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A Guide to Party Theme Ideas

Give the Retirement Party a Theme

When my parents retired, we gave a party with a "things that don't work anymore." theme. Guests brought gifts that were broken and couldn't be repaired. Among other things, my parents received a broken VCR, a watch and even an old hot water heater!

Before cutting the cake, we held a ceremony where we wrapped an alarm clock in a bag. My parents smashed it because they no longer had to get up and go to work. All who attended had fun, and we have some great memories.

Use the Party to Highlight the Retiree's Interests

I was involved in the planning of a retirement party for someone who had worked 35 years for the same company. These were some of the best ideas of our event:

Collect photographs from the working environment from day one to present. Try to have about 100 or more photos. Scan them into a PowerPoint presentation and set the presentation on "loop." Set the projector and screen up in a corner of the room and just let it run all night. We even got some family photos from the guest of honor's wife and put those in the presentation too. People migrated over to the slide presentation the whole evening long. We also copied the presentation onto a CD and gave it to our retiree. It was his favorite gift.

For table decorations, we gave each table a theme. Our retiree was a civil engineer, a boy scout leader, a photographer, a father, a husband, an antique car buff, an Army veteran, and a collector of hats. We used each of these parts of his life as a theme for each of the tables. At each of the tables, we provided a short description of the reason these items were here and how they applied to the retiree's life. The result was magical and impressive. For example, at the Civil Engineer table, we placed blueprints, a hardhat, drawing tools, boots, etc. Our retiree's wife was very helpful and let us scrounge through their house for decor items. The tables created quite a sensation among the guests, and since we borrowed the items, they were free!

Theme Ideas

Golden Oldies

This theme is great for people who were teenagers in the 1950s… or wished they had been. It's not only simple, but easy to arrange, decorate and organize. Send invitations shaped like old black 45 rpm records, with "Side One" listing party info and "Side 2" giving directions to the party. Decorate with jukebox-style decorations, vinyl records, photos of poodle skirts, hula hoops, hot rods. Games might include things like a Bazooka Bubble Blowing Contest, Hula Hoop and Limbo contests, dancing to the Twist, or doing the Stroll.

You can create humorous signs:

The day of the party, hang the signs up for everyone to see. Use a variety of colors for your balloons and streamers for simple decorations. Decorate according to the season or the celebrants' hobbies. Create a festive atmosphere rather than the 'Over the Hill' theme that can, in my opinion, be a depressing reminder.

Medieval Celebration

Computer-generated invitations are easy and inexpensive. You can find a wealth of clip-art online for designs -- a castle, a moat, a knight in armor, ladies in waiting, etc. Ask your guests to come in costume. The male guest of honor can dress as the Knight in Shining Armor; the female guest as a Lady In Waiting. Decorate with paper swords, shields, castle backgrounds, gold, and black tableware, streamers and balloons. No silverware… it wasn't invented, we are told, until the 17th Century (in France) -- so serve finger foods. Set the table with plastic goblets for drinks and serve red wine (or cranberry juice) for the toast. Lace doilies, elaborate settings, and plenty of candles will give the room the dramatic effect you're looking for. A very creative and attention-getting cake for such a party, if you're up to it, could be a three-dimensional angel- or devil's-food pig on a platter.

Memories of the Way We Were

…lasting mementos from the party...

Pin a sheet on the wall and ask guests to sign their names and add comments (use permanent marking pens - available at yardage shops).

Ask guests to bring photos of themselves with the retiree from years ago: a photo of themselves when they were together in college, or were coworkers, etc. This will spur great memories and lots of talking over old times.

A "Gentle" Roast and/or Memory Book -- ask everyone to write down something about your guest of honor. Sample questions can include:

The most embarrassing moment with Jane was ___________________________.

What I remember most about Bob is ___________________________.

A wonderful thing Jackie did for me is ___________________________.

The funniest moment

The most romantic moment

Something the celebrant did to change my life

More Themes ...

SANDY BEACH – A Beach Bash, or Surf-side Adventure
THE AMAZON – It's a Jungle out there!
GLOBE TROTTING – A World of Wonder Awaits!
YACHTING AROUND THE GLOBE - Anchors Away for a Nautical or Bon Voyage
A DUDE RANCH – Wild Wild West!
SULTRY SOUTH AMERICA – A Mexican Fiesta!, Carnival Night in Rio!
NEW ORLEANS – Mardi Gras!
HOLLYWOOD – Glitz, Glamour, and A Golden Graduate!

