Celebrating Special Occasions : Scheduling Family Celebrations

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What we're going to look at here is how to make sure that you schedule your plans for smooth results—no all-night cleaning marathons, no last-minute runs to the gas station for bags of ice, and no short tempers.

Things You'll Need 

  • A calendar

  • Your lists of important family dates—birthdays, anniversaries, and so on

  • Your family's planner

Putting Important Dates on Your Family's Calendar

The more people you have in your family, the more things you'll have to celebrate—and the harder you'll find it to keep track of them. Making sure everybody knows what's coming up is key. So every year when you get your new planner for the next year (or at the beginning of the new year if you're using a system that doesn't require a new planner), gather the whole family together and discuss the events you already know about for the coming year. You'll have annual events such as birthdays and anniversaries, and you'll have the year's special events such as graduations and weddings.

Make sure that you enter the appropriate dates into your family's planner. You may also have some speculative possibilities. For example, you might have a good idea that the Cub Scout in your family will be receiving an award at the spring Scout dinner. These dates should get “penciled in” so that as other activities come up for the same date all family members are aware that there may be a conflict and, at most, they can make only tentative plans for that date. Throughout the year, other occasions for family celebrations will come up. The dates should be brought to everyone's attention and entered into the family planner immediately.

This initial family planning session of the year is also a good time to discuss any preliminary ideas of how you'll celebrate the important dates and who will be involved. You might want to require everyone to be available for a family dinner on each person's birthday, but mom and dad may choose to have a quiet dinner for two on their anniversary. At this point, nothing is really definite but the dates. Still, getting a feel for how each family member may be expected to participate will make the actual scheduling process easier when the time comes.

Even though all of the dates are recorded on your planner, you should safeguard against having one of those dates arrive without your having prepared for it. So, for each date you enter, also enter a note six weeks earlier reminding you that the event is upcoming.

caution

When it comes to important dates, don't rely on your memory; use your planner. Even the most memorable of occasions have a way of sneaking up on you. Especially, don't rely on other events to trigger your memory if those other events don't happen on a fixed date. Many national holidays are tied to such roving days as “the first Monday of the month” and can move around datewise by a whole week, so by the time they jog your memory, your special day could be a week in the past!


Setting Aside Enough Time to Celebrate

Celebrations come in all shapes and sizes, but you can categorize them into three types of activities for the purpose of working them into your family's schedule:

  • Private family gatherings can produce some of the most treasured family memories. These celebrations don't involve anyone but the immediate family. They are smaller and less formal—and require less planning and preparation time. Birthday dinners (especially for the adults in the family), anniversary dinners, Mother's Day brunches, or acknowledgments of significant achievements with special desserts all fall into this category.

  • Throwing full-blown parties will seem more appropriate for other events. These celebrations involve inviting people outside the immediate family. They are larger and more structured—and require more planning and preparation time. Graduation parties, weddings, and end-of-season team parties fall into this category.

  • Another type of celebration is the kind where you or your family are invited guests. These celebrations can be family events hosted by extended family members or important milestones being celebrated by friends. You'll find that your planning and preparation to attend these events will be much different from the planning and preparation when you and your family are in charge.

No matter which type of celebration you're having, you'll need to be involved in four phases: planning, preparation, celebration, and memorializing.

Planning

You'll know it's time to start the planning phase when your six-week advance reminder comes up on your family's schedule. This is the time to make some crucial decisions about the flavor of the celebration. Everyone in your family who will play a part in the event should be involved in this initial phase because you want to make sure that everyone is in agreement about how the celebration will shape up.

Begin by clearly defining everyone's roles. Decide at the beginning of the planning process who will be involved in the making of key decisions about the celebration. Consider the person whose milestone you'll be celebrating and whether that person should be participating in decisions about the celebration. Children over the age of three usually have some pretty definite ideas about what type of birthday party they would like to have. On the other hand, the honoree at a retirement party might prefer to just have to show up rather than be involved in any planning.

And sometimes the party isn't really about the guest of honor at all; first-year birthday parties, infant baptism receptions, and traditional graduation dinners with grandparents tend to be more for the hosts. Of course, the planning of surprise parties by definition doesn't receive input from the person who is the reason for the party. Make especially sure to include in the planning anyone who is likely to have a strong opinion or a hesitancy to participate so she won't feel that her ideas have been overlooked.

After you've established who will be responsible for the planning of the event, you'll also want to get clear about who will make the important decisions about the celebration. You don't have to—and probably shouldn't—let one person make all of the decisions. For example, it's certainly appropriate for a six year old to be able to choose between yellow or chocolate birthday cake. At the same time, a parent, while taking into consideration the child's preference, should be the one to determine whether a party at the ice-skating rink is acceptable.

