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Perfect autumn party themes

Maris Callahan is the author of "In Good Taste," and, as an avid self-taught home cook, is widely knowledgeable about all things culinary. She is especially passionate about helping women on-the-go cook healthy, delicious meals and snack...

After a summer and fall of barbecues, most of us are yearning for creative ways to entertain our friends and family. If you're tired of the same old wine and cheese parties with your neighbors or the tired casseroles that your relatives have been bringing to potlucks for years, liven things up with some fun theme parties that will help get the conversation -- and the drinks -- flowing.

Fall harvest party

Pre-Thanksgiving

If you can't wait until the big day to gorge on turkey, cranberry sauce and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, plan a "pre-Thanksgiving" feast and invite your friends to each bring a brand-new side dish recipe that they've never tried before. Decorate your tabletop with a traditional Thanksgiving tablescape and cook your turkey using a new-to-you method, such as brining or deep-frying. Be sure to have plenty of board games on hand for post-dinner entertainment and feel free to keep a football game on in the background (just to keep track of the score, of course).

Pasta potluck

Don't save the pasta parties for the night before the marathon. Boil several pots of pasta - pick a few varieties, like linguine,  ziti and fusilli and invite your guests to bring their favorite homemade sauce. If you have guests that aren't fans of cooking, let them bring garlic bread, a salad or a favorite bottle of wine to share. Set the scene with a basic marinara sauce and decorate your table with red and white checkered tablecloths reminiscent of Italian pizzerias. Keep the mood authentic and play Italian opera or orchestral music in the background to enjoy during and after dinner.

Harvest party

The best way to celebrate fall is to throw a party celebrating the season's bounty. Before the weather gets too chilly, host dinner in your backyard on a picnic table decorated with gourds, pumpkins and mums from your local farmer's market. Infuse your party some of your favorite autumnal flavors and look to apples, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. For a family-friendly party, set up a pumpkin painting station for the kids. Serve apple cider (you can spike a separate jug of it with bourbon for the grown-ups) and set out a basket of blankets or extra sweatshirts in case the weather takes a turn.

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