If cooking is a hobby, create a cookbook that friends/family can contribute a recipe to. Make sure to get the recipes well ahead of time, or include a blank recipe card with the invitation and remind your guests to bring it – filled out – to the event.

Put Together a Video

At one of the retirement parties that I attended, the people throwing the party announced to all employees that they would be making a video about the retiree. Folks were asked to do "skits" or other kinds of tributes (roasts, etc.), and appointments were scheduled. At the party, they showed the video, and then the retiree got to take it home. It was a huge hit.


Set up a video camera in a corner of the house and have each guest take turns saying something about the Retiree... what they remember about working with them, their favorite funny story, etc

For All the Lost Marbles…

A few years ago, my office manager retired. The party organizers put a large glass jar on her table, and gave each staff member a marble. Sometime during the meal, each of us went to her table and dropped the marble into the jar. This was to represent all the marbles she had lost in the last 30 years in our office. It was fun and simple and each person wished her well as the marbles went into the jar.

Create a Mini-Quiz

Consider creating a mini-quiz that partygoers can take, with a small prize (a can of nuts, a candle, etc.) going to the winner. We did this for my mom, and everyone loved it.

Questions can include things like:

"How many bosses has (name of retiree) worked for in his/her years with the company?" (with a bonus credit for naming them all)

You can even include questions about hobbies or special collections that some of the partygoers might know about. (For example, everyone knew my mom loved bingo.)

The trick is to have enough questions that everyone will know so they can have fun participating, but still have one or two questions that are stumpers for most people. This ensures you don't have as many winners as you have party guests.

I just made a list of the questions and read them aloud, while partygoers wrote their answers on small pieces of paper I provided.
– Jennifer

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

When I retired, rather than present the usual "roast," the staff planned a game of "who wants to be a millionaire." The entertainment leader asked some qualifying questions in order to get a contestant. Since he wanted his coconspirator for the game to get selected, there were a couple of questions thrown in that only that person would know.

So when Mike qualified to be the game player, he advanced to the front of the room and was asked a variety of fun questions, which gently spoofed my personality and my job over the 20 years we had worked together. For me, the questions included ones like "In the 20 years Bev has worked here, how many different hair styles has she had?" The correct answer to this multiple-choice question was 0. There were probably 8 questions in all and it was really humorous and good-natured.

And, if you're making a photo/memory album, how about transferring some or all of that information to a PowerPoint demonstration so that the whole gang can see it?
– Bev

Present a Retirement Money Tree

When my dad retired, his friends made him a money tree. They took a branch with many smaller branches on it and "planted" it in a pretty pot. Then they took one, five and ten dollar bills and folded them into bows and leaves, and then attached them to the branch. As the grand finale, my dad's friends presented him with the "money tree." My dad retired years ago and I still remember that money tree.

Retirement Party Invitations

A fun and really great way to roast/toast the retiree is to use a caricature as the invitation. Have a caricature custom-made by and show a picture of the guest of honor in all his/her glory! Make sure to include some possible future hobbies for the guest of honor as well as a great background in which to practice the new hobbies.

For the Golfer. For personalized invitations, candy bar wrappers and more visit here:

Retirement Games and Activities

What will the guest of honor do now that he/she is retired?

Have everyone write down what they think the answer is. Read everyone's answer to the question out loud, and award a prize for the most creative or outlandishly funny answer. If there are kids at the party, they'll probably have the best answers!

Name the New Hobby

Divide the guests into a few groups. Give each group a piece of paper with the letters of the alphabet down the side of the paper. Next to each letter, have them write an activity that the guest of honor can do that begins with that letter. (Example: Ape watching, Bingo, Car washing, etc.) (Give everyone about 10-15 minutes). When the time is up, call out one group's answers. If another group has the same answer then it gets crossed out. The most unique of the remaining answers for each letter are awarded one point. The team with the most points wins! (If no one finishes the entire alphabet, that's OK).


Play some fun music while everyone stands in line waiting to bend backwards low enough to fit under the limbo stick (broom handle, yardstick, etc.). In order to win, the limbo master must not touch the stick or fall on the floor while limbo-ing under the stick, which is usually held by two people.

Ring Toss Golf

Toss plastic skimmer rings into buckets that hang from the trees (or buckets in the sand along the beach). Move from bucket to bucket trying to sink the skimmer rings just as golfers move from hole to hole. Print the name and date of your party on each ring and let your guests keep them as a memento of your party.

Here are a few good ideas for a great retirement party: