Red, white, blue and green: July Fourth decoration tips

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Decorate a cake with blueberries, sliced strawberries and whipped cream in the design of the U.S. flag for a Fourth of July dessert.

NEW YORK -- Fireworks. Hot dogs. Small-town parades and melting ice cream.

The Fourth of July is right around the corner. And that means barbecues, picnics and parties with a patriotic theme.

Whether it's planning a fancy party at home or packing a picnic to take to the park to watch the fireworks, expert Anna Post from the Emily Post Institute, Seattle style expert Kelley Moore and Julie Fitzgerald from the Entertaining Co. in Chicago offer up party tips to make the holiday sparkle.

First, decide whether you want to organize your party around an event -- like a town parade or fireworks. And know the rules on whether buying and lighting fireworks are illegal in your area. The not-for-profit National Council on Fireworks Safety has a handy map on state laws at www.fireworksafety.com/laws.htm.

From there, choose decor. Want to make it a little fancier this year? Use red-and-white cloth liners for tables, and put the condiments in bowls instead of leaving them in their containers, Post suggests. For a bohemian look, tie-dye an inexpensive white sheet with red dye. Decorate with white dishes, brass lanterns and red jeweled votive candles along with artifacts from your travels to other countries.

Make the food and drink part the decoration for your Fourth of July party. Set out bowls of fruit — cherries and blueberries work well — as edible centerpieces. Serve a red-colored punch or coctail to add to the festivities.

"Remember, celebrating the Fourth of July also celebrates our freedom to explore other worlds and share new ideas," Moore said.

If you're looking to go as low-key as possible, you can cut flowers from a garden and use them as centerpieces and set out recycled paper plates. Supply one thing, like hamburgers or hot dogs, and suggest guests bring complementary dishes.

But make sure everyone has someplace to sit, Post said.

"It seems silly, but it's hard for people to stand for several hours at a time," she said.

Here are more tips organized by the colors of the holiday.

RED

Though the U.S.A. Veterans Independence Day Celebration in Arena Park does not allow outside food or beverages, other city-run displays do, like the Jackson show in Jackson City Park.

Moore suggests putting two red buckets filled with ice into a little red wagon. Use one bucket to keep snacks, maybe slices of watermelon, cold. The other bucket is for your favorite beverage. In between go the plates, napkins and a bottle opener. Voila! Instant party at the park for the fireworks.

Pick one drink and make it the signature drink of the day, Post suggests. Red-and-white sangria is an inexpensive and festive drink idea, Fitzgerald said.

For the children's' table, Moore, who has an online show on entertaining, suggests painting wide red stripes on an inexpensive white linen. For a centerpiece, place arrangements of red licorice, Red Hots and red lollipops on the table. Place a red-and-white popcorn bag at each place setting so after the party each child can fill bags from the centerpiece.

And be sure to provide sunscreen for guests so they don't get burned.

WHITE

If you don't make the drive into a town to see the fireworks shows, buy bubbles and sparklers for the children and string up white lights. Keep things crisp by using white linen, white candles and white plates.

If you buy fireworks from a stand, make sure to read the directions and follow all the safety rules. Set out an inexpensive white sheet away from the launchpad for the children to gather for the homemade fireworks show.

"To start a conversation, print retro black and white photos of Fourth of July scenes at the beach," Moore said. "To add a pop of color, add a wide red-and-white striped ribbon to the back of the photo and place each photograph on top of the white linen napkin in the center of the plate letting the red and white ribbon trail past the plate."

Set up games for adults and children to play, like croquet, washers or potato sack races.

BLUE

Be it the blues, pop or John Philip Sousa marches, music is important. Don't blare it too loud, and be sure to create mixes and playlists beforehand. Use a theme for the playlist but toss in some hip hits to keep the party moving.

If you're crafty and you have the time, Moore suggests, decorate your table with blue bandannas. Buy a bunch at a craft store and stitch them together to create a tabletop linen. Or buy jeans at a local thrift store, cut out the pockets, wash them and sew them to a blue napkin to hold silverware.

"This is great for a barbecue," Moore said.

Bake a box cake and decorate it with strawberries, blueberries and white frosting. It's blueberry season, so you can use blueberries as a centerpiece and a snack: place them in bowls on the table for eating.

"Using what's in season is great because you're guaranteed to have crisp good fruit and veggies," Post said.

GREEN

"July Fourth doesn't always have to be red, white and blue," said Post, who recently authored "Emily Post's Great Get-Togethers: Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home" with her sister Lizzie. "You can celebrate the country and the fact that we are becoming more and more ecologically conscious."

Designate a place to put the trash and, if you recycle, set up a station where guests can separate glass out. You can buy or spray paint red, white and blue bins for glass, trash and recycle. If you're outside at the beach or at a park, find the public trash bin and be sure everyone knows where it is.

"Use handmade paper that is plantable as place mats or as a runner on your table," Moore said. "If you search hard enough, you can find them made with forget-me-nots, which are blue and easily tie in to our patriotic colors. After the party, plant the place mats and watch them grow."

Buy durable paper plates that can be recycled, not the Styrofoam variety. A Styrofoam container can take up to a million years to decompose, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation's No MOre Trash! program.

Decorate with potted flowers you can grow and keep all summer, or buy cut daisies, irises and roses as centerpieces and give them away as party favors.

Moore suggests buying miniature U.S. flags and placing them in pots in center of your table, and donating them to a local cemetery or nursing home after the party.

"Being 'green' also means to repurpose," she said. "This is a way to repurpose and give back to others at the same time."

Southeast Missourian features editor Chris Harris contributed to this report.

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