Everyone's shindig claims to be the party of the century, but it takes more than a few kegs or a picky bouncer to make a party truly memorable. History tells us that a theme is always good, a dress code helps, and the guest list should be aimed towards the worthy, the famous, or at least the interesting. Throughout the centuries, humans have shown remarkable capacity for celebration; a look at the best:

The Last Supper

The key to any good party is exclusivity, and the Last Supper certainly had it; the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his crucifixion was an intimate affair. The twelve apostles gathered with their fearless leader on a Thursday night for a Passover meal and may have even brought their own food, but this was no ordinary weeknight potluck. Jesus interrupted the party to single out the most notorious party-crasher in history, saying one among his disciples would betray him. Once Judas Iscariot was properly shamed and dismissed, the fete shifted into high gear with a whopper of a toast: Jesus told the remaining eleven apostles to eat the bread and drink the wine as his body and blood, an appetizer that is generally frowned upon these days. Instead, Catholics perform the Eucharist, a ceremony that is named after the Greek word for "thanksgiving" and celebrate the holiest of party hosts.

The Boston Tea Party

Parties should be celebrations, occasions of gaiety and revelry, but that doesn't mean they can't also be about changing history. However, the Democratic and Republican parties often fail to live up to their names, as anyone who's seen pin-laden delegates in bad hats dance to "Shout!"at a political convention can attest. The Boston Tea Party, however, had it all; it wasn't planned to death and had a certain creative, screwball—yet earnest—energy. On December 16, 1773, three ships from the East India Tea Company sat in Boston Harbor, laden with tea that, with special dispensation from Parliament, could undersell any other tea in the colonies. Sam Adams and other members of the Sons of Liberty, angry at the economic interference, boarded the ships wearing Mohawk Indian get-ups (they, unsurprisingly, fooled few people). After overturning 342 crates of tea, transforming Boston Harbor into one giant iced-tea vat in the process, the pseudo-Indian mob cleaned up after themselves and left calmly. Parliament soon lashed back with the Intolerable Acts, and we all know about the Yankee-Doodle of a war that came next. That night in Boston, however, Sam Adams began the American tradition of combining silly costumes and political statements at a political fete.

Truman Capote's Black and White Party

Truman Capote, a New York City social figure and celebrated writer, was coming off the success of his nonfiction crime novel In Cold Blood when he decided to throw a huge Gatsby-eque bash at the Plaza Hotel. Throughout the summer of 1966, the eccentric Capote tweaked his guest list, and standards were high; he boasted that in his exclusivity he made 500 friends and 15,000 enemies. Among those honored with an invitation were Frank Sinatra and his then-wife Mia Farrow, literary giants Bennet Cerf, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, assorted Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and as Capote later gushed, "international types, lots of beautiful women and ravishing little things." The guest of honor at the November 18th event was Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, but everyone called it simply "Truman's party." Based on the Ascot scene of My Fair Lady, the dress code was strict: black and white only, masks required (even Secret Service agents accompanying first daughter Lynda Johnson wore them). Red tablecloths stood out in sharp relief to the black and white, and couples danced while Capote worked the room and expelled two party crashers. In the end, the party cost Truman $13,000—the Plaza originally planned on half a bottle of champagne per person, but the 540 guests eventually consumed 400 bottles of vintage Taittinger bubbly.

Carnival

Every year, as we awaken from the drudgery of winter and respectable, family-oriented holidays, Mardi Gras arrives like a shining, debaucherous beacon. Indeed, the "Fat Tuesday" celebration (or Carnival) tends to overshadow Ash Wednesday, the impending religious holiday that originally prompted pagans to party before the church laid down Lenten law. Carnival (a word whose Latin roots mean "to give up meat," a traditional Lent practice) is a signature event in Venice, where elaborate masks mark its signature Old-World elegance. In the Caribbean, Christian and African traditions blend as crowds dance to the beat of drums in an annual street party of epic proportions. America's best Mardi Gras party takes place in New Orleans, where the party begins as early as the Epiphany. On January 6, revelers eat King Cakes, a sugary confection that hides a small plastic baby doll whose finder is crowned "king" (a dubious honor which entails little more than the responsibility of buying the next cake). The city is now synonymous with its yearly celebration and its risqué French Quarter parade, where throwers reward flashers with plastic trinkets and necklaces.

Burning Man

The latter half of the twentieth century has seen new kinds of memorable parties. There was the rock festival at Woodstock, a gathering of 60s icons that has proven hard to replicate, and the celebrity-heavy paparazzi-fests at Sundance and Cannes. Sometimes the guest list (or the set list) is what makes the party, but in the case of the Burning Man festival, it's quite the opposite. What began in the late 1980s as a group of free spirits burning a wooden effigy on a San Francisco beach has grown into a huge, almost indescribable event. Now as many as 25,000 oft self-described radicals gather in the Nevada desert each summer to escape the bounds of society, celebrate self-expression, and, most importantly, burn a very large wooden statue of a man. With cash transactions forbidden, the campers that gather in Black Rock City, Nevada, may claim to be radical idealists, but they are just as hungry for drunken cruising as any Bourbon Street flasher. Sure, law enforcement often takes issue with the plethora of broken laws and regulations at Burning Man, but everyone knows being crashed by the cops is a surefire sign of a good party.

Sources:
Plimpton, George. Truman Capote, New York: Bantam Dell, 1997.
Merrick, David. "Taking a Cue From Capote, Will Back a Party of His Own." New York Times, December 11, 1966.
Curtis, Charlotte. "Capote's Black and White Ball: 'The Most Exquisite of Spectator Sports'." New York Times, November 19, 1966.

Party Issue Features:

:: History's Greatest Parties ::
:: Your First Dinner Party ::
:: Getting In With the In Crowd::
:: The Truth About Frat Parties ::
:: Miss Dixie Longate Throws a Mean Tupperware Party ::
:: It's Not Strange To Throw Your Dog a Party ::
:: How To Set The Whole Thing To Music ::

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