At this early point in the planning phase, you'll need a decision on what type of event it will be. You don't want to make this decision in a vacuum. Instead, use your family planner to help you, by looking to see what the weeks leading up to the event and the days immediately after the event already have in store. A logical sequence of decision-making will go as follows:

  1. Decide who you'll want to attend: just your immediate family or a more extended group. One aspect of this decision is what the person who's reaching the milestone would prefer. Some people like big parties in their honor, and other people prefer quiet family gatherings. Another aspect is the type of milestone. More people invite friends to a 25th wedding anniversary celebration than to a 17th anniversary event. Sometimes the situation calls for both types of events. Many 10 year olds like to have both a family birthday dinner and a party with their friends.

  2. Consider whether you want to have the event in your home or at another location. Sometimes the nature of the event will determine this answer for you. If you're throwing an ice-skating party, then you know where it will have to be held. Other times, family circumstances lead you toward the answer. If your family budget is tight, remember that parties at home where you do most of the work are less expensive. In another case, if your general sense is that the family will be going through a very hectic time—business trips, final exams, start of soccer season, having a new roof put on the house—then going offsite may be your best choice. Sometimes it's a matter of space—the size of your house compared to the size of the guest list.

  3. Decide whether the festivities will be simple or elaborate. Again, take into account the personality of the person whose accomplishment you're celebrating. If she prefers simple, then go simple; if she prefers extravagant, then go elaborate. The amount of time and money you have available also affect this decision. Generally speaking, elaborate celebrations take both more time and more money.

  4. Determine whether you should opt for a labor-intensive setup or one that's easy to do. Time and money play a major role in this decision as well. If the family does all of the cleaning, cooking, and hosting, then you'll save money, but you'll need to spend the time. If you hire a cleaning service and order the food ready-made, or if you have the celebration at a restaurant, then you'll save time and energy, but you'll need to spend more money. (If you're short on both time and money, then you'll be better off if you plan more simple festivities—hamburgers at home instead of filet mignon at a fancy restaurant.) Another factor is your family members' interests. If someone in the home really enjoys making fancy individualized favors or loves cooking elaborate gourmet meals, then a labor-intensive celebration won't seem so laborious.

Table 1 summarizes your options for the style of your celebration. Six weeks before the event, your family should choose one of the options on each line; that's four choices in all, with the possibility of 16 different types of celebrations.

Table 1. Determine the Nature of the Celebration
Just familyInvited guests
At homeAt another location
SimpleElaborate
Labor intensiveEasy to do

Select one option from each row. Sixteen different combinations are possible.

Preparing

The type of celebration you choose will determine the tasks you'll need to schedule to have a successful event. By scheduling wisely and sticking to your schedule, you'll be able to enjoy the preparation process, and you'll have energy—and a pleasant attitude—left over to enjoy the party! To help you break down the preparation into its components and get them onto your family's planner, you can use the checklists and timelines in the following tables. These tables include

  • Table 2, “If You're Attending Any Party, Either as the Host or a Guest

    Table 2. If You're Attending Any Party, Either as the Host or as a Guest
    4 weeks beforeDecide what you'll wear.
    Try on your outfit if you already own it.
    Wash the outfit or take it to the dry cleaners, if necessary.
    Buy a new outfit, if necessary.
    3 weeks beforeBuy the gift and card (wrapping paper, ribbon, tape).
    Wrap the gift.
    Check your cameras; buy film, batteries, videotapes, as needed.
    Pick up your outfit at the cleaners, if necessary.
    1 day afterTake the film to have it developed.
    2 days afterPick up the photos.
    3 days afterSend the photos to people who would like them.
    1 week afterPut the photos in an album; create a scrapbook, if you want one.

  • Table 3, “If You're Hosting the Party Somewhere Other Than Your Home”

    Table 3. If You're Hosting the Party Somewhere Other Than Your Home
    6 weeks beforeSet the time, date, and location.
    Reserve the location for the party.
    1 day beforeMake sure you have enough gas in your car.

  • Table 4, “If You're Planning Any Party”

    Table 4. If You're Planning Any Party
    4 weeks beforePlan the menu.

  • Table 5, “If You're Having the Party in Your Home, Whether or Not You're Inviting Guests”

    Table 5. If You're Having the Party in Your Home, Whether or Not You're Inviting Guests
    4 weeks beforeSet the dates and time.
    3 weeks beforeCheck your stock of disposable dishes and cutlery, if you're going to use disposable supplies.
    Buy any disposable supplies you need.
    2 weeks beforeBuy any nonperishable food items you'll need.
    2 days beforeBuy perishable food items you'll need.
    1 day beforePrepare any food ahead that you can.
    Day of partyPrepare any additional food you're going to serve.
    Order any take-out food you're going to serve.
    1 day afterClean up and put things away.

