At Capital Pleasure Boats nobody needs a reason to plan a boat party, but if you feel you do and there aren't any convenient birthdays coming up then read on for some topical ideas to give your Thames cruise a special feel...
25th January - Burns Night
● Origin - The Scottish tradition of Burns night celebrates Scotland’s best known poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns, the author of Auld Lang Syne, who died around 1786. Possibly the most important social event after Hogmanay, Scottish homes throughout the UK and beyond annually commemorate his life and work on or around his birthday, the 25th January. Traditionally a night for reading the great man’s works, the evening is now probably best known for Haggis, and strict rules govern the schedule of events at a traditional evening.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - If following the traditional ‘Bill o’ Fare’ then full Highland evening dress should be worn. For a more relaxed effect you could ask your guests to wear kilts or at least some tartan. A bagpiper is also considered vital, although as the chance of finding a sober one on the 25th January is slim you may be better off with a CD!
● Food and drink - Scottish fare obviously, you could start with Cock-a-Leekie soup (a chicken and leek broth), followed by Bashed Neeps (turnips) and Tatties (potatoes) and of course the Haggis, whose arrival should be toasted with a glass of whiskey for all (even the piper) and the reading of the “To A Haggis”. Traditional deserts include Typsy Laid (Sherry Trifle) or Cranachan (a gruel of fruit and oats). All washed down with copious amounts of whiskey.
● Useful links - www.wikipedia.org, www.rabbie-burns.com
26th January - Australia Day
● Origin - The largest day of celebration in the country, Australia Day, as its name might suggest, is a day to celebrate being Australian and commit to an even better Australia for the future. The first celebrations probably took place on the 26th January 1808, although the first official marking of the day was in 1818. Since then the date has grown in popularity, with all states and territories taking the day as a public holiday since 1994. Today the day is marked all over Australia as well as by travelers and expats across the globe, with parties, food and drink.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - The Australian Flag should be displayed with pride, other accessories should be in the national colours of green or gold. For a bit of fun you could try and find as many native toy animals, or posters of the animals and try to recreate the bush.
● Food and drink - It would be nice to think that you could eat solely Australian on the big day, but if you find your local supermarket fresh out of kangaroo fillets or crocodile steaks try some of these instead: barbecued prawns, sausages or salmon with chili sauce, damper (traditional Aussie bread made without yeast) or vegemite sandwiches, and potato dumplings. There are also lots of traditional Aussie desserts; Pavlova, Lamingtons (chocolate coated sponge cake), Soldiers cake, and the easiest of the lot, Fairy Bread (buttered bread covered with hundreds and thousands!) all washed down with tinnies of VB (Victoria Beer) or a crisp Australian Chardonnay.
● Useful links - www.australiaday.org.au/, www.amazon.co.uk
6th February – Waitangi Day
● Origin - Waitangi Day celebrates New Zealand's national day, and remembers the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on the 6th February 1840 and the coming together of the Maoris and white settlers. The first celebrations of the signing took place in 1947, and today the date is celebrated by both Maori and white New Zealanders at concerts and festivals across the country. In the UK a tradition has grown up that sees expats in London travel round the Circle line from Paddington, stopping at various pubs en route. The final stop is Temple, conveniently just opposite Temple pier where our Thames pleasure boats are moored!
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - The New Zealand flag of course!
● Food and drink - Traditional New Zealand fare encompasses a huge range of foods, having as they do such an abundance of produce to choose from. Good party dishes include Colonial Goose (actually a preparation for roast leg of lamb), fish (or indeed any other seafood) and chips, Pavlova and Lamingtons (see above), all washed down with a wine from one of the countries 376 vineyards.
● Useful links - www.wikipedia.org, www.about.com
14th February - Valentines Day
● Origin - The patron saint of lovers, legend has it St Valentine was a Roman priest during the time Emperor Claudius was trying to enlist men to fight in his wars. When Claudius learnt that the men preferred not to leave their fiancées and girlfriends he forbade any new marriages, but Valentine disagreed with the Emperor and married couples in secret. Claudius discovered this defiance and had Valentine thrown into jail where he met and fell in love with the jailer's daughter. During his time in jail he wrote her notes that he signed “From Your Valentine”, until his beheading on the Emperor's orders on the 14th February 269 AD. Commercial Valentines cards first appeared in the 1800's and today approximately one billion Valentines are sent every year, with women purchasing 85% of them.
● Decorations - Valentine's these days is all about schmaltz in a big way, think hearts & flowers, lots of red crepe paper and heart shaped helium balloons. Then double it.
● Costumes and accessories - Costumes should be lacy, seductive and sexy, with red roses on the tables and low level lighting.
● Food and drink - Think romantic and seductive: champagne and caviar, bite size canapés that can be fed to lovers by hand, oysters... If you go down the cocktail route they should all be pink or red.
● Useful links - www.partydelights.co.uk, www.partypacks.co.uk
1st March - St David's Day
● Origin - The patron Saint of Wales, Dewi Saint was Archbishop of Wales in the sixth century and was influential in spreading Christianity among the pagan Celts. St David's Day was first celebrated in 1120 when Dewi was Canonised. Today the day is celebrated throughout Wales, and traditionally a 1000 voice male choir is formed specially for the day to entertain the Welsh community, as well as the traditional Eisteddfod with schoolchildren all over the country performing songs, dance and poetry.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - Traditional decorations might include the Welsh Flag, daffodils and leeks.
● Food and drink - Wales can boast some of the best lamb in the world so roast leg of Welsh lamb with rosemary and garlic with potatoes roasted on a bed of leeks would be perfect for a cold March day.
● Useful links - www.partypacks.co.uk, www.partypieces.co.uk
17th March - St Patrick's Day
● Origin - The patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick was a missionary in the 4th century credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Traditionally the day is about spiritual renewal, however today more people know it as a good excuse to drink copious amounts of Guinness!
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - Anything green or gold. Shamrocks and leprechauns should also feature prominently.
● Food and drink - Guinness, Whisky, Colcannon and Irish beef stew.
● Useful links - www.st-patricks-day.com, www.allrecipes.com, uk.pinsterest.com
23rd April - St George's Day
● Origin - St George is the patron saint of England and associated with honour and bravery, however he was probably not English at all, but was born in Turkey before becoming a Roman soldier where he was beheaded by the Roman Emperor in approximately 303 AD for protesting against the persecution of Christians. The most famous story, the slaying of the Dragon, symbolising evil, is almost definitely a myth, and it is also likely that George never even set foot in England! St George's Day became official in 1222 and soon became a day for feasting in monasteries. Today St George's Day is sadly often ignored amongst the great British public, only one in five people know that the day falls on the 23rd April, however many movements now exist to try and spread the word.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - A St George Cross and a red rose in your lapel. Kids will love lion masks or an England football kit!
● Food and drink - English ales served with British classics: scampi and chips, bangers and mash or a full roast dinner. Everything should be English sourced if at all possible.
25th April - ANZAC Day
● Origin - Arguably Australia's most significant national holiday, ANZAC Day remembers the 60,000 Australian and New Zealand Army Corps members who died in the First World War helping the Allies to victory. On the 25th April 1916, the anniversary of the date that 8,000 ANZAC troops were killed in a dawn raid on Gallipoli, the first communal gatherings including a march through London were held, and the holiday has grown in size and significance since. In 1927 all the states celebrated the holiday together and today the day is commemorated in Australia and New Zealand with dawn services, hymns, rifle shots and pipers, while in London a dawn service is held at the Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - Today ANZAC parties generally take the form of a food, music and beer extravaganza!
● Food and drink - In London it's a good excuse for an early barbie given appropriate weather, with copious amounts of Australian and New Zealand beer and wine, see Australia and Waitangi Days above for ideas.
● Useful links - www.awm.gov.au, www.anzacday.org.au
21st June (sometimes 20th) - Summer solstice
● Origin - A Pagan festival celebrating the Earth, the summer solstice is held on the longest day of the year, when the sun is at its highest elevation. A day of deep spiritual significance, many Pagans make the journey to ancient religious sites, the most famous being Stonehenge, although many more celebrate in groups in various open spaces across the country.
● Decorations - There are no hard and fast rules but ideally whatever you choose should be natural, practical or beautiful. Flowers can be used in abundance and herbs with a particular significance, especially St John's wort, burdock, fennel, thorn, and nettle, can be used as decoration or bouquet garnis. For extra decoration you could hang ribbons, suns, moons and stars from the ceiling or branches of trees.
● Costumes and accessories - This is one event where you can really go to town on the costumes – fairies, nymphs, animals or birds. Gods and Goddesses, and creatures from mythology, the choice is huge. Or you may want to base the event on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, even acting out scenes if the mood takes you.
● Food and drink - It is often said that food tastes better outdoors so indulge with a barbecue or picnic. You could include organic burgers and sausages, fairy cakes, dandelion muffins, and wash it all down with Solstice mead (a honey wine traditionally made around the first moon in June and served at the wedding ceremony - this is why we still go away on HoneyMoons today). Oh, and Eggs to symbolise fertility – sunny side up of course!
● Useful links - http://en.wikipedia.org , www.guardian.co.uk
31st October - Halloween
● Origin - All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as it is more commonly known, is possibly the festival with the most mixed history. With origins in Christian, Catholic and Pagan faiths, Halloween is now celebrated around the world. The night before All Saints Day, 31st October was originally when the dead were believed to come back to possess still-living spirits. To make themselves unattractive to the sprits the living dressed up as ghosts and ghouls and wandered the streets. Modern day trick or treating however comes from a 9th Century custom called ‘souling’, where beggars wandered from house to house begging for ‘soul cakes’. For each cake donated the beggars promised to say a prayer for the dead relatives of the house. Halloween today is perhaps more commercialised in America where it is celebrated with almost religious devotion, however some intrepid British children still brave the cold of winter to knock on neighbour’s doors and receive sweets for their efforts.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - Obviously the more ghoulish the better, ghosts, goblins, witches and skeletons should all make an appearance. The traditional jack-o-lantern should be made from a hollowed out turnip, however the American custom of using a pumpkin instead seems to have entered mainstream British culture now and is perfectly acceptable.
