friends from all the corners of our life.

Because, really, who can turn down a pot of piping hot pumpkin soup, Irish soda bread and a glass of chardonnay? Or cheesy cream of broccoli, rosemary foccacia and Pinot Noir?

I know I can't.

Kirsten Akens

The real crowd-pleaser

Everyone loves a good toy for Christmas. And the older you get, the better the toys become. At least that was my conclusion after attending a Pure Romance party last year at my sister's house. This particular adult-toy party was for ladies only but I think a couple's get-together would be more fun. (Read: less squealing and more beer.)

Throughout the party we took turns thumbing through the catalog, trying out various lotions and lubricants on our hands and staking claims on the electronic toys the hostess brought for display. The prices are reasonable a B.O.B. (battery-operated boyfriend) costs around $60 and an Ice Ice Baby runs about $40. Both are highly recommended ... by the hostess, I mean.

We also saw a variety of spa products, games and novelty items think glow-in-the-dark condoms and penis-shaped playing cards, which, incidentally, are not the easiest things to shuffle.

Sure, Pure Romance is set up like a Mary Kay scheme, and they'll try to recruit you. But the hostess at Rachel's party wasn't pushy, and her spiel was only about five or 10 minutes long. Plus, peddling adult toys is way cooler than selling Tupperware or overpriced makeup, and Pure Romance doesn't require you to relinquish control of your soul to promote their products.

Check out pureromance.com for information about hosting a holiday party that gives new meaning to naughty and nice.

Amanda Lundgren

The beach bash

My friend Kevin Stonehill, from northwest Indiana, loves the beach along Lake Michigan. Because Christmas is too cold for bikinis, Stonehill and his friends remade the beach in the 1,300-square-foot basement of his beachside house.

To prepare, Stonehill and two friends shoveled three truckloads of sand in through a basement window.

They set up a tiki bar, tiki lights in the shape of chubby faux Caribbean gods and even got plastic, beach-scene wall-covering.

Everyone wore board shorts and bikinis. (Stonehill himself actually donned a coconut bikini top and grass skirt, along with some of the ladies.) I asked another friend Doug Grady if anything eventful happened.

"We partied until 8 the next evening, so it all blurs together."

Although he does recall a sandy wrestling match between a guy nicknamed Chicken Wing and a female friend.

What does Stonehill remember? The sand. It took Stonehill a week to recover, including two days to get all the sand out of his bed, his fridge, off the oak floor and ceramic tile on the upper floor of his house. He dug a path to the laundry room in his basement so he wouldn't track sand upstairs when he washed clothes. Finally, a week later, he dug the sand back out of his basement and spread it around in the backyard.

I guess living beachside has its advantages, and disadvantages.

Frances Gomeztagle

The classic

The idea was made famous nearly 30 years ago in the movie Animal House. Well, actually, the ancient Greeks had the idea first, but toga parties are a classic party theme that never goes out of style.

Just this summer, I went to my first toga party. My friend Nicole and I spent only about 10 minutes or so picking out the perfect sheets for the party (mine being the sheets I had as a kid, which were covered in hot-pink roses come on, how much more festive can you get?). The hardest part of the whole thing was trying to figure out how to tie the toga, which, thanks to our good friend google.com, was actually not all that hard.

Figuring that it might be like most parties I go to, where a theme is set but people are usually too scared to fit the dress code, I was surprised to see everyone wearing togas. The party was a blast and definitely worth the drive to Fountain. As a side note, the toga turned out to be perfectly comfortable beer-drinking attire.

Sydney Hamilton

The throwback

The good thing about being a lady is that you can always just wear a side ponytail to these things.

Rip your jeans. Smear that loud orange-magenta lipstick on (the tube you thought was so sexy when you assumed it would go on red).

You can always just draw your eyeliner past the corner of your eye, and wear something sparkly off the shoulder.

But then you get there. To the '80s party. To the room swelling with Michael Jackson gloves and perfectly pointed Madonna boobs just waiting to take out an eye. You always feel so inadequate.

Next time, you tell yourself, next time you will prepare. Next time, you will go to the thrift store two days no, two weeks ahead of time. Next time you will be Cyndi Lauper. Next time you will be a Care Bear.

Next time it will be you in those pointy Madonna boobs.

J. Adrian Stanley

The puck-up

Rehearsal dinners can be stuffy affairs, slightly dressed-down versions of The Big Day.

The first hint that my sister's rehearsal would be different should have come from the invitations, printed in the style of tickets to a Colorado College hockey game.

Wear black and gold, we were advised.

OK, I thought, at least I wouldn't have to dust off my 10-year-old navy blazer that had been raining its ornamental buttons at formal events across the country.

When the next-to-big day arrived, I wore a black sweater over a yellow shirt. Understated, I thought.

My sister, sharing no similar concern, wore a hockey jersey with a long tiger-tail trailing behind her.

Hey, she is a CC alum.

The costumes drew laughs at the rehearsal itself, and helped set a certain mood for the barbecue afterward. Combined with a live broadcast of CC playing DU, the event took on an extra air of festivity.

Maybe there's a metaphor in there about life, love, fighting and fun. I am happy to say I never thought about it at the time. I was too busy eating, talking and watching a hockey game.

Anthony Lane

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