  • Table 6, “If You're Inviting Guests, Whether or Not You're Having the Party at Home”

    Table 6. If You're Inviting Guests, Whether or Not You're Having the Party at Home
    4 weeks beforeBuy or make invitations.
    Compile a guest list with addresses.
    Address the invitations and send them.
    Plan the party favors.
    Begin making the favors, if you're going to make them.
    2 weeks beforeBuy the favors, if you're going to buy them.
    3 days afterWrite and send thank-you notes, if appropriate.

  • Table 7, “If You're Inviting Guests to Your Home”

    Table 7. If You're Inviting Guests to Your Home
    4 weeks beforeMake arrangements to rent or borrow any extra chairs, tables, or tableware you'll need.
    3 weeks beforePick up anything you're borrowing.
    Clean any serving pieces that you don't use very often.
    1 week beforeClean the part of the house that you won't use for the party.
    4 days beforeDust and vacuum where the party will be.
    2 days beforePick up or take delivery of rental items.
    Set up the tables and chairs.
    1 day beforeClean the guest lavatory.
    1 day afterReturn rented and borrowed items.

  • Table 8, “If You're Planning an Elaborate Party”

    Table 8. If You're Planning an Elaborate Party
    4 weeks beforeDecide on a theme, if any.
    Plan the decorations.
    Begin making the decorations, if you're going to make them.
    Order the decorations, if they need to be ordered.
    Plan and hire the entertainment, if you're having any.
    Order the food, if the event will be catered.
    2 weeks beforeBuy the decorations, if you're going to buy them.
    Day of partyPick up any food or decorations that were special ordered.

  • Table 9, “If You've Been Invited to a Party”

    Table 9. If You've Been Invited to a Party
    When you receive the invitationRSVP.
    Get directions to the party.
    1 day beforeMake sure you have enough gas in your car.

The way to use these tables is to select all of the ones that apply to the type of event you're planning. Then slot each of the tasks from all of those tables into your family's schedule. For example, if you were having your child's birthday party with her friends at the ice-skating rink, then you would use the timelines in Tables 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. On the other hand, if you were having a birthday dinner at home with your family, then you would use the timelines in Tables 2, 4, 5, and 8. The easiest way for you to select the appropriate checklists is to read the name of each table and see whether it applies to your event; you'll use Table 2 for all parties, while your use of the other tables will depend on whether you're the host or the guest, whether the party will be at your home or elsewhere, and the nature of the party.


tip

When it comes time for the final preparations, you can really do yourself a favor by scheduling things so the preparations should be completed a half hour in advance of the event. That half-hour cushion leaves you time to catch your breath and begin to enjoy yourself. You'll also be prepared in case anyone arrives early. And, in the worst case, you'll have time to deal with any last-minute emergencies.


note

Does planning a party sound too overwhelming to you? Not all celebrations need to be scheduled. Very small or spur-of-the-moment celebrations can sometimes seem even more special—a glass raised in a congratulatory toast, an unexpected box of candy or bouquet of flowers, or even something as simple as a heartfelt hug!


USE YOUR SYSTEM FOR SCHEDULING CELEBRATIONS

By now, you and your family should be familiar with how to move tasks from a to do list to a schedule. You'll want to assign each task to someone who's willing and able—and, you hope, enthusiastic—to undertake it. Also continue to build on the system you've already put in place by remembering to use your weekly plan to help you decide on what days of the week to schedule each task: Writing invitations and placing orders by phone would go on your deskwork day, shopping would go on your errand day, polishing serving pieces would go on your housework day, planning decorations could go on your family day, and so on.


As you'll see, one of the first things you need to do when planning a celebration is to set the date, time, and place. You'll want to make sure when you do that you take into account conflicts—definite or anticipated—with the schedules of the people you would like to join in the celebration. If you're having a family event, you'll definitely want to use your family planner to avoid any conflicts that already exist. Then you'll want to use the planner to make a note of the event so that it will have priority over any future scheduling. If you're having a large event with many invited guests, you'll need to look at a calendar—preferably one that lists local as well as more universal happenings—and try to avoid any widespread conflicts. For example, you might decide it's prudent to avoid the day of your local school's graduation or the grand opening of a new community center.

caution

Don't stockpile paper goods for parties. You can easily get drawn in on great discounts if you buy in bulk. But chances are you'll want a different style of plates and napkins the next time around. And paper goods don't keep well; they get crumpled if you don't lay them flat, and they get rippled—and too disgusting to use—if they're exposed to any moisture. When you start planning the party six weeks in advance, you'll have plenty of time to find a fresh supply of exactly what you want on sale.


R.S.V.P.?

R.S.V.P. (alternately fashioned R.s.v.p. and RSVP) is an abbreviation for the French phrase “Répondez s'il vous plaìt,” which means “Please respond.” The corresponding English phrase is “The favour of a reply is requested.” All the polite phrasing aside, from an etiquette standpoint an invitation that bears “R.S.V.P.” requires a response, and the response is to be made as soon as possible. A response is required whether the invitee is accepting the invitation or sending regrets.