● Food and drink - Anything with a ghoulish sound, devilled eggs, bloody fingers (sausages with a tomato sauce dip) and Bloody Mary’s to drink will set the scene. See the link below for lots more recipes.
● Useful links - www.foodnetwork.com, www.halloween.com
5th November - Bonfire night
● Origin - “Remember remember the 5th November, Gunpowder, treason and plot, I see no reason, Why gunpowder and treason, Should ever be forgot!” As the rhyme suggests the 5th November marks the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament and with it King James I in 1605. Unfortunately their “Gunpowder Plot” was uncovered and when police burst in to find the gang sitting on 36 barrels of gunpowder, they were all arrested, tortured and executed. Today children still make “Guys” out of old clothes stuffed with newspaper and burn them on bonfires, however with more and more stringent rules coming in regarding fireworks most celebrations are now held communally by local councils.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - Well if you’re lucky enough to have a large outside space and someone brave enough to light the fireworks you will need a big bonfire and lots of Catherine wheels, Roman candles and those colourful ones that don’t bang but just pop with a collective “aaaahhhh”. If you’re inside however you can still set the scene with a fireworks DVD (www.worldnaturevideo.com), and lots of colourful costumes, you might consider asking everyone to dress as their favourite firework, or you could plan a murder mystery type event where one guest is secretly nominated as Guy Fawkes for the others to find. If you can get onto a river boat for the night the views are always tremendous (although please don’t try to bring any fireworks or sparklers on board), and being near the Houses of Parliament can add an extra element of danger to the proceedings, after all, who knows when someone may try again…!
● Food and drink - Hot and simple food that warms up cold fingers and tummies after a night stood around watching the displays. Bangers and mash, lasagne, chilli con carne, stews or casseroles would all hit the spot with seasonal fruit crumbles or pies to follow. Oh and not forgetting roast chestnuts, even if just for the smell.
● Useful links - www.wikipedia.org
30th November - St Andrew's Day
● Origin - The patron saint of Scotland, St Andrew was St Peter’s brother and also the first of the twelve disciples of Jesus. After Christ's crucifixion St Andrew went to Greece to preach Christianity. There are a few legends surrounding how he became Scotland's patron saint, one tale holds that St Regulus carried his bones from Greece to Scotland and that the exact spot where his ship was wrecked is now St Andrews, another that two monks from England went to Rome and bought back the relics of St Andrew to Scotland. St Andrew's Day is now held every year on the 30th November and is also Scotland's national day.
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - The saltire, or Scottish flag, a blue background with a white cross is obligatory, and if you think your legs can pull it off then by all means go for the full traditional dress of kilt and tam o'shanter!
● Food and drink - If you don't fancy catching your own rabbit or hare and skinning it (and let's face it there weren't a huge amount of rabbits running round Trafalgar Square last time I looked..) then traditional Scottish dishes like Scotch Broth, Beef in a Whisky Sauce, Scotch Eggs or Haggis would all go down well. Alternatively as there are many legends that depict St Andrew as a fisherman it may be appropriate to eat fish.
● Useful links - www.wikipedia.org, www.partydelights.co.uk
31st December - New Years Eve
● Origin - The celebration of the last day of the year and the welcoming in of the new year, what more can we say! While Australia may be the first to celebrate midnight, there is simply nothing as breathtakingly beautiful as the Thames in London at night, and all our pleasure boats stop right outside the Houses of Parliament for the countdown to midnight. The fireworks from the river, with the London Eye at the centre are magical and seem to get better every year, and you can afford to be a bit complacent as you stand in regal splendour on the sun deck of your chosen pleasure boat, drink in one hand and arm around your loved one, while just feet away on the river banks people are pushing and jostling uncomfortably, freezing cold and probably dying for a hot drink and a nearby loo. Yes, there really is no better way to see in the New Year than a Thames river cruise, what a great start to a great New Year for you...
● Decorations, costumes and accessories - Even if you don't get on a Thames pleasure boat for any other occasion in the year you absolutely must get on board for New Years Eve. The boats are still dressed with Christmas decorations and the atmosphere is always top notch. You don't need to dress up but if you want to make the effort who are we to stop you! The only obligatory accessory is Auld Lang Syne at midnight but if you can't remember the words don't worry, just hum loudly and no one will notice.
● Food and drink - "Bring out the champagne and canapés Jeeves!"
● Useful links - www.wikipedia.org, www.cpbs.co.uk
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