Food, fun, and festive décor are ingredients for a great July 4th celebration. But that’s not all! Entertainment expert Jane Birdwell says neighborhood block parties – like all gatherings – strengthen the social fabric of our communities. These tips help you host a great party and start forging meaningful connection with your neighbors.
People need people. From the beginning we’ve relied on our communities for safety, wisdom, belonging, and companionship. But modern life has left us disconnected from our neighbors. We may wave to the folks across the street from our driveways or trade quick hellos in passing, but those exchanges aren’t enough to make us feel connected. Entertaining expert Jane Birdwell says what we really crave is a deeper sense of community. And the Fourth of July is the perfect time to take advantage of the beautiful weather and get to know your neighbors by throwing a block party.
“We are all so busy that most of us wait around for other people to throw parties, and that’s why they never happen,” says Birdwell, founder of Tablevogue, a collection of fitted table covers. “But gatherings are important because they foster camaraderie and strengthen bonds that make us feel connected and happy. So if you want to build a stronger and more supportive community right where you live, step up and be the person who plans an unforgettable Fourth of July bash in your neighborhood.”
Birdwell says people tend to overthink entertaining – especially since Pinterest and other social media platforms have raised expectations to such a high level. But you don’t have to be a party-planning expert to pull off a great July 4th celebration. Anyone can do it when they have a few basics and keep everything else simple. This approach reflects the new trends in entertaining: serving stress – free food, focusing on fun and laughter, and keeping the décor simple and budget friendly.
“The most important aspect of planning a great block party is stepping up and getting the ball rolling,” adds Birdwell. “Once you start planning everyone will gladly pitch in and help you make it a success.”
This advice from Birdwell will help you throw a festive and fun Fourth of July block party:
Whole crew for the red white and blue. Invite everyone to pitch in. Just because you’re spearheading the event doesn’t mean you have to handle the details on your own. Your neighbors will be happy to be, well, neighborly and pitch in to make the party a success. Send out a sign-up sheet asking for volunteers to bring their folding tables, or provide food and drinks, or be in charge of music.
“Many hands make for light work,” says Birdwell. “On the day of the block party, ask partygoers to help you with some of the chores. Not only does it take some of the strain off of you, but giving people a task is great way to break the ice and help newcomers feel more comfortable.”
Center the block party around several beautiful tables. Lots of small, festive tables work well for outdoor gatherings because they become the centerpieces that the party revolves around. When you get the table right, everything else is easy. And “easy” is the idea behind Birdwell’s beautiful, functional, inexpensive table covers. They’re made with a patented stitched corner and pleat so they don’t require the use of clips, pins, or skirts. And they come in a lot of colors and patterns.
“Just bring in a few folding tables, dress them in a beautiful cloth, add some festive serveware, and your table will be complete,” says Birdwell. “Set out your napkins and utensils in pretty rustic baskets and load up canned or bottled drinks in a metal ice tub that’s both decorative and functional. Set out a few vases of wildflowers and a few miniature American flags and you’re done with the décor.”
Keep the food simple. You don’t need to spend tons of time and energy cooking for a block party, or really any kind of party! Store-bought food looks elegant and appealing when it is displayed on a beautiful table – and so does simple home-cooked fare. (After all, it’s the ‘stage’ that makes your food seem special.) So whether you decide to fire up the grill and cook hot dogs and burgers, or just set out purchased buckets of fried chicken and potato salad, you’ll still end up with a breathtaking table of crowd-pleasing food.
Even better, make it a potluck! Commemorate the tradition of “potluck” and ask everyone to bring their favorite signature main dish or side. This divides labor and keeps things easy and affordable, so you can invite more guests and maximize the fun, connections and memories. And remember that everyone is trying to eat better and drink less, so enlist a couple guests to bring healthy dishes and some extra nonalcoholic beverage options.
Set up a “cool down” table … Beautiful July weather usually entails some serious heat, so set up a table dedicated to keeping people cool. Offer a variety of ice-cold drinks like lemonade, limeade and fizzy water alongside frozen strawberries and blueberries so guests can concoct their own refreshing coolers. You can also set out trays of popsicles (don’t worry, they’ll be long gone before they have a chance to melt!), chilled fruit selections and other icy snacks to help everyone beat the heat.
… and a “community love letter” station. Invite party guests to write love letters dedicated to their community, listing all the things they appreciate about their home and country. Here’s how: set out sheets of paper, colored pens and markers, stickers, glue sticks, and red white and blue glitter on a folding table. People can take turns writing and then decorating their creations. Set up a homemade clothesline made out of twine, and when guests have finished composing their love letters, clip them all to the clothesline so everyone can read and enjoy them.
“Take a photo of your ‘community love letter’ clothesline as well as snapshots of individual letters, and post them on Nextdoor and social media,” says Birdwell. “This makes them a force multiplier for celebrating and building community.”
“It’s normal to feel intimidated about hosting any kind of gathering – especially when you’ll be inviting people you don’t yet know well – but don’t let that stop you,” concludes Birdwell. “Remember that we all want to feel included and valued. And when we invite others to join us at the table, we are taking an important step toward building the meaningful connections we crave. The Fourth of July is the perfect time to declare independence from fussy, complicated entertaining and embrace simple gatherings that foster new friendships.”