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My friend Joe and I love parties. Any excuse will do, but if there’s really something to celebrate it helps. Our flatmate Elspeth’s birthday fell right in the middle of when she was writing her dissertation. We convinced her to have a party anyway, on the condition that we would plan everything. After this had been agreed, she said to us: ‘Let’s have a Caribbean theme.’ It was Scotland. It was November. It would, inevitably be cold and raining on her birthday. Yet, we had promised to arrange it, so we did. If you have to plan a Caribbean-themed party, without the natural advantage of being somewhere with a similar climate, it takes a little effort. However, the end result is the perfect way to escape from those working-hard, midwinter blues.
The first thing we realised was that there are thirty territories within the Caribbean. Your party has a lot of ground to cover (literally). We thought a fun way to represent them all would be to have a room decorated for each country. The problem with this was that our flat only has five rooms. So we had several territories per room: we printed out the names of the countries and pictures of their flags and stuck them around the walls. With some blue-bead curtains hung in the doorways, we separated the island groupings. Coloured light bulbs in orange, green and blue gave us the atmospheres of sun, jungle and sea.
The dress code isn’t difficult, so there’s no excuse for those who don’t bother. Colourful shirts and straw hats are all you need to capture the spirit of contemporary life in the Caribbean. Some people will still turn up as pirates, but these people probably dress up as pirates for every occasion possible. Our party was Caribbean themed, not Disney themed, so pirates weren’t really welcome. Ours did bring drinks though, so we accepted this treasure and allowed them entry.
Some of the most important things at a Caribbean themed party are cocktails. There are a lot of them to choose from. Name your favourite cocktail and, chances are, it’s got a Caribbean origin. You can stick to the most famous: Cuba Libre (rum and coke with a twist of lime), Mojito, which is also from Cuba, (white rum, soda water, fresh mint, lime juice, 2 teaspoons of sugar syrup), and Pina Colada, from Puerto Rico, (pineapple juice, white rum, coconut cream). Alternatively, you could throw something a bit different into the mix. The Bob Marley is grenadine, crème de menthe and crème de banana, poured in layers into a shot glass. It’s worth doing just for the look of it. For those staying teetotal, pick up a selection of fruit juices – orange, pineapple and guava are a few favourites. You can’t really go wrong with making mixed fruit punch – just pour them all together in your prettiest large bowl.
Food is usually popular at parties, if you have greedy friends like mine. For something substantial, try making Jamaican Jerk. You can do this quickly by buying a spice mix and simply spreading it onto some chicken. Barbecue it if possible, or else grill. For sweet treats, take advantage of the Caribbean’s tropical fruits. We made mango cupcakes and banana loaf from scratch, then bought in a few packs of coconut macaroons. We considered pineapple upside down cake, but it seemed too much like something our mums would make.
A few games helped to get the party started. Definitely include limbo, as this creates great opportunities to take photos of your friends looking ridiculous. If you’re having the party in the summer, limbo would be a good activity to set up outside; unless it’s raining or you don’t have a garden. If you don’t actually live in the Caribbean, it’s best to plan an indoor option. Our next game was ‘Pin the Name on the Map’. We had a map of the Caribbean islands and challenged people to try to pin the correct names on the places. It may sound like a horrible geography test, but it’s fun when you’re the ones who have the answers. (After all, there should be perks to being the party planners.)
If we had to host another Caribbean themed party, I think we’d do everything pretty much the same. Except we’ll make more cupcakes next time, because they all got eaten super-quick. Good fortune party planners!