What does this mean to you in terms of scheduling?

  • If you've been invited to a party, and the invitation asks for an RSVP, then you need to make up your mind fairly quickly because it is your social obligation to respond one way or the other. Some invitations indicate the date by which your reply is needed; this date is a deadline, but a quicker response is much more polite.

  • If you're issuing invitations, then you'll want to give careful thought to whether you want to require RSVPs. Consider the following situations:

  • Except with the most formal of invitations, which command a written reply, your potential guests are likely to respond by phone. These calls can result in your spending many hours catching up on news with friends and acquaintances. If your schedule is too tight to pack all of that phone time into a couple of weeks, then maybe you don't want everyone to RSVP.

  • One alternative that's available to you is for you to indicate on the invitation “Regrets only.” This phrase means that you want people to reply only if they won't be coming to the party. This option will provide you with some information about who may be attending, and at least the people you'll end up talking to on the phone will be different from the people you'll see at the party.

  • You can save everyone—you and your guests—time and effort by not requiring any response to your invitation at all. This choice is really not as risky as it sounds. Even if you ask for a response, a certain percentage of invitees will not respond (and you'll want to make sure that you have enough of everything in case they do show up). On the other hand, even if you don't ask for a response, a certain number of people will feel the need to let you know whether or not they're coming anyway. In general, the same percentage of people show up whether or not replies were expected or received. A good “rule of thumb” is 30% to 40%, but you know your friends best, and this percentage may be different for you. The more parties you throw, the better the feel you'll have about how many people will attend.

  • If you're having your party at a restaurant or party facility, you'll want a more accurate idea of who's coming so that you don't end up reserving space and paying for food that no one will use. Invitees seem to understand this and respond better in these situations.


Celebrating

After the planning and the preparation, it's finally time for the celebration itself! We're sure you don't need a lengthy explanation of what to do here. Your hard work will pay off, and you should be sure to have fun. Just a few words of caution here:

  • Something is bound to not go according to plan. If you stop to think about it, probably some of your best memories—the ones that are retold over and over—are of things that went wrong; things like the dog knocking over the grill and eating all of the hamburgers. Probably the best thing you can do is be flexible and smile.

  • Don't schedule anything too close after the fun. (You may have noticed in the timelines that we've even recommended leaving the cleanup until the next day.) You'll want to have some time to enjoy your accomplishment.

Preserving the Memories

We've said it before, but this point bears repeating here: The wrapping-up phase of any project is the easiest one to let slide. But next to the fun of the celebration itself, the best part of personal and family milestones is the memories—and they last a lot longer.

If someone in your family has a hobby that lends itself to memory preservation, then you're halfway there. There are many complex ways of preserving memories that some people really enjoy:

  • Someone who likes video editing can take any video you have of the event and turn it into a cohesive piece that really captures the highlights.

  • Digital photos, in the hands of someone with the appropriate interest, can be edited and archived, posted on the Internet, or burned onto CDs.

  • Scrapbooking is an extremely popular hobby these days. Although it is time-consuming, for an enthusiast the hours spent are truly pleasant, and the result can be enjoyed for many years by many people.

note


Also referred to as a memory preserver, the Snaptop case by Iris, shown in Figure 1, holds all of the memorabilia from an event and is designed to be stored either horizontally or vertically. Suggested retail: $5.99. Website: www.irisusainc.com

Figure 1. A plastic scrapbook case can be either the first or the last step in preserving your precious memories.



All of these hobbies take time and need to have their own place in your family's schedule . In the meantime, the important step you need as you wrap up the celebration is to take enough time to set aside safely in one place all of the pieces you want preserved.

Perhaps in the past—if you set aside things at all—you've used shoeboxes or shopping bags to keep such things together. And, unfortunately, if you've ever gone back to create a more presentable remembrance, you've probably found that some of what you kept has been crunched, munched, or moisture-damaged. Now that you're becoming more organized, you'll probably want to use something a little less vulnerable. “Memory preservers” such as the one illustrated in Figure 5.1 allow you to corral everything you'll need—photos, videos, CDs, themed paper plates and napkins, a copy of the invitation, and the like—and keep it in good condition. In fact, if no one in your family has any inclination to spend time creating an artistic memory, these plastic containers may be your last step. If you label and shelve them, you'll be able to take them out and reminisce any time you want.

note

Another valuable exercise you might want to include in your wrap-up activities is to “debrief” the celebration. Have your family members talk over what they liked and didn't like and incorporate those opinions into your future event planning.

If you celebrate the same event each year, consider keeping a notebook containing your guest list, menu (including quantities), list of decorations, and any reminders or suggestions for the next time.

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