Fun and easy desert-Mex party

Relax, the secret to throwing a no-fuss holiday party is simple: Stick to a theme. Here's how

Poolside red and white-themed holiday party

Photo by Andrea M. Gómez

Quick and easy holiday party plan

The theme: Desert-Mex fiesta

Why: Bright colors, easy food everyone loves, and a surprising alternative to eggnog.


Modern holiday fiesta

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

The setup: Creative color scheme + dramatic decor

Red and fuchsia are a bold new take on a holiday color combo. A little of each goes a long way.

Fresh, colorful bouquets of carnations

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Pops of color

Set out masses of flower market-fresh carnations (right; about $7 per bunch).

"Papel picado", or paper banners

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Festive flags

Hang flirty papel picado (perforated-paper banners pictured; from $13 each;

Cranberry Margaritas

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Cranberry Margaritas

Save yourself from mixing drinks through your whole party by sticking to one cocktail for everyone.

Plan for three to four drinks per person for a two- to three-hour party, and offer pitchers of chilled water garnished with fresh citrus slices, basil, or mint, as an alternative.

Recipe:  Cranberry Margaritas

Bean and Chicken Taquitos

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Maximize it

Stick to large quantities of just a few snack items. Trust us: No one’s going to miss a thing once you bring out a platter of taquitos and sides.

Recipe:  Bean and Chicken Taquitos

Party side dishes, like jicama with cayenne, and pumpkin seeds

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Simple sides

Put out a few dips and nibbles to go with your main dish. For this fiesta, guests will love guacamole, salsas, jicama strips with lime and cayenne, spicy toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and jalapeño-stuffed olives. 

Santo candles are used for party favors.

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Take-home treat

Match activity and favors with your theme. Give santo candles (below; $2.95 each;

Custom-made pinatas

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez


Get in a festive state of mind by cracking open some piñatas from Rainbow Custom Made (above; from $40; 415/642-8606).

Old-fashioned candy

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Filled with cheer

Stuff piñatas full of nostalgic candy (The Candy Store, 415/921-8000) to shower your guests with sweets.

Drumstick flowers in a Chinese tea tin

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

3 More party themes: Dim sum + tree decorating

Great dish + simple sides  Naked Shrimp and Chive Dumplings, rice, and a variety of store-bought Asian dipping sauces

Cool cocktail Lager-style beers (try Session from Full Sail Brewing Co., in Hood River, Oregon) or extra pale ales (try Steelhead from Mad River Brewing Co., in Humboldt County, CA)

Color scheme + decor idea Blue and yellow + drumsticks (Craspedia globosa) in tea tins

Fun activity Follow tree-trimming with a mah-jongg marathon

Thoughtful favor Personalized fortune cookies (from 41 cents each;

Paris theme party ideas

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Party à la Paris

Great dish + simple sides Cheese plate (set out a handful of cheeses in a range of styles and milk choices). Sunset loves Pondhopper semisoft goat cheese ($26 for 16 oz.;, Edam-style Tulare Cannonball ($14 for 14 oz.;, and Crater Lake Blue ($25 for 16 oz.; Add breads, crackers, fruit, and a variety of chocolates

Cool cocktail Sparkling wine. Try a classic brut style―a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, such as Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut 2004 (Green Valley of Russian River Valley; $33)

Color scheme + decor idea Red and brown + tissue-paper flowers (fan-fold tissue paper and secure with pipe cleaner “stems”)

Fun activity Compare notes during cheese and chocolate tastings

Thoughtful favor Decorative notebooks for guests to record their favorite flavors

Middle Eastern party theme

Photography by Andrea M. Gómez

Middle Eastern magic

Great dish + simple side  Spiced beef pockets and sesame yogurt sauce

Cool cocktail  Tangerini (martini made with tangerine or blood orange juice)

Color scheme + decor idea Turquoise and gold + metal lanterns with piercework details (from $7.99;

Fun activity Shimmy the night away with a belly-dancing instructor (or how-to DVD)

Thoughtful favor Gift box of dried fruit and nuts

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