Celebrating milestone birthdays

Oct 10, 2009 at 3:00 p.m. ET

If someone in your life is facing a milestone birthday, consider throwing one of these memorable theme parties.

50th Birthday Party

All birthdays are special, but some are more special than others. For adults, these are the milestone birthdays: The ones that make you feel the passage of time. They arrive when the human body odometer turns over to the next decade or stage of life, and they're worth commemorating in style.

Sweet 16 luau

If you have a pool or patio and the weather is cooperative, have the luau outside. Decorate with tiki torches, inflatable palm trees and plastic flamingos. If not, simply move the decor inside and fill the room with tropical-colored balloon bouquets tied to pineapples. Place a big basket of multicolor leis inside the door where people can help themselves to a few. Hang windchimes and wooden parrots if you have them. Serve sweet and sour meatballs or Hawaiian chicken with ham and pineapple, and coconut birthday cake topped with a plastic hula dancer. Add a CD player with island music and a limbo stick, and the mood is complete.

Legal at last

Few birthdays carry the cultural significance of the 21st, so it's natural to go all out for this milestone. But drinking to excess need not be the focal point. Take the focus off alcohol with a taco bar stocked with chips and salsa -- so your guests will actually remember the event. A piñata is a fun touch, especially when filled with candy or colorful plastic shot glasses. For drinks, serve margaritas on the rocks from glass or plastic pitchers. Fill a large metal washtub with ice and cool down a selection of Mexican beers and bottled fruit sodas. Take everyone's keys at the door as they arrive, and be prepared for overnight guests.

Over the hill

Everyone expects black decorations and geezer jokes at a 40th birthday party, but a mock funeral can make the celebration unforgettable. Request that everyone dress in black and set an obituary at each place. Ask a few guests to prepare a eulogy to read at the party. Decorate with white lilies and play organ music. Buy or make a cake in the shape of a tombstone, frosted in gray with "RIP" inscribed on it.  This theme also works for a 30th birthday. One word of caution though: Don't even consider this idea if your birthday boy or girl has recently experienced the death of a close friend or family member.

50 is fabulous

Celebrating the half-century mark is a time for looking back. Create a video scrapbook of the guest-of-honor's key life events, and have guests recount stories around the milestones. (You know someone in your group of friends is the perfect emcee for this.) Keep it fun. Keep it light. Keep it moving. Go easy on the insulting gag gifts. Bottles of Geritol and boxes of adult diapers won't be nearly as funny to your guest of honor as they are to you. When it comes to the menu, serve whatever the honoree would like.

The power of 10s

For a twist on a decade-based party, build a theme around the decade the birthday person is entering. For example, if the birthday milestone is age 40, then host a 40s big-band theme party. Someone turning 60 might get a psychedelic 